Monday, February 25, 2008

Afghanistan, A Costly Stalemate, Looms After 2008

As usual Sunday, some of the best reporting was in the New York Times magazine. The subject was Elizabeth Rubin's long cover story on her sojourn with U.S. troops in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, where men on 15-month tours are slowly going crazy combatting the intractible Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan is like Vietnam was in 1964: Major decisions loom after the U.S. election. The embattled and unpopular Bush Adminisration may be able to put them off until the next president takes over. But, then, he or she is going to have to make decisions possibly entailing a much greater U.S. commitment and even a wider war, into Pakistan, or getting out. For the NATO countries which have somewhat halfheartedly joined us, it's going to be decision time too.

On Feb. 7, 1965, less than three weeks after being sworn in for another term, President Lyndon B. Johnson fatefully ordered bombing of North Vietnam and expansion of U.S. forces, after having campaigned as a comparative dove against the hawkish Republican 1964 candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater. He had put off crucial Vietnam decisions in 1964. In 1965, he felt he could not any longer.

We face a similar situation now. It is comparatively easy for the Democratic 2008 candidates for president, Sens. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, to talk about how Iraq is a diversion, and, while pulling troops from there, they intend to focus more effort on Afghanistan, where both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda pose a greater security threat to the U.S. But if one of them defeats Sen. John McCain, and becomes president, he or she is going to be up against it, and a decision to do more in Afghanistan could be a somber beginning to either one's presidency, unpopular with the doves who have fueled their campaigns.

The insurgency in Afghanistan is growing more serious. Suicide bombings and other attacks, even in the Afghan capital of Kabul, are increasing. The Karzai regime is faltering, weary of the fight. And, across the border in Pakistan, both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger, consolidating their grip on the border regions in the wake of an election that further challenges the grip of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Just this morning, comes a new attack in Pakistan, the bombing murder of the country's Army Surgeon General, and seven others in the capital of Rawalpindi, not far from where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are believed hiding somewhere in Pakistan, as they have ever since 2001. So far, we haven't found them.

Pakistan is, of course, a nuclear-armed state. Intervention by the U.S., India, Israel and the European countries would be necessary -- possibly even before the U.S. election -- if Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were to move toward seizing control of the country's nukes.

The Rubin article in the New York Times magazine demonstrates, sadly, in what jeopardy the present stalemate in that part of the world has put U.S. soldiers. Many, according to this article, are near the breaking point. One man she writes about is on his sixth tour of duty in the war zones. In seeking to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, they are granting advantages to the insurgents, who are in real control of virtually all the villages.

On a broader basis, the question of what to do with Islamic fundamentalists certainly arises. If they are truly threatening to the U.S. and the West, as I believe they are, the rules of engagement are going to have to be changed.

It may be necessary to do what Roman caesars once were said to have done: They created a desert and called it peace.

But this is going to be rough on a new U.S. president, particularly if he or she is a Democrat. McCain might be up to it, but not easily Obama or Clinton and a Democratic majority in Congress.


Time magazine's Mark Halperin, whose "Page" is one of the best sources of up-to-the-minute information about the presidential campaign, leads this morning with word that the Clinton forces are circulating copies of a Drudge Report photo of Obama dressed up in a Somali costume. One wonders if the photo is authentic how Obama could ever have been so reckless as to have dressed in that way. But it also shows the Clinton campaign once again, as in South Carolina, trying to play the race card against Obama. Late reports say the Clinton campaign provided Drudge with the photo. Also, it's pointed out today that both Bill and Hillary Clinton dressed in local costumes while on foreign trips. This is apparently what Obama did while visiting Kenya in 2006.

Whoever said Hillary and Bill Clinton are honorable? They are as sleazy as they come. As Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said today, circulation of the photo constitutes "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election year."

In a shameless defense of the race-baiting, the new Clinton campaign manager, Maggie Williams, who is black herself, says it was perfectly all right to circulate the photo. If this kind of thing continues and Hillary wins the Democratic nomination as a result, many African-Americans will justifiably cross over and vote for McCain.



Anonymous another old fool said...


Wasn't that the Soviet quagmire from 1979 to the late 1980's?

Weren't the Muslim "fanatics" the U.S. supported anti-Soviet "resistance"?

How did the Soviet adventure in Afghanistan end? I forgot.

2/26/2008 9:06 AM  

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