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Category: Opinion Published on Thursday, 22 October 2009 12:05
I believe Vice President Joe Biden has a point that President Barack Obama should not send tens of thousands more American troops into that sinkhole to die.
Obama has the right angle on this, in that he wants to design the right strategy for our presence in Afghanistan, then commit the resources to the strategy: I don’t think it should be done any other way. One of the big problems with George Bush was that generals ran the war, not the civilian authority because the key civilian, Vice President Dick Cheney gave them free rein to do what ever they wanted. This is a civilian responsibility according to the Constitution and the military should follow the policy of the commander-in-chief, President Barack Hussein Obama.
Biden’s problem and mine is that Obama is likely to give too much credence to the generals and to the Republicans who say they will support him in sending more troops. In crafting a new strategy, I worry that it is one that will look very much like that in Iraq where fought a widespread counter-insurgency war supported by an expensive nation-building strategy.
Obama suggested that this is a “war of necessity” meaning that the intension is to find and met out justice to Osama bin Laden and break the back of Al Qaeda in return for 9/11. The problem I and others have is whether this can be done indirectly by fighting the Taliban and building up Afghanistan’s military and socio-economic capability. That is a long and costly route and the Republicans who say they support the long-term military effort are not asking what it costs; compare this to their approach to health care and other social programs where cost is the main consideration.
More than 3,000 people were killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City; but over 3,000 have died in the Iraq war and casualties are moving up now in Afghanistan. How many more should die; how many more trillions should be spent in the project of retaliatory violence? The polls show that the American people are not ready for another long war, especially when they are losing their houses, jobs and opportunities for education and financial upward mobility.
So, I think that we should use much less costlier assets to track Osama bin Laden to his lair over time using intelligence gained from electronic screening, infiltration of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, smaller and focused military operations, all of which suggests that at some point they will make a fatal mistake and we will be there to exact justice.
I fear that this is another instance where President Obama wants to appear bipartisan and stoke the favor of the military-industrial complex that benefits from such wars, just as Cheney and his cronies extracted untold financial benefits from the Iraq war. But Obama is setting up another scenario where many of his social objectives will be put under unrelenting financial pressure by the military project he is pursuing in the Middle East. What the country needs at this moment in history is a serious counter-insurgency strategy aimed at the discrete objective of neutralizing Osama bin Laden and keeping Al Qaeda off balance, not propping up an entire country to do that job.
Don’t get me wrong, patriotism is a legitimate objective in this case, but that too must be subject to realistic limits and this country is in such a crisis that fixing it will cost a lot of money. George Bush hid the cost of these wars by putting them off-budget and paid for them by not investing in things the country needed. Now that Obama has pledged to affect transparency by putting the cost of the wars on budget, he will get congressional majorities for war spending by Democrats who are nervous about seeming to be unpatriotic and Republicans who are gung-ho warriors. So, in the additional pressure Republicans and Blue-dog Democrats will put on Obama to balance the budget, whose interests will suffer in the competition for resources? I know and so do you.
There should be a serious anti-war movement started now by the very folks, college-aged youths, who love Obama and who show up by the thousands for his events. Yes, they should love and support him, but they should also make it clear that they don’t want their future jeopardized by a long-term policy in the Middle East that harnesses domestic resources to a never-ending military operation that could be fought with a smart strategy and die a natural death.
(Dr. Ron Walters is professor emeritus of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park.)
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