By Arianna Huffington at Huffington Post
Joe Biden met with CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus this morning to talk about Afghanistan — an issue that has pushed the vice president into the spotlight, landing him on the cover of the latest Newsweek.
I have an idea for how he can capitalize on all the attention, and do what generations to come will always be grateful for: resign.
The centerpiece of Newsweek’s story is how Biden has become the chief White House skeptic on escalating the war in Afghanistan, specifically arguing against Gen. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy there.
The piece, by Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas, opens with details of a September 13th national security meeting at the White House. Biden speaks up:
“Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?” Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. “And how much will we spend on Pakistan?” Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. “Well, by my calculations that’s a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we’re spending in Pakistan, we’re spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?” The White House Situation Room fell silent.
Being Greek, I’m partial to Biden’s classic use of the Socratic method — skillfully eliciting facts in a way that lets people connect the dots that show how misguided our involvement in Afghanistan has become.
It’s been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal’s desire for a big escalation of our forces there — the New York Times reported last month that he has “deep reservations” about it. So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations.
What he must not do is follow the same weak and worn-out pattern of “opposition” we’ve become all-too-accustomed to, first with Vietnam and then with Iraq. You know the drill: after the dust settles, and the country begins to look back and not-so-charitably wonder, “what were they thinking?” the mea-culpa-laden books start to come out. On page after regret-filled page, we suddenly hear how forceful this or that official was behind closed doors, arguing against the war, taking a principled stand, expressing “strong concern” and, yes, “deep reservations” to the president, and then going home each night distraught at the unnecessary loss of life.
Well, how about making the mea culpa unnecessary? Instead of saving it for the book, how about future author Biden unfetter his conscience in real time — when it can actually do some good? If Biden truly believes that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not in the best interests of our national security — and what issue is more important than that? — it’s simply not enough to claim retroactive righteousness in his memoirs.
Though it would be a crowning moment in a distinguished career, such an act of courage would likely be only the beginning. Biden would then become the natural leader of the movement to wind down this disastrous war and focus on the real dangers in Pakistan.
The number of those on both sides of the political spectrum who share Biden’s skepticism is growing. In August, George Will called for the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan and “do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units.”
Former Bush State Department official and current head of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas argued in the New York Times that Afghanistan is not, as Obama insists, a war of necessity. “If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort,” writes Haas. “It is not and does not. It is not certain that doing more will achieve more. And no one should forget that doing more in Afghanistan lessens our ability to act elsewhere.”
In Rethink Afghanistan, Robert Greenwald’s powerful look at the war (and a film Joe Biden should see right away), Robert Baer, a former CIA field operative says, “The notion that we’re in Afghanistan to make our country safer is just complete bullshit… what it’s doing is causing us greater danger, no question about it. Because the more we fight in Afghanistan, the more the conflict is pushed across the border into Pakistan, the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is that a fundamentalist government will take over the army — and we’ll have Al-Qaeda like groups with nuclear weapons.”
And Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam vet and Biden confidant, told Newsweek that, while “there are a lot of differences” between Vietnam and Afghanistan, “one of the similarities is how easily and quickly a nation can get bogged down in a very dangerous part of the world. It’s easy to get into but not easy to get out. The more troops you throw in places, the more difficult it is to work it out because you have an investment to protect.”
And doing so, as we’ve seen, usually means losing more and more of that “investment”: each of the last six years of the Afghanistan war has been more deadly than the one before.