‘Graveyard of Empires’

There is sense to be made of the situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, it seems to be elusive in President Obama’s White House.

As we enter the ninth long year of the war there, the response to 9/11 has become a cluster bomb of waste, abuse, fraud, war crimes, increased tribal conflict, death, destruction, and the kind of low morale that can pin soldiers to the ground. American presence has had a devastating effect on how those in the Middle East perceive this country, and the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has brought a renewed vigor from the Taliban.

Now, it appears Obama has adopted the myopic view of engrossed military — Defense Sec. Robert Gates (from the Bush administration) and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, NATO commander in Afghanistan, who asked for 40,000 additional troops earlier this year — that the only resolution to an unending war with vaguely realistic goals is to extend it.

On Tuesday, the president announced the deployment of some 30,000 more troops to the country over the next six months. It is a flagrant defiance of not only his electoral mandate to end both wars, but what the recent history of this war tells us.

It was February that Obama announced he would send 17,000 more troops to stomp the terra in Afghanistan, destabilized in the waning years of the Bush administration, which had committed too much of America’s finite might to the senseless Iraq war. Under the new strategy, American troop levels in Afghanistan will have nearly tripled under Obama, who — alongside the Bush holdovers — perceived the supposed success of the surge in Iraq as a mandate for application in that other exotic country we’ve been turning to rubble. In January 2003 there were 9,600 American troops in Afghanistan; when Obama stepped into office there were 36,000; now there are some 68,000 U.S. troops there, and Tuesday’s order could move that to some 100,000.

The obvious suggestion this fork-in-the-road predicament offers is that the various troop surges have not been effective in Afghanistan, a decidedly different environment than Iraq — or anywhere else, for that matter, given the delicate balance the United States needs to strike with nuke-slinging Pakistan, which has alternately abetted the Taliban and accused its neighbor India of doing so in an attempt to put the north-south squeeze on it via a thoroughly corruptible Afghan government. Incidentally, these are the people Obama and those in his hawk’s nest believe we are to “train” to become our allies, which — are they to comply at all — could hasten U.S. withdrawal.

Obama also was expected to staple a so-called exit strategy to the back of his West Point announcement Tuesday night (and, thus, post-deadline for

this edition). Don’t expect this to exceed lip service: McChrystal told a congressional delegation last week that troop levels could begin to decrease around 2013.

Obama’s strategy should push the overall cost of the Afghan war toward $1 trillion — given McChrystal’s timetable has a foreseeable end. (The total cost of both wars from Sept. 11, 2001, to June 24, 2009, was $944 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.) On the domestic front, war-happy Republicans are already lining up behind Obama, sending the grave undertone that the troop increase and attendant costs mean health care reform should be tabled while Congress grapples with winning a war (which I thought was the military’s job) and relieving some of our debt.

Afghanistan has a foreboding nickname: “The Graveyard of Empires.” The British lost their asses there. So did the Russians. More than 1,000 U.S. troops were wounded in a three-month period after Obama’s last troop surge was initiated. Escalation of war means more casualties, and to what end? There is a corrupt, uncooperative government in a place conventional war theory does not comprehend, and the U.S. is at once trying to wrangle this government into submission and fight a wholly different kind of enemy, paying dearly in life and purse.

And yet Obama has decided to take the road of status quo, paved by military men whose frame of reference will always be militaristic. Obama’s is an ostentatious rebuke of the “change” doctrine he waved like a flag on his romp into office. It is a thoroughly disgusting endorsement of the Bush Doctrine, which favors pre-emption and does not delineate between a terrorist group and a country that harbors it in matters of war.

We should let him know how appalled we are at this spineless abdication: (202) 456-1111 or whitehouse.gov/contact.