Dying on Afganistan’s Plains
Senator Obama is preparing to leave for his tour of Iraq. While this event will provide nothing of substantive value, it will at least allow him to quiet the charge that he has made policy pronouncements without having been there from the McCain camp.
This ia a curious charge and response. People make policy judgments all the time on matters with which they have little if any direct, experiential connection. Legislators cannot possibly immerse themselves in everything about which they will make judgments, and presidents are the same. So why does Obama need to go to Iraq? And even when he does, what is he going to learn? Is he going to see the situation as it actually exists, or as the US command wants it to look? And are the Iraqis (who, according to today’s New York Times story, pretty much like Obama) going to get to know Obama, who will be well surrounded by security people to keep those Iraqis away from him? What is takeaway supposed to be? Am I the only one who does not really get it about this trip?
The trip to Iraq is mostly fluff, but this week’s announcements from the Obama camp on Afghanistan (mirroring McCain) are not. Obama said that a main reason for getting the troops out of Iraq is so more will be available for Afghanistan (he has suggested an extra 10,000). The stated reason is better to track down bin Laden. Does this make sense?
There are currently 36,000 American troops in Afghanistan, plus assorted NATO forces. They are fighting, primarily at least, Taliban who melted away after 2001 but never really went away. What is now transpiring in Afghanistan is an Afghan reaction to yet another foreign invader, who happens to support a government in Kabul that it helped install. The connection, of course, is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have close links; thus, a Taliban victory means a resurgent Al Qaeda, and a defeated Taliban leave Al Qaeda more vulnerable. Thus, an increased U.S. effort against the Taliban translates into progress against bin Laden and Company.
Will this all work? It depends on how the Afghanis see our presence. If they view the Taliban (who come from the largest tribe in the country, the Pashtun) as the enemy, they may support the US and its allies. If, on the other hand, they come to view our presence (especially if it becomes larger) as just the most recent foreign occupation, we are in trouble. Any reading of Afghan history does not offer solace to the invaders/occupiers. The British learned this a century and more ago; the Soviets nearly 30 years ago. Must we reinvent the wheel here? Or, might it be a better idea to adopt much more specific, limited goals to achieve in Affghanistan that can be accomplished without major US military presence on the ground. Or, are we going to drift into another open-ended military commitment that we do not understand, and can neither win nor figure out how to get extricated from?
As Senator Obama is flying to Iraq, I hope someone will give him a copy of the collected works of Rudyard Kipling. If they do, Senator, please turn to his poem “The Young British Soldier.” The last verse reads in part:
“When you’re wounded and left of Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd like a soldier.”
Source: Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr. “In Iraq, Mixed Feeling About Obama and His Troop Proposal.” New York Times (online), July 17, 2008.