Can you believe it? Not content with the drawdown in Iraq, some are seriously suggesting the same for Afghanistan.
To be frank, there are about 20 percent of our countrymen who, if the Cuban army were to come ashore in Key West, would want to take it to the United Nations or impose economic sanctions on Havana before resorting to an armed response.
Thankfully, the rest of us do not have to rely on these folks to protect the freedoms and standard of living we enjoy. And they have always been there - from the Loyalists in 1776 to the America Firsters in the 1940s.
To be sure, fixing the situation in Afghanistan will be long and costly in blood and treasure. But for many reasons, it’s the right thing to do. So how do we do it?
Political leadership. President Obama should reaffirm his election commitment to staying the course in Afghanistan, making it a priority equal to health care and the economy. This would go a long way toward reassuring those who disdain bowing to Saudi Kings, yucking it up with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or ignoring the Iranian freedom movement. Mr. Obama should demonstrate the ability to go “all in” when the situation demands it, thereby distinguishing himself by pursuing the “good war.” In addition, he should set a time for re-evaluating the situation in Afghanistan - say 18 months in spring 2011. Until then, give the commanders a chance to work the problem free of constant second-guessing.
Bolster the Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been a feckless leader. Rumors of familial narcotics trafficking abound. Should he survive the sham election, the country will be split along ethnic lines. If Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, cannot figure out a way to get him out totally or shunted aside as a figurehead, then at least surround him with competent people whose aim is to improve the lot of their countrymen, not enrich themselves. Lawlessness is endemic in the government and is found at all levels. It starts at the top. There are many good and honest Afghans - they need encouragement from the top.
Send more troops. The counterinsurgency doctrine that Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal are righteously pursuing holds that the people are the prize, not enemy body counts. This strategy is, by definition, soldier intensive. In the past, International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) swept a village or district of the Taliban. Surviving Taliban fled, only to return when the ISAF were busy elsewhere. The soldiers are now staying, making friends, improving the lot of the villagers and gaining their trust. Other soldiers replicate this model in the next village.
Comparisons to the Russian occupation is not apt. The Russians were executing, raping and laying out booby traps disguised as toys for Afghan children. We don’t do that. We are the good guys and the Afghans know or soon learn this.
About 45,000 to 50,000 more troops should do it. This number could be cut if we could get some more help from NATO allies. Other than the British, they have not wanted to fight or known how to. Ironic, since their European cities are flooded with Afghan heroin and thousands of migrants from the region seeking jobs or, in some cases, causing mayhem. Finally, someone should be putting the arm on countries who owe us or want to be our friend - such as Georgia.
Build Afghanistan. Security in the countryside will enable civil action by Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the U.S. Agency for International Development,nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the central government. Projects must be coordinated by an entity that is efficient, above reproach and empowered to deal with corruption.
Donor nations’ feet must be held to the fire. About $25 billion has been pledged but only $15 billion actually received. Noncombatant countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and Saudi Arabia must give more - a good task for the State Department.
Attack the drug trade. The Taliban, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was lured into the drug trade in the 1980s by the enormous profits, providing the funds to fight the Russians and autonomy from the American and Saudi paymasters. Twenty years later the networks are more sophisticated and the yields higher.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed “we don’t do drugs.” But under Gen. Petraeus that has changed. Drug lords are now valid military targets - special mission units and Predators should be on them day and night. Drug labs give off quite a thermal signature so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Cutting off the cash behind the enhanced equipment and tactics we are now seeing on the battlefield is essential.
Increase the Afghan national army. We must professionalize and greatly expand the Afghan national army and security services. Progress is occurring, though slowly. More U.S. Special Forces military training teams are required. Better pay and ongoing education as found in the U.S. Army are also key elements. Unit cohesion will enhance national identity and unity as well.