The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Crunch Time

Think back to 2007. The entire country wanted then President George W. Bush to exit Iraq. Harry Reid suggested that the war was lost, Barack Obama (then a Junior Senator) argued adamantly that the surge would not work, members of Bush’s own party argued against adding more troops. But Bush acted like a leader. He disregarded the polls, the advice of most of his political enemies and allies and made what he thought was the right decision. Say what you will about GWB, he showed real leadership and saved the US from defeat, and Iraq from plunging into chaos.

As we watch the drawn out melodrama that encompasses Barack Obama’s decision on how to to redefine his own strategy (announced with much fanfare in March) in Afghanistan, I can only wonder when and if he’ll exhibit any leadership on this issue.

But before you leap to the conclusion that the same approach (with minor modification) will work in Afghanistan, recognize that Afghanistan is radically different than Iraq. If Barack Obama is as smart as his proponents claim he is, I’m certain that he understands the following points:

  • Afghanistan is a tribal society that is primitive by 21st century standards. There has never been a centralized government that effectively controlled the entire country.
  • An Afghan army is not a national army and never will be. Each “soldier’s” primary allegiance is to his tribe, not some centralized government in Kabul. All the training in the world will not break down centuries old allegiances.
  • The real power in Afghanistan rests with tribal war lords, and each has his own agenda. There is no chance that these warlords will give up their power.
  • The Afghan economy is driven by Opium and is nurtured by massive corruption at every level.
  • The Taliban are Islamofascists who are given safe haven across the border in Pakistan. Afghan warlords are better equipped to deal with the Taliban over the long term. If they accept their presence, that is Afghanistan’s fate—as awful as it might be.

It should not take months for our current President to digest these harsh realities.

Over the past few years, I’ve sometimes disagreed with Tom Friedman’s comments on the Middle East, but in today’s New York Times he gets it right:
It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.

If Barack Obama is a true leader (and I’m not convinced he is), he should follow Friedman’s advice. The Right will scream bloody murder, just as the Left did as the Iraq surge was initiated. But that doesn’t mean their assessment is correct.

By redefining our goals in Afghanistan and moving away from a nation building effort that is doomed to failure, Obama will demonstrate that he is doing the right thing, not the most expedient thing. My guess is that he doesn’t have the courage to make that decision, but I hope I’m wrong.