Much to the chagrin of his supporters, President Barack Obama has decided to increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by roughly 44 percent, sending 30,000 more soldiers. He has decided to heed the advice of General McChrystal. He has decided to continue President George W. Bush’s war.
For as much as I disagree with Obama’s move, I accept that the world cannot have an America that, once every four to eight years, radically changes its military posture. Like any large vessel, it would be dangerous for us to turn the ship on a dime. The best we can hope for is a gradual shift in direction.
So, is a gradual shift in direction what Obama is offering us? Not really. The new plan appears to be recycling the old plan: Disrupt and destroy the Taliban, plan an eventual withdrawal but maintain a troop presence, enhance security, train Afghani security, clean up Karzai’s act, request ally assistance and so forth.
Will it work? No one has a crystal ball to foresee the future, but after considering eight years of past experience in Afghanistan, I would wager that our chances for success are low. Nation building in this manner simply doesn’t work.
For a country to truly reform, the fire of national self-determination must burn brightly. We can examine our own American Revolution for a prime example of this.
We threw off the yoke of our British oppressors and internalized our own way forward. France, while aiding us, did not dismantle the enemy on our behalf. Similarly, we cannot do that for the fledgling Afghani government.
Securing democracy isn’t really why we are there though. We invaded Afghanistan because the ruling government, the Taliban, sponsored a serious threat to our national security, Al-Qaeda. We are in Afghanistan to preserve our own national security, but to say that the war has made America safer since 9/11 is fallacious.
Consider how widespread and mobile our aggressors are. Securing Afghanistan doesn’t prevent other countries, like Sudan, from harboring threats to America. Besides its naive appeal, a strategy of conquering every country with villains in it is absurd because we lack the necessary resources (cash, hardware, manpower and national will) to do so.
Our security strategy needs to be seriously re-evaluated. It begins with how we handle Afghanistan. Victory needs to have its terms redefined; the dream of an agreeable, democratic government running the country, while simultaneously squelching violent resistance, is untenable and thus far unattainable. Perhaps we need to compromise for the cake of a secure Afghanistan by sacrificing the frosting of it being democratic.
Democracies are inherently weak compared with other forms of government. Afghanistan’s situation, rife with split political and violent factions, requires a cemented authority to take the reins of control, force conformity and foster stability.
For a new Afghani government to be successful in maintaining security (meaning our mission is successful) it needs to be strong. It needs to have the tenacity to take the necessary measures, no matter how bold or bloody, to destroy any force that undermines its security and authority. This means it cannot be democratic.
To expect a democratic Afghanistan, especially one constantly undermined by the Taliban, to survive the hell of its own turmoil is ludicrous. There is little allowance for freedom when the success of our mission for security teeters on the brink of failure.
There’s a problem though. We cannot yet stomach the thought of propping up a dictator under our wing, even if it means the more certain possibility of guaranteeing security. That’s why Obama, like his predecessor, has gambled for the palatable yet naive goal of a democratic Afghanistan as a means ofsecuring America’s safety.
Time will vindicate the need for a stronger, less democratic Afghan government as continued “nice-guy” policies fail to stabilize the country. If we are serious about winning, we need to be serious about what works and what doesn’t.