Obama's Afghan Test

By Zito, Salena | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

Obama's Afghan Test


Zito, Salena, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The Afghan war belongs to President Obama. He may not have begun it, but by his rhetoric, actions and commitments, he now owns it.

The question for the president, politically and strategically, is whether we need to fight this war for our own nation's security. If we succeed in Afghanistan, will we merely push the battle lines into Pakistan? That would be even more threatening to our security.

"The situation in Afghanistan is akin to a multidimensional game of chess," said Mark Davidson, former member of the Clinton administration and a Navy Reserve captain. "No move, activity or effort is unrelated."

Obama faces deep political consequences, too, for the choices he makes regarding Afghanistan.

His worth as a progressive hawk is being tested: record-setting casualties, a sketchy Afghan election, an insurgency that never stops growing, murmurs that America and her NATO allies cannot win this war.

The problem with stability in Afghanistan is Afghanistan itself: Remote, mountainous and with very limited infrastructure, it has been inhabited since the dawn of time by diverse ethnic and tribal groups that still operate on a barter economy rooted in a feudal system.

Trying to separate the bad guys from the good guys there is like trying to figure out who's the hero in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Afghanistan has been occupied by foreigners, off and on, for centuries -- as far back as 350 B.C. by Alexander the Great, then by the Persians, Huns, British and Soviets.

That brings us to the 1980s, when America ran a stealth war there against the Soviet Union. The U.S.-trained, U.S.-armed mujahedeen begat al-Qaida. America left the war in which it never participated officially, but bitterness over that abandonment never abated.

The Bush administration did itself no favors by placing Afghanistan on the back burner in the run-up to Iraq, which allowed the Taliban to reconstitute while we focused on another war.

NATO forces now are trying to carry out a counterinsurgency there, Davidson says: "They enter a region, clear it of insurgents and attempt to create an environment that is stable and secure for the local populace. …

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