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December 5, 2009

Time to look within our borders, not at more war

Here we go again. Thirty billion more dollars and 30,000 more troops for a war that's really just taking sides in a civil conflict of our own creation.

Yes, at one time it was a legitimate conquest. In those days after 9/11, we were reeling from al-Qaida attacks and had the world's support in our efforts to punish and prevent future assaults.

But we had our chance, and though President Obama, as always, offers eloquent and well-reasoned arguments for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, his statements also could be used as evidence for pulling back now.

In his speech at West Point on Tuesday night, the president said that after 9/11, ``within a matter of months, al-Qaida was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels.''

That no doubt is true, and if so, then what went wrong? We can't blame the acknowledged deterioration of the situation since then entirely on our invasion of Iraq, which seems to be the standard explanation.

Less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, I wrote in this space that: ``We had the world's support for scattering al-Qaida and toppling the regressive Afghan government for its role in harboring terrorists. OK, is it time now to address some of the roots of that extremism and stop more hate from spreading?''

Yes, it was time, but apparently we didn't do it. Invading Iraq certainly wasn't a good strategy. And the government we installed in Afghanistan, in Obama's own words, has ``been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.'' We appear to be unable to admit that what's going on in Afghanistan is a civil war in some ways similar to the one we created in Iraq. We talk about the Taliban as if its members were Martians who swooped down from the sky on flying carpets and took over the country.

No. They are Afghans, though not very nice ones perhaps, especially in their allowing al Qaida to train terrorists on their lands. They were repressive when in power, but they were still Afghans and fundamentalist Muslims, and many people supported them.

Imagine, if you can, an army of religious extremists in this country marching on Washington and taking over the government. Many people would see the policies they might institute as repressive. And who knows, such a new government might even allow cells of anti-abortion terrorists to train in rural Mississippi. Does that give the French the right to invade and save us?

Obama: ``The Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan.''

And why has the latter occurred? Because the Taliban, as Afghans, have been able to win over many of their countrymen as opposed to the American-led invaders who installed a puppet government that couldn't get elected democratically without massive fraud.

Now, the president wants to use a surge of 30,000 troops to try to reverse that trend, figuring 100,000 soldiers can do what 50,000 were unable to do.

The goals of the troop buildup, according to Obama, are that, ``We must deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.

And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.''

There's no question that the first goal is vital. You have to wonder, however, given that importance, why it has not been the No. 1 priority for the last seven years. The question now is whether the best way to achieve it is by trying to pummel one side in the power struggle (the Taliban) while trying to train the other side to do the pummeling by itself.

Surely, with all our non-military talents, there has to be a better way.

Though the president proposed an 18-month timetable for his strategy, our lawmakers and Americans need to be asking if escalating the war and getting more people and troops killed is the best way to achieve that first goal. Of course, they also have to wonder how many years that 18 months will become.

Obama said it was ``easy to forget that when this war began, we were united _ bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.''

Apparently, he's ignoring his knowledge of human nature, economic hardship and debt. It's now eight years later. People, rightly, are sick of war and want our nation's leaders to focus their attention and money on our own problems _ joblessness, health care and energy _ and not on a costly military gamble.

Cary Brunswick, a former managing editor of The Daily Star, is a freelance writer and editor, and editor of He can be reached at