President Obama is absolutely correct in doing exhaustive research and fact-finding as he decides on the basic and major approaches by the U.S. in Afghanistan. The elephant in the room is that after Bush diverted focus from capturing Osama bin Laden and ending al Qaeda as was imminent at Torah Borah, Bush directed the invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan was left to become a Chinese puzzle. U.S. options in Afghanistan are widely varied, disputed, fraught with danger, and these horrible choices harken back to our disaster in Vietnam. Any chance for a decent outcome in Afghanistan will require complex, new approaches that are carried out intelligently. Listening only to the military would be making the same mistake we made in Vietnam. Their input is essential but limited in perspective.
We are not engaged in only a military battle in Afghanistan. That is the mistake we made from the beginning in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history. And merely sending 40,000 more combat troops would be a big mistake. We need to find a way to communicate with a wide and splintered illiterate population. Our form of democracy is like trying to foist a 20th century concept onto a 12th century people. And the religious fanaticism that has been trumped up for hundreds of years only adds to the problem. We simply cannot win a war focused only on military infusion and only combat action. The USSR tried that in Afghanistan and failed miserably. And let us recall clearly that the Soviets were close by while we are a half-a-world away. Afghanistan is not a nation in the true sense of the word. It is a fragmented conglomeration of war lords, drug cartels, distortioned Islamists, and a wide spectrum of ethnic splinters.
The Bush debacle in Afghanistan made no distinction between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Al Qaeda has designs on terrorizing worldwide, the Taliban want to protect their drug income, hold women down, keep their control over different sections of the country, and use Islam as a cover for their horrid intentions. We weakened al Qaeda in Afghanistan and even in Pakistan and Iraq. The Taliban have grown in strength dramatically since 2001. Our plans in Afghanistan must take into account the differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Ignore that, and we surely will fail, and fail miserably.
No one can envy the impossible situation President Obama was left with, but he is forced to try and straighten things out and produce the best possible outcome. At least he is approaching it with the wisdom of many people from various sides. His critics from the left and the right seem to want only ignorant, simplistic approaches. Those simplistic approaches are: pull out or infuse many more combat troops. Both of those would be a mistake.