Rattling the Cage: Welcome, Obama, to the March of Folly

Rattling the Cage Welco

February 22, 2010 16:57


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I don't pretend to understand Afghanistan, but I do know it's a big, poor, backward Islamic country in Central Asia with all sorts of warring factions that have been at it for decades, or even centuries. I know that American soldiers have been fighting there for eight years and that the situation is still a huge mess. And now President Barack Obama, after sending 21,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan in March, is set to announce next week that he's going to send over another 30,000 or so, which will bring the total number of US troops in that big, poor, backward, bewildering, violent Islamic country to about 100,000. I don't know much about Afghanistan, but I'm pretty familiar with America, familiar enough to know that America is not up for this. I don't know if it's possible to pacify Afghanistan - or Pakistan, Iraq, Iran or anyplace else in the region. I don't know if this can be done even with millions of American troops fighting for 100 years. But I do know, as I think everyone knows, that America is not ready to fight Islamism like it fought Nazism and Communism, which means that in its wars in the Middle East, America is destined to lose. The only question is how long these futile adventures will last. Actually, America fought one war in the Middle East that was not futile, not at all - the one in 1991 against Iraq. That was a truly "necessary war," to use Obama's term for the mess in Afghanistan. Back then, Saddam Hussein invaded an American-allied country, he electrified the entire Middle East, he was bidding for control, direct or indirect, over two-thirds of the world's oil - he had to be stopped and turned back. So president George H.W. Bush set a very clear, reasonable goal - forcing Saddam out of Kuwait - then sent half a million soldiers to do the job, accomplished it in six weeks with minimal allied casualties, then brought the troops home, leaving Saddam and Saddamism in ruins. That was a "good war." But Afghanistan? After 9/11, the Americans should have retaliated by carpet bombing select areas of that country, killing tens of thousands of people, terrorists and civilians both, to let al-Qaida, the Taliban and everyone in the Islamic world know that there is a terrible price to pay for attacking America and killing 3,000 innocents. Instead, America decided to "transform" the region. The result is that another 5,000 Americans have been killed, soldiers this time, bombs are still going off every which way in Iraq, and now a new president, this one a liberal Democrat, not a Republican neocon, is driving deeper and deeper into Afghanistan. And what about Pakistan? And Iran? Are they next? "All options are on the table," says Obama. AMERICA'S PROBLEM is that it still wants to be a military superpower but is no longer willing to pay the price in blood and money, so it tries to do it on the cheap and as painlessly as possible, and winds up fighting endless wars with impossible goals in distant, hellish places. If the US were serious about taking on a military challenge of this scope, it would reinstate the draft. This isn't Grenada they're dealing with, this is an enemy with outposts across the Middle East, and parts of Africa too. And the US means to go to war against this enemy with a volunteer army that's drawn from less than 1 percent of American families! "The problem in this country with this issue [of Afghanistan]," said Democratic Congressman David Obey, "is that the only people who have to sacrifice are military families, and they've had to go to the well again and again and again and again, and everybody else is blithely unaffected by the war." The American people won't stand for a military draft; it's a taboo subject over there. They won't even stand for a war tax; that's another taboo. But neither will they stand for the idea that America is not a military superpower anymore. And nobody in that country, not even the messiah of change, has the guts to tell them that they can't have it both ways. So the US pretends it can fight World War III like Grenada, its army is so far beyond overextended that there isn't a word for it, the country spends more and more billions of dollars that it doesn't have, and this has been going on now for almost a decade. At this point, is anybody confident that if and when the US gets out of Iraq, after all these years of horror and devastation, it will leave behind a stable, decent, more or less pro-American country? Is anybody confident of such a happy end to the war in Afghanistan? I don't think so. I think if America knew right after 9/11 what it knows now, there is no way on earth it would have started these wars. But now Obama wants more - not because he believes he can salvage the situation in Afghanistan, but because he's afraid of what will happen if he abandons it to the likes of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Which is a very legitimate worry. I worry about that too. But the only way the US can salvage Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan, or Iran, or any country in the Muslim world, is to fight like it fought every other major war in its history - with a draft, with war taxes, with a clear, reasonable goal and the readiness to pursue it to the end. Is America up for that today? No, it's not, I'm happy to say, because, like I said, even millions of American soldiers fighting for 100 years might not be enough to neutralize the threat of Islamism. It's fight or flight, which means the only choice left is flight. The US is not a military superpower anymore, and it's just hurting itself and a lot of other people by pretending. The time has come for America to wrap up these endless, failed third world wars. It's not going to be easy. And the worst part is that after Obama deepens America's commitment with 30,000 new soldiers, getting out is going to be even harder.

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