- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009




The sepulcher of President Barack Obama’s greatness lies before him — Afghanistan.

His scheduled doubling of United States troops there to more than 60,000 could bring his presidency to ruin. The twin justifications for dispatching American soldiers to fight and die in a war against the Taliban to protect a wasteland of corruption, tribalism and warlords are unpersuasive: to prevent a second edition of Sept. 11, 2001; and, to transform Afghanistan into a recognizable democracy featuring human rights and the rule of law. The war is making the United States less safe by squandering resources better employed at home and creating enemies by knowingly or unintentionally killing civilians. Furthermore, an Afghan democracy for the indefinite future is unattainable.

The Sept. 11 abominations were hatched in Afghanistan. The Taliban harbored, aided and abetted al Qaeda’s murderous training and plotting. Its leadership was every bit complicit in violating United States criminal laws as was Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker.” He was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in federal civilian court for conspiring to murder citizens of the United States.

The United States responded to the 2001 attacks with the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against the Taliban or any other group or person associated with al Qaeda, i.e., authorizing permanent war against suspected terrorists anywhere on the planet.

The United States, however, did not confront a binary choice between waging war against the Taliban and nothing. It could have crafted a response to Sept. 11, 2001’s criminality modeled on Israel’s answer to the 1972 Palestine Liberation Organization murder of its Olympian athletes in Munich. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir gave instructions for Israeli agents to hunt down and kill those responsible. She told the Knesset on Sept. 12, 1972: “We have no choice but to strike at the terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace. We shall fulfill that obligation undauntedly.”

Accordingly, the Israeli Mossad initiated an ambitious covert counterterrorist campaign called “Wrath of God.” The Israeli Cabinet’s top-secret “Committee-X” authorized the assassination of any Black September terrorists involved in the Munich incident. The Mossad assumed the responsibility for implementing the directive and developed several assassination teams. More than a dozen terrorists were eliminated, some in joint Mossad-Israeli Defense Force operations.

The United States similarly could have answered Taliban’s complicity in Sept. 11, 2001, with joint CIA-DOD covert kidnapping or assassination operations targeting Mullah Omar and other members of its top leadership. It did not.

Pursuant to the AUMF, the United States drove the Taliban from power. A new Afghan Constitution was cobbled together. Article I made the nation an “Islamic Republic.” Article 3 declared that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” With the strong support of the United States, Hamid Karzai was elected president of a transitional government and then president of the Islamic Republic.

He has presided over an anemic and semi-legitimate central government whose twin signatures have been corruption and ineptitude. Opium production is flourishing. War lords predominate in the provinces. The Taliban is resurgent from bases in Pakistan and otherwise. Staggering reconstruction funds have been misspent or have fled Afghanistan because of the unstable political climate and rampant lawlessness.

Contrary to its constitution, Afghanistan’s next presidential election has been postponed until Aug. 20, 2009. Violence was too great in 84 districts to conduct balloting. Opposition leaders in the parliament announced they would cease recognizing Mr. Karzai’s authority on May 22. Afghanistan’s political culture frowns on dissent, endorses tribalism and hierarchy, disrespects religious or gender equality, and slights fundamental procedural protections against unjust prosecutions or detentions.

Afghanistan proved undigestible to the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion, as it had to the British in its two 19th-century Afghan wars. The probability of an Afghanistan democratic transformation with United States arms or money is as fanciful as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers as chronicled in “Gulliver’s Travels.”

The United States has suffered 644 military casualties in Afghanistan. For what did these Americans die? To secure the blessings of liberty to Afghans who owe no allegiance and have contributed nothing to the United States? Will the Obama administration similarly fight wars to bring freedom to Tibetans, Chechens, Burmese, Iranians, Cubans or North Koreans? Neither President Bush nor President Obama has defined the U.S. political objective for the Afghan war. Clausewitz wrote that, “War is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means.” A war without a defined political goal is war for the sake of war.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen maintains that lasting security in Afghanistan requires better governance and economic growth. But more troops will not diminish corruption or official ineptitude. They will not alter Afghanistan’s backward political culture. The Vietnam War troop escalations that destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency fits Mr. Obama’s troop increase in Afghanistan like a glove.

The president should withdraw all U.S. forces there. The military resources and money saved should be used in the United States to strengthen border security and to upgrade intelligence and defense systems to secure the blessings of liberty to U.S. citizens as stipulated in the Constitution. Further, the Israeli response to the Munich Olympic massacre should be the model for opposing the Taliban.

And to avoid follies of the British Empire, Mr. Obama should reject the orthodox national security liturgy that the United States will be less safe unless it initiates war against all nations, organizations or persons complicit in international terrorism.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc., and author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy.”

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