Political discourse – of course!

Tell me again. Just what are we doing in Afghanistan?

steve_kleur3April 19, 2009

I had a great conversation with some friends last night about Afghanistan. It was the kind of conversation where you wished that some of the players involved in this debacle were in the room to answer some of the more pressing questions. The most obvious of which is, what are we doing there in the first place?

Now don’t get me wrong, I understood the need way back when. We had just been hit by terrorists and we knew where they were. So we go in to get them and rid the world of a menace. But somewhere along the way we lost track of that objective and the mission morphed into getting rid of the Taliban. It was almost as if, upon arriving , we “discovered” a terrible local government and a subject population that needed saving.

So we fell into the trap.

It’s the same trap that the West has been falling into for the last 100 years. Pick a country, any country that has tried to take Afghanistan and what do you see? An implacable enemy in an intractable landscape. The Taliban, or whatever the current land barons call themselves at the time, simply head up into the mountains to wait us out – thinking, quite rightly, that we will get tired of trying to fight an enemy we can’t see.

And so it goes. And the justifications for why we are there get more and more elaborate and confusing; We are there to find Osama Bin Ladin. We are there to get rid of the Taliban. We are there to stop the opium trade. We are there to spread Democracy (my personal favorite.) We are there to gain a strategic military foothold so when Pakistan eventually, inevitably blows itself up we can put a lid on the chaos.

And yet, none of these explanations are even remotely satisfying. All the more so because there isn’t one shred of evidence to date that any of these objectives is working. And now we want to send even more troops and risk even more American/Canadian soldiers lives. And for what? No, really. What exactly do we gain? This is the question that needs answering. This is the piece of the puzzle that is missing. And I would hazard a guess that the politician that can answer that question would receive not only gratitude from a weary populace but also gain some much needed time to figure it all out.

1 Comment»

  Sonic Charmer wrote @

We invaded to unseat the Taliban’s control of the nation, because it was their government that harbored Al Qaeda and allowed them to (or couldn’t prevent them from) using Afghanistan as a training area. To the extent that Taliban still control parts of Afghanistan, and/or threaten to expand their control, people who favored the initial invasion may see a need for further work. It’s not really so ‘elaborate and confusing’.

Although I will say I disagree with the strategic decision taken long ago to adopt an anti-opium stance while doing it. I believed that was a mistake and see no reason to change that view. I will also agree with you that I don’t see a huge pressing reason for us to still have troops there let alone conduct operations. If our military presence were withdrawn tomorrow I doubt I would care. (On the flip side – I don’t care that we maintain a military presence there, either; I’m agnostic here. Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few people in the country who doesn’t constantly have a strong opinion on whether we should have a troop presence in Country X, Y, Z….)

To (cynically, perhaps) answer at least one question of yours – “What exactly do we gain?” – I would say: ‘We’ don’t gain much at all. The person who gains is President Obama, because adopting a hawkish stance on Afghanistan (pretending to want to ‘finish the job’ or whatever) allows him to mask his otherwise pacifist and appeasing instincts, providing him the political cover he thinks he will need in order to exit Iraq, twiddle fingers while Iran and North Korea nuke up, and yet not be painted with a soft-on-foreign-policy brush in a way that would seriously threaten his reelection in 2012. As with many things, it’s about domestic politics. IMHO


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