Pro: Obama risks being sucked into a quagmire
June 2011. Is that when we will start leaving Afghanistan? President Obama says he will reassess in December 2010. Even if he assesses that a drawdown can begin, it may be in dribs and drabs. Our man in Kabul—Afghan President Hamid Kharzai—says he doesn’t expect to be able to cope with the situation in his country until 2024. U.S. troops may be in combat in Afghanistan for another generation.
Will we accomplish anything with the stepped-up troop level President Obama is now beginning? We have been eight years trying to find Osama bin Laden and his leadership entourage. His movement has morphed into more of an idea than a discrete group that one can locate and kill in some high altitude redoubt.
Al-Qaida, to be sure, is moving out of Afghanistan, but its people are, in the main, not from there. They can operate from Pakistan, from Somalia, and in coming decades from who knows where.
We are opposed in Afghanistan not only by al-Qaida and the Taliban but by a broad swath of the Pashtun, the country’s largest ethnic group. It is becoming harder to identify the insurgency. The central government is universally regarded as corrupt, yet we fight for it. No one disputes that it cheated to win the recent election.
Will NATO allies or other countries help with more troops? Let’s be realistic. This is our war, with a few other countries we drag along kicking and screaming. To the extent they participate, they do it to placate us and so that we will owe them.
Did we protect America by overthrowing the Taliban in 2001? The only thing we did for certain was to turn Afghanistan into the world’s largest supplier of heroin through the chaos we left. Under the Taliban, heroin production was modest.
We should have learned by now that meddling in Afghanistan is a lost cause. Presidents Carter and Reagan funded a young fellow named Osama bin Laden there. They taught him how to shoot down Russian aircraft.
We didn’t understand what we were getting into then, and we don’t understand what we are in now. Having generated a movement that attacked us, we are back in Afghanistan trying to stop it.
Will America be the safer for what we do in Afghanistan? Not likely. Now a major source of danger for America is youngsters “inspired” by bin Laden, who may have nothing to do with him in a direct sense.
Why are they “inspired”? Why are young American Muslims joining jihad? We have made bin Laden into a figure of epic proportions.
First by funding him. Then, after the 2001 attacks, by saying not that we would prosecute him, but that we would fight a war against him. And then by failing to win that war. If we succeed now in killing bin Laden, he may be more inspirational dead than alive.
What we do not seem to understand is that bin Laden has achieved this status because he condemns us for our actions in that part of the world.
One of his main recruiting points is our policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict. He will have that flag to wave for at least the next few years. After President Obama made demands on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop building settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, Netanyahu stared him down.
So the Obama administration, like its predecessors, is seen as allowing Israel to swallow up Palestinian land, financed by the U.S. taxpayer. The Palestinians are squeezed, and we are seen as responsible. That’s a perfect recruitment scenario for bin Laden. The Obama administration should take a hard look in the mirror and change our own policies in that part of the world rather than sending more troops to Afghanistan.
John B. Quigley is a professor of international law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at the Michael E. Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, 55 W. 12th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210; e-mail: Quigley.firstname.lastname@example.org.