President Obama has received high marks so far from the vast majority of his supporters and even from many who had not backed him. He has fulfilled, particularly through his Cabinet appointments, our hope and belief that he would be moderate in his policies. He has disappointed and antagonized those in the Democratic big tent who had hoped that he would support radical left positions.
The Feb. 22 New York Times reported, “The Obama administration has told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team.”
The Bush team’s argument was that federal courts “have no jurisdiction to hear such a case because the prisoners are noncitizens being held in the course of military operations outside of the United States.”
I agreed with the U.S. position on military detainees in Afghanistan when Bush was president, and I continue to support it under Obama. When the war is over and peace is declared, prisoners of war will be released en masse. We know that, when such prisoners were released and sent back to Saudi Arabia, 11 “Saudis who were released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists are now believed to have fled the country and joined terrorist groups abroad,” according to the Feb. 4 New York Times.
I believe that most Americans, knowing of that outcome, would prefer that the terrorists be kept in a secure prison facility at least until the war against Islamic terrorism is over.
However, for me, Obama is making one enormous error. He has authorized the deployment to Afghanistan of 17,000 American soldiers to be added to the 32,000 already there. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, has requested that more than 30,000 American soldiers be sent to his command as part of a surge similar to the one in Iraq that has been spectacularly successful.
The Iraq model is, in my judgment, inapplicable to Afghanistan, which does not have a central government. It is a maze of drug lords and warlords who govern the areas outside of Kabul, the capital. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is able to exercise only the powers of the mayor of Kabul. His brother Ahmed is subject to “allegations that he has benefited from narcotics trafficking have circulated widely in Afghanistan,” according to a New York Times an Oct. 5 New York Times article.
Further, the article states, “The assertions about him have deeply worried top American officials in Kabul and in Washington. The United States officials fear that perceptions that the Afghan president might be protecting his brother are damaging his credibility and undermining efforts by the United States to buttress his government, which has been under siege from rivals and a Taliban insurgency fueled by drug money, several senior Bush administration officials said. Their concerns have intensified as American troops have been deployed to the country in growing numbers. ‘What appears to be a fairly common Afghan public perception of corruption inside their government is a tremendously corrosive element working against establishing long-term confidence in that government – a very serious matter,’ said Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who was commander of coalition military forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and is now retired.”
Our NATO allies for the most part have deserted us in Afghanistan and are unwilling to offer their young men and women to engage in combat there, even though the United Nations blesses our military presence in Afghanistan. For example, the Times reported on June 25, 2008, “Under pressure from NATO, Germany announced . . . that it would increase the number of soldiers available for duty in Afghanistan by almost one-third to 4,500, but that it would maintain its policy of keeping the bulk of them away from the relatively violent southern provinces.”
The stakes in Afghanistan are admittedly high. The fear is that, were we to leave, the Taliban and al-Qaida would be back in Afghanistan. We should call a meeting of the countries that have a stake in Afghanistan’s ultimate fate, including Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, and the NATO nations that have fought alongside us. Hopefully, such a meeting will produce a consensus position.
If an international meeting does not produce positive results, we should announce that we will live within a year. We should give military equipment that is difficult to take with us to the Afghanistan army. We will be saving the lives of our soldiers and billions of dollars that we are spending on a war that cannot be won. Remember that the Russians, who had 150,000 troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, could not crush the Afghan insurgents, and the Russians ultimately withdrew. If the Taliban and al-Qaida again threaten us from Afghanistan, after our withdrawal, we should respond with massive bombing.
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