Thanks For The Afghan Shit Sandwich, Mr. Bush
In my view, one of the reasons why President Obama is hesitating to escalate in Afghanistan, aside from the basing issues, is that his predecessor left him with no good options in the country.
President Obama's national security team gave a dire assessment Sunday of the war in Afghanistan, with one official calling it a challenge "much tougher than Iraq" and others hinting that it could take years to turn around.
U.S. officials said more troops were urgently needed, both from America and its NATO allies, to counter the increasing strength of the Taliban and warlords opposed to the central government in Kabul. They also said new approaches were needed to untangle an inefficient and conflicting array of civilian-aid programs that have wasted billions of dollars.
"NATO's future is on the line here," Richard C. Holbrooke, the State Department's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told attendees at an international security conference here. "It's going to be a long, difficult struggle. . . . In my view, it's going to be much tougher than Iraq."
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the war in Afghanistan "has deteriorated markedly in the past two years" and warned of a "downward spiral of security."
In addition to more combat troops, Petraeus called for "a surge in civilian capacity" to help rebuild villages, train local police forces, tackle corruption in the Afghan government and reduce the country's thriving opium trade. He also suggested that the odds of success were low, given that foreign military powers have historically met with defeat in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan has been known over the years as the graveyard of empires," he said. "We cannot take that history lightly."
Now, you're the President. You know that NATO allies are extremely reluctant to provide additional troops and that the United States would be likely to shoulder any burden mostly alone. You are aware of the history of foreign occupiers in Afghanistan. You know that progress toward economic recovery from a terrible crisis will be hampered by a negative foreign entanglement. And you're seeing that support for American involvement among the Afghan people has plummeted in recent years, to the extent that Americans are now viewed unfavorably in the country.
Even if you had somewhere to base troops and move them around the country, why would you want to commit them? There is a legitimate role for denying safe haven to extremists who would do America harm, but that could just as easily be handled by law enforcement, intelligence and regional alliances with local governments.