My DD’s Jerome Armstrong didn’t support President Obama during the Democratic primary. I did.
But in the ongoing debate about escalation in Afghanistan, in which Jerome and I stand on the same side, who we supported in the primary doesn’t matter. The question of whether you favor sending more troops to Afghanistan doesn’t depend on how you feel about the president, but on what you think about a policy. That’s why commenters who say that opposing escalation equals opposing Obama need to think again.
The war in Afghanistan began long before Barack Obama stepped onto the national stage. It has lasted more than seven years. In a nightmare scenario, it will continue even after President Obama leaves the White House.
It’s true, Obama favors escalation. But that doesn’t mean that I, as a Democrat or an American, have to as well.
Opponents of escalation will not win a popularity contest any time soon. A powerful array of military commanders, elected officeholders, government policymakers, think tanks, and pundits support escalation. 65% of Americans, when asked if they support Obama’s plan to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, say yes.
But this decision is deadly serious. The answer to who is right and who is wrong about escalation in Afghanistan will likely be spelled out in Afghan, European, and American corpses.
Policymakers and experts tell us we must inject more troops into Afghanistan in order to “close the gaps” or because more troops “could protect local populations while the police and the administration develop” and “might enable U.S. and NATO forces to reduce or eliminate their reliance on the use of air strikes, which cause civilian casualties that recruit fighters and supporters to the insurgency.” (my emphasis)
But on the ground in Afghanistan, a 45% increase in troop levels since early 2007 went hand in hand with a 50% increase in violence. That means more civilian deaths and more anger to fuel the insurgency. The security report Jerome cites shows that those trends were still in effect earlier today. As 17,000 pairs of boots hit the ground in the coming months, I fear we’ll see more of the same.
What am I to believe – that hypothetical scenarios designed from afar will come to be, or that the trends on the ground warn us that we must change, not double down on, our policy?
I have to speak out, even if it’s not popular. I have to criticize the policy, even if it comes from a president I support.
Constructive criticism is a form of support. It’s support for the president, by pointing out the pitfalls of a bad policy. Obama says he wants to listen to those who disagree with him. I’ll take him at his word.
Constructive criticism is also support for our country. Unnecessary wars have sapped our treasury, spilled the blood of our youth, and spoiled the trust between citizens and our government, all while failing to make us safer.
I do not believe we must occupy Afghanistan to stay safe or meet the threat of terrorism, just as I do not believe we must occupy other terrorist training sites, such as Somalia, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, as Bob Herbert points out, escalation comes at tremendous human and financial cost. Rising suicide and depression rates among soldiers are cause enough for concern, to say nothing of our economic problems. Are the costs worth it? We have achieved little:
We invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago. We have not broken the back of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We have not captured or killed Osama bin Laden. We don’t even have an escalation strategy, much less an exit strategy. An honest assessment of the situation, taking into account the woefully corrupt and ineffective Afghan government led by the hapless Hamid Karzai, would lead inexorably to such terms as fiasco and quagmire.
Opposing escalation doesn’t mean opposing Obama. It means advocating a strategy that addresses the realities of the situation. If that brings disagreement with friends, allies, and leaders, so be it. We as a country must have this debate: not a debate about one man, but a debate about how we solve a dangerous and complicated problem.