The war in Afghanistan is an albatross that risks dragging down the Obama administration and undermining its progressive policy agenda. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war, and its failure would be Obama’s failure, with disastrous political consequences for other issues. The president’s political standing, the Democratic Party’s electoral prospects in 2010 and 2012, the government’s ability to fund health reform and other social priorities–all will be jeopardized if US policy in Afghanistan continues to falter. Progressives who care about this administration and want it to succeed must rally to protect the president. We must argue for a more effective and less militarized strategy in Afghanistan and work to prevent further military escalation.
The Obama administration will soon have to decide whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Even as the White House announced the deployment of 21,000 additional troops in March, some military commanders were arguing that additional forces would be needed. National Security Advisor James Jones told commanders not to expect more troops and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed reluctance about further escalation, but pressures for additional forces are increasing as the military and political situation continues to deteriorate. Violent attacks have increased tenfold in recent years, civilian and military casualties are mounting, and Taliban influence is spreading. Senator John McCain called for more troops during a recent visit to the region. A senior adviser to the Pentagon returned from an assessment mission calling for up to 45,000 more troops. US experts are predicting that the military struggle in Afghanistan will last at least a decade and cost more than the war in Iraq, which has totaled approximately $650 billion. Commanding General Stanley McChrystal is scheduled to release a Congressionally mandated report in September that will likely become the focal point for debate about sending more troops.
Many observers have grave doubts about the prospects for achieving military success in Afghanistan. The country’s reputation as the graveyard of empires is well earned and based on a long history of fierce resistance to foreign military intervention, most strikingly in the defeat of the Soviet occupation of 1979-89. A similar pattern of resistance has emerged now, most intensely in the Pashtun region but spreading throughout the country and into Pakistan as well. The meager results so far of eight years of US/NATO military operations reinforce doubts about military viability. Empirical evidence confirms that war is not an effective means of countering terrorist organizations. A recent RAND Corporation study shows that terrorist groups usually end through political processes and effective law enforcement, not the use of military force. An examination of 268 terrorist organizations that ended during a period of nearly 40 years found that the primary factors accounting for their demise were participation in political processes (43 percent) and effective policing (40 percent). Military force accounted for the end of terrorist groups in only 7 percent of the cases examined.