Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hard Choice

We hear today that the President's advisors may be leaning towards sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a conclusion we have been prepared for by the news coverage of the past few weeks. After eight years, mostly marked by the neglect of the past administration, we are faced with a decision: commit additional forces and funds for as long as it takes to ensure that terrorists cannot set up shop in Afghanistan, or reduce our mission there significantly (counter-terrorism, but not counter-insurgency).

I think we have to recognize that a decision not to commit additional resources may well be an acceptance of failure in Afghanistan. What would that mean for our security? Worst case would be a successful Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan, Waziristan, and in Pakistan. That could be very bad, but it is not clear that anything short of a large, permanent and costly American military presence will be sufficient to ensure that the worst case never comes to pass, especially when one considers the implications of the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai regime.

At home, the cost of the war is not irrelevant. The President's agenda includes some expensive undertakings, and he came into office saddled with a deep recession and a mountain of debt, the legacy of the previous administration and its GOP allies in Congress. As we have seen with health care, the same GOP legislators who added trillions to the national debt under George Bush now object to any spending bill or social program on the basis of a newfound commitment to fiscal responsibility.

So it must be recognized that an investment in security in Afghanistan and Pakistan may make it very hard to achieve other important goals. "Yes, we can" was a very compelling message, but clearly it was not meant to suggest there would not be some hard choices.

The first responsibility of government is to ensure our security, but this mandate does not mean that we should engage in wasteful and non-productive allocations of scarce resources. General McChrystal wants a lot of troops for as long as they're needed, with no real promise of success.

It's time to get serious, and make the right choices. Our resources have to go where results can be obtained, not to foolish and endless misadventures. It is time to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

posted at 8:23:00 AM by Neil

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