Monday, June 05, 2017

Commentary: Why are we still in Afghanistan? - CBS

To a generation of younger Americans, waging the War in Afghanistan must seem like one of the things our government does as a matter of course, like collecting taxes or distributing Social Security payments. The vast majority of students graduating from high school this spring have no memory of a time when we weren't fighting in that far away country. And soon enough, some number of them will likely arrive there to continue the campaign.

Donald Trump, in one of his occasional peacenik fits on the campaign trail, expressed enthusiasm for ending the war. Now that he's in office, however, he's mulling another surge of troops to support the beleaguered and hopelessly corrupt government we helped install in Kabul.

The reasons why we should risk more American lives and spend more taxpayer money on such an adventure are, at best, unclear. The arguments for why we shouldn't, on the other hand, are quite obvious.

The first argument is that nobody knows what victory in Afghanistan would even look like. We originally invaded the country in order to remove the Taliban government, which at the time controlled most of the country and provided a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

Progress is being made, in other words, but not by us. Trump's generals hope he will send an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops to the country to help remedy the situation. To put that number in perspective, we currently have about 8,400 troops there, down from 100,000 in President Obama's first term.

How such a modest surge would do much to defeat the Taliban, or bring them to the negotiating table, is anyone's guess. Far and away the most likely scenario is that it just prolongs the current stalemate, which at this point seems to be America's only real goal in the country. Defeat may be inevitable, but can be prolonged indefinitely.

Perhaps defeat is too strong a word, because America doesn't lose wars anymore, so much as we just don't win them. Since the end of World War II, we've waged a number of them, but had only one or two clear-cut victories: the 1983 toppling of a Cuban-sponsored junta in Grenada, and perhaps the emancipation of Kosovo from Serbian rule via a brief bombing campaign.

Why is that? Well, it's not for lack of cash. Despite the frequent Republican lament that our military is somehow hobbled by budget cuts, we still spend more on our armed forces than Russia, China, France, India, Great Britain, Israel, Australia, South Korea, Brazil, Iran, Spain, Canada, and Turkey combined. 

In reality, the price is quite large. Thousands of Americans have died in our post-9/11 wars, along with hundreds of thousands of the foreign civilians we set out to liberate. In a pure dollar amount, we've sunk more into Afghan reconstruction that we did to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

For all that, Afghanistan remains a backwards, largely illiterate, and essentially feudal society of competing tribes and Islamist militants with no real central government. Setting up some kind of stable democratic government in Afghanistan was always a transparently fantastical notion, but for all the money spent, it stands to reason that we should expect a little more by way of results.

Yet Afghanistan remains a sideshow, one only rarely talked about on the campaign trail in 2016. The public's focus has long since moved on to other calamities. We've reduced the longest running war in our history to background noise. - Read More

Commentary: Why are we still in Afghanistan? - CBS News


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