Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq, he argued for the need "to end the mindset that took us into" that war. So it is troubling that a man of such good judgment is now ramping up his rhetoric about how we need to end the war in Iraq to focus on what he calls the "central front in the war on terror"–Afghanistan.
In his convention speech Wednesday night, Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden sounded hawkish notes –not only in flagrantly misrepresenting the Georgia-Russia crisis but in talking about Afghanistan. (This holds true not just for the two Senators, but for too many Democrats in Washington who argue, mantra-like, that we need to leave Iraq in order to free additional troops to serve in "the right war.)
Last month, the bipartisan Rand Corporation concluded in an important report that the very notion of a "war on terror" is counterproductive, and that intelligence and police cooperation should be the centerpiece of our strategy. More recently, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman–no milquetoast when it comes to using military force–criticized the Dems’ position on Afghanistan as ill-conceived "bumper sticker politics." Friedman quoted a valuable Time article by Afghan expert Rory Stewart. Reporting from Kabul, Stewart explains: " A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge, and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining…The more responsibility we take in Afghanistan, the more we undermine the credibility and responsibility of the Afghan government and encourage it to act irresponsibly."
Stewart, a longtime observer of Afghan politics, makes clear that the temptation to throw more military forces at the problem may do more harm–to our security, to the Afghan people who are already angry about mounting civilian casualties, and to the stability of a region whose underlying conflicts require political resolution not more US or NATO troops.
If elected, Senator Obama has the possibility of re-engaging with a world repulsed by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. His election, allied with smart and more just policies, could turn a page on the reckless and destructive policies of mad men. But extricating the US from one disastrous war to head into another will endanger that possibility –while posing grave risks to the domestic agenda he has laid out. Before the new Democratic ticket of Obama/ Biden make a commitment to this new war, consider the sobering fact–confirmed by the US mliitary–that attacks by militants against the US-led coalition in Afghanistan have risen 40 percent this year, compared with 2007.
In a recent statement, the British humanitarian organization Oxfam urged a change of focus: "Unless the next American President…builds on the existing commitments to help lift the Afghan people out of extreme poverty and protect civilians, it will be impossible for the country to achieve lasting peace…" We need to think beyond the reflexive response of troop escalation and begin the necessary, tough search for sane alternatives. If Americans are given a clear choice, how many would support bleeding more lives and resources in another failing occupation as an effective strategy of combating terrorism and promoting our national security?