By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
In June 2002, George W. Bush went to West Point to announce what became known as “The Bush Doctrine:” a new policy of pre-emptive war, of which Iraq became the first application. In December 2008, he returned to West Point to stress the strategic necessity of continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now, in December 2009, Barack Obama has also gone to West Point to announce he would not only continue the war in Afghanistan, he would expand it. This is not the change we voted for.
Selling war is never an easy task. And, you must admit, Obama did as good a job selling war as any president could. Still, he failed to make the case. And, trying to make it, he sounded too much like George Bush.
With little difference, in fact, George W. Bush might well have given the same speech. Not only did Obama go to West Point, just like Bush, he began by invoking September 11 as justification for escalation of the war. He declared Afghanistan a grave threat to America’s security. And he bragged about the help of 43 allies, even though the United States is providing 80 percent of the troops and 100 percent of the funding. We tuned in, expecting Obama Strong. Instead, we got Bush Lite.
No doubt, Obama, with the best intentions, is doing what he sincerely believes is in the best interest of the United States. But he is, I believe, making a serious mistake by ignoring the lessons of history.
This is not a new war in Afghanistan. This is an old war, started by George Bush more than eight years ago. President Obama is sending an additional 30,000 American troops to re-ignite the war: with the three-fold goal of turning back the Taliban, training 400,000 Afghan security forces, and turning things over to a strong, central government in Afghanistan. And then start bringing our troops home by July 2011, a bare 18 months after American reinforcements arrive in the country.
Hurrah for lofty goals. But it’s simply not realistic to believe that we can suddenly accomplish in 18 months what American troops have been unable to achieve in the last eight and a half years. Especially when a gang of criminals in whom the people of Afghanistan have zero confidence runs the government.
And, while it sounds good, Obama’s July 2011 deadline for starting to withdraw troops is not as real as it sounds, either. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledges its viability will first be re-addressed in December 2010. And President Obama said at West Point that adhering to it would depend on “conditions on the ground.” In other words, nobody really knows when troops will start coming home from Afghanistan. We could be there another 10 years or more, just like American troops are still stationed in Japan, Germany, South Korea and Bosnia.
More ancient history should teach Obama another lesson: It’s not realistic for us to believe we can create a stable central government in a country that has never known one before. Never, in the history of humankind — as Alexander the Great, the British, and the Russians before us learned the hard way. Historians say: “Afghanistan is where empires go to die.” Now, apparently, it’s our turn.
But there’s another fallacy in the new Obama strategy. Why so much emphasis on the Taliban? They didn’t attack us on September 11, al-Qaida did. According to the Pentagon, except for some 100 ragtag leftovers, al-Qaida terrorists have all relocated to Pakistan. And they’ll relocate somewhere else, if squeezed out of Pakistan.
Shouldn’t it be obvious by now? We can’t fight the new threat of terrorism by the old strategy of occupying any one country. We can only fight terrorism with a global strike force capable of tracking down and pursuing terrorists wherever they’re operating on the planet. Building that capacity, rather than occupying Afghanistan, should be the administration’s goal.
To support his escalation of the war, President Obama quoted President Eisenhower about maintaining “balance.” Too bad he didn’t quote, instead, Eisenhower’s warning on leaving office: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
It’s time to bring our troops home, and start nation-building here at home.
© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.