An Afghan Quagmire

Remember when President Obama took more than a month to formulate a new strategy for Afghanistan, deciding whether or not to send more troops? It seemed like every analyst had a different opinion about what the decision should have been.

It has been clear for a while now that nobody can look at the situation in Afghanistan and know precisely what is going on, let alone know how to proceed. Attempts at controlling the situation or the outcome are becoming increasingly futile. Anything can happen.

In my last article on the subject, I basically said the same thing, but pointed out that committing more troops was the safer route. The logic behind this was that Afghanistan couldn’t provide for its own defense, and the U.S. had to take responsibility and clean up the mess it made in 2001. That being said, the placement of more troops cannot solve the underlying problems in Afghanistan: the corrupt and ineffective government is chief among them.

The policy that Obama eventually settled on included the deployment of 30,000 more troops.  The apparent escalation was qualified with a warning that American forces would withdraw soon. Sounds like someone couldn’t decide what to do. Either that, or someone was trying to pick the option that would please the most people.

Simple withdrawal would waste less time. Staying longer, without setting any unrealistic goals, such as completely routing the Taliban, might — just might — yield some positive result. There really isn’t a lot to lose. But with Obama’s plan, the Taliban just have to hold out for another year or so until the American presence in Afghanistan will be greatly reduced.

Americans are already preparing for this. Maybe they think that the government’s new talk of incorporating “moderate” elements of the Taliban into their government will trick people into thinking the inevitable political resurgence of the Taliban was actually their idea, and not the result of their failure to accomplish anything in Afghanistan.

The recent push in Marja has been marred (as far as public relations goes) by a rocket attack that killed ten civilians. Why the media has decided to make this an issue is unknown, considering plenty of Afghanis and Iraqis have been killed as a result of American military operations during the past few years.

The underlying tone of American officials is one of defeat. General Stanley McChrystal told “Financial Times” that “there has been enough fighting;” the threshold or standard he used to determine that it has been “enough” is unclear, especially considering that the Taliban remains potent, and Afghanistan is far from a bastion of democracy and development. To be fair, American leaders seem to have dropped the latter goal from their agenda. On the other hand, is it fairer to criticize them for pretending like it was never the goal just because they can’t accomplish it? Defense Secretary Gates stated that the Taliban are part of Afghanistan’s “political fabric.”

Okay, so was it a mistake that America has been trying to destroy them this whole time?

This brings us to another underlying problem with America’s Adventure in Afghanistan (AAA): the fact that the goals are unclear. At this point America is stumbling in the dark, trying to piece together some agreement that allows it to leave with some dignity, that allows it to maintain the pretense that its foreign policy over the past nine years has not been arrogant, self-serving, and delusional. It is unclear how arranging the wedding of the Taliban and corrupt Afghani warlords will do that.

Samier Saeed is a third-year economics major.  He can be reached at ssaeed@uci.edu.