Tonight President Barack Obama will announce a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan, authorizing deployment of an additional 30,000 members of the armed forces to the war-ravaged country. In a reversal of the usual state of Washington politics Republicans are supporting the President while members of his own party are threatening to actively oppose the new policy.
Obama has been in talks on Afghanistan policy with his staff and military leaders for weeks, prompting accusations of “dithering” and “indecisiveness”. Now that Obama has announced not only the troop increases but a plan to leave Afghanistan in three years, the criticism has turned toward the actual decision. The question whether or not the three-year figure includes some kind of explicit exit strategy is still unanswered – hopefully the President will offer some specifics in his address tonight.
The announced goals of the troop deployment are eerily familiar: a “strategy aimed at wiping out al Qaeda elements and stabilizing the country while training Afghan forces”, according to CNN.
Those goals weren’t accomplished in Iraq in six years. How they will be accomplished in a country like Afghanistan, where there is no real infrastructure and no real tradition of centralized government, is difficult to imagine.
Of course the ghost of Vietnam has already been raised by opponents of the escalation, and while The Recent Future definitely does not support the Obama plan, it’s time for America to get out from under the aura of failure that Vietnam conjures. Yes this new policy comes as too little too late. Yes the original goal in Afghanistan of eradicating al Qaeda has long since become a lost opportunity. Yes we are now going to war for “regime change” – possibly the very worst reason for any nation to go to war.
But we’re there. Comparisons with Vietnam are now counter-productive: now the goal of the loyal opposition should be to cut the losses to the minimum, to change policy and direct it into more rational directions. Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam isn’t doing our troops on the ground any good, nor is it doing the political landscape at home any good. This isn’t Vietnam, it’s Afghanistan. This isn’t 1966, it’s 2009. We need to do everything possible to make the word “Afghanistan” a symbol of rational, reasoned change from military action to civilian diplomatic solutions. Forty years from now, when someone compares a President’s policy to “Afghanistan”, we want it to mean success via the application of peace, rather than failure through the application of war.