Commentary: 'Afghanistan is about to become Mr. Obama's war'

McClatchy NewspapersApril 2, 2009 

Here's the thing about President Barack Obama’s newly announced Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy: It’s long on Afghanistan, but not long enough, and it’s way short on Pakistan.

Pakistan is the key to everything in that part of the world, and it appears to be on the verge of spinning out of control, beset by radical Muslims who are stepping up suicide bombings and armed attacks.

Corruption is endemic both in the leaders of the new and shaky civilian government and in the opposition. Both government and opposition leaders keep looking over their shoulders at the Pakistani Army, with good reason. The Army has far more experience running the country in the last 40 years, with a long string of coups and strongmen, than the civilian politicians do.

Pakistan has several hundred nuclear weapons, and no one in his or her right mind wants to see a revolution that ends with local Taliban types getting their hands on that nuclear arsenal.

Then there's the fact that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida terrorists enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan's wild frontier provinces that border on Afghanistan. Down in restive Baluchistan province, astride the U.S. supply route to Kandahar, we have Mullah Omar and his Afghan Taliban insurgents, who are on the march, bigger and badder than ever.

Obama's new strategy for Pakistan centers on giving the government another $1.5 billion a year for five years in new aid for civilian projects, in addition to the billions in military aid we’ve been pouring down that bottomless pit for years.

In return, we “hope” that Pakistan will take a firmer stance against al Qaida, its Taliban friends from Afghanistan and the homegrown Pakistani Taliban.

Fat chance of that, with Pakistani’s premier intelligence agency maintaining such close ties to the Afghan Taliban that they’re virtually members of Mullah Omar’s board of directors.

So what about our chances in Afghanistan with the president’s announced plans to ship another 17,000 Army and Marine combat forces there, as well as another 4,000 troops whose mission will be to train Afghan Army and police forces?

That would bring the number of American military in that country to just less than 60,000.

None of the Obama surge troops would reach Afghanistan until sometime this summer, but Gen. David Petraeus of the U.S. Central Command was already telling Congress this week that we may need at least another 10,000 troops by this fall. Did we just hear the first clicks of a ratchet?

The Obama plan also would step up civilian aid to the Kabul government by a substantial amount and send in hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. civilian aid experts to help oversee major infrastructure projects in a country that has little or none of that outside the capital and not much inside it, either.

The strings tied to that aid include a yet-undefined series of “benchmarks” that will include demands for serious efforts to eradicate Afghanistan’s only cash crop, opium poppies, and the heroin refined from their bounty, as well as efforts to clean up official corruption, which is endemic.

With President Hamid Karzai’s brother widely reported to be neck-deep in the opium business and raking in payoffs on anything else that passes by, the prospects for willing acquiescence to American demands for a cleanup seem to hover somewhere between slim and none.

How long do the experts think it might take to achieve the president’s goal of an Afghan government and Army able to stand against all foes on their own? Optimists in the administration and the military say 12 to 15 years; pessimists in the administration and the military say 20 years plus.

How long do we suppose we have before the long-suffering Afghan people give up any hope that things will ever get better and turn against us? How much longer are the American people likely to be willing to continue to pour the blood of our sons and daughters and our national treasure onto the Afghan sands?

The consensus on American patience seems to be somewhere between two and three years at the outside, or about the time the next presidential election campaigning shifts into top gear

From the day the first American troops of the Obama surge set foot in Afghanistan, that war becomes Obama’s war. However poorly planned and supported our efforts there were during the last eight years - however stump-dumb it was for the previous administration to turn away from Job One and divert its money and attention to Iraq - won’t matter anymore.

Afghanistan is about to become Mr. Obama’s war, just as Vietnam became Lyndon Johnson’s war, as well as his sad and bitter legacy.

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