Two decades and two days after the Soviet army withdrew from its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan, it saddens me that we may be heading down the same path. Especially troubling is that President Obama, who wisely ordered a review of US options in that country, has decided to send 17,000 more troops without waiting for the review process to conclude. Although he insisted that “this troop increase does not predetermine the outcome of that strategic review,” one has to ask: why not wait for the results, which could recommend taking military escalation off the table in favor of a nonmilitary regional negotiating strategy? Obama’s repeated observations that there’s no military solution to the Afghan crisis makes this troop increase all the more puzzling.
Escalating the occupation will bleed us of the resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies and negate our improved image in the Muslim world prompted by our withdrawal from Iraq. Escalation will not increase US security or secure a better future for the Afghan people–indeed, more troops will certainly mean more dead civilians. On the same day Obama announced his escalation, the United Nations reported that Afghan civilian deaths–many of them at the hands of US forces, especially from airstrikes–increased by 40 percent last year.
Up to this point, the Afghan war belonged to George W. Bush, but Obama’s escalation threatens to make it his own. There’s still time to change direction. President Obama, don’t make this your war!