Why Afghanistan Is Important

December 2nd, 2009

By Harvey Grund

AfPakMapPresident Obama once again waxed eloquent this week at West Point– he is one hell of a good orator, I’ll give him that. (Text of speech here.)

It was also an exceptionally pro-American speech — for Obama, that is; his obsessive need to pound his chest and scream mea culpa (figuratively of course) on behalf of the US was definitely under control. Well, I guess it had to be in front of several thousands of future military officers.

But it was also an overly optimistic speech, which is understandable — when you’re asking for money from Congress and asking for support from U.S. citizens, you try to avoid reality and focus on optimism.

The 30,000 additional troops Obama has promised to Afghanistan will help keep out troops safe but, as in Iraq, our mission in Afghanistan is not just fighting terrorists, it’s getting Afghanistan into a position where the Afghan military can fight their own battles. Some call this “nation-building” and say we shouldn’t bother with the expense while our own country is in such economic trouble. What they don’t understand is the thing that’s not talked about much but is the overwhelming “elephant” in the Afghan situation — their neighbor, nuclear Pakistan.

Pakistan has had nuclear capabilities and weaponry for years, and the last thing the world needs is nuclear Pakistan falling into the hands of the Taliban. I’m hardly a middle-east expert, and I’m certain that there are many aspects of the situation I don’t understand, but it makes sense that building-up Afghanistan’s military, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are supposed to be strongest, and decimating them there is a good step in the direction of keeping Pakistan out of the hands of the Taliban. That objective, if met, is well worth the money that will be spent to meet it.

A thought on meeting that objective:

On the Mark Davis radio show this morning, a caller made a very important point about what we are doing in Afghanistan — this caller has first-hand knowledge, she has been there and is going back there next week, and she is a US Air Force officer who trains Afghan Air Force pilots.

When asked by the radio show host if she thinks the Afghan Air Force will be able to do the job, she made the point that we have to realize that these are not Americans and we shouldn’t expect that they will do things the way Americans do things. They will probably be able to do the job, but it won’t be anything close to the way we would do the job. They are people of a different culture and have to take what they are taught and sublimate (in a sense) those things into their own ways of thinking and acting. In other words, we are not making Americans and we can only hope that we are making effective soldiers.

The broader point is: When dealing with people, in any situation, who have their own beliefs, practices and methods we can’t expect to be happy with the process they use or judge the immediate results by our standards but we can only hope that the final objectives are met.

(This article was also posted at My View from the Center.)

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7 Responses to “Why Afghanistan Is Important”

  1. Tom |

    I agree with most of what you say, particularly regarding concern about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The reasonable fear, I think, is not so much that the Taliban, which isn’t a singular cohesive entity, will take over Pakistan outright. The fear is that nuclear weapons in some form will get into the hands of terrorists or others who can threaten the U.S. directly. I don’t know that anything we do in Afghanistan is going to prevent that from happening.

    The problem with Obama’s middle path, somewhere between all-in and all-out, is that it isn’t going to work. The time limit Obama put on the war — that we will begin pulling out about a year after the troop build-up is completed — guarantees failure. Defenders of the strategy are making the point that the pull-out will depend on progress at that time, but Obama didn’t stress that point, and the pressure to meet the deadline will be tremendous.

    Regardless of differences in societies and cultures, there are objective standards that we apparently expect the Afghans to meet — a competent, corruption-free central government; effective and corruption-free military and police structures; and at least some semblance of national unity throughout that traditional tribal society. We expect free elections, elimination or at least significant reduction in poppy-growing, observance of international human rights standards…. None of this is going to happen. The only question that remains is how much blood and treasure are we going to expend to finally figure it out.

    The Russians have taken their shots at controlling Afghanistan. Most recently they fought a nine-year war with about 100,000 troops in-country most of the time. When they finally pulled out with their tails between their legs, having accomplished little, they had suffered about 13,000 KIA and about 35,000 WIA. They must be watching all this unfold and chuckling in their vodka.

  2. Harvey |

    Your last point about the Russian failure in Afghanistan: There is one major difference between that scenario and our situation; the Russians were aggressors in Afghanistan — the Afghan people didn’t want them there so they were hit from every side. Our presence in Afghanistan is welcomed by everyone but the terrorists.

    The worst part about our situation — what makes it a loosing situation regardless of troop strength is that we are stuck with the rules of engagement dictated by the Afghan government. There we are fighting with the one proverbial arm tied behind our backs.

    The strongest fighting force in the world is attempting to fight a war without being able to fight it – is that irony or tragedy.

  3. Tom |

    It’s an issue of perspective as to who is an “aggressor” or a “freedom fighter” or a “liberator” or a “terrorist” etc. Many common people in Afghanistan consider us aggressors and occupiers, and everyone who fights us there isn’t a terrorist. It isn’t true that our presence in Afghanistan is welcomed by everyone but terrorists. Just ask, for example, the survivors of the large numbers of attacks that have killed one or a few Taliban or al-Qaeda, leaving a larger number of their families and neighbors dead or wounded.

    The Afghan government does not in any sense dictate our rules of engagement. They many have an opinion and preferences, but we set our own rules of engagement.

    This business of “fighting with one arm tied behind our backs” has been a constant refrain since the days of Vietnam. The fact is, the U.S. military can defeat any country and its army in very short order by wreaking appalling death and destruction on the country and its people. World War II was the last time we came close to that, and we’re not likely to do it in the future. In the final analysis, that’s a moral choice we make, and it’s the right choice.

  4. larry |

    Harvey, Tom
    The chance that weapons from Pakistan may fall into terrorist hands by way of Afghanistan is indeed very real. Hopefully that will never happen. If it does happen we will be forced to inflict a much more deadly form of war than most will approve. Nation building is great if it works but it rarely does work.
    For the most part Obama told us very little that wasn’t already known. I saw it as much of a campaign speech as it was about Afghanistan. The biggest news was happening while we all were watching his speech. The embryo/stem cell issue was ended when the President signed a bill to allow research into that area.

  5. Harvey |


    I just can’t agree that sending our soldiers into a war zone without allowing them to fight an aggressive war is a “moral” option.

    Read this article in the Washington Times and see the Hell our “moral” war is putting OUR SOLDIERS through.

    The article also refers to the “Karzai 12”: “a framework to ensure cultural sensitivity in planning and executing operations.” If we’re puting our soldiers lives on the line I say the hell with cultural sensitivity. This is what I was referring to when I said “the rules of engagement dictated by the Afghan government.”

    If we can’t win with an absolute minimum of casualties on our side, we just shouldn’t be there.

    All I can say is I’m just totally fed up with “cultural sensitivity,” diversity, quotas and all the other trappings being forced on us by stupid bureaucrats.

  6. Brianna |

    Agreed. The only thing worse than fighting an immoral war is fighting it half-way. Either get in, or get out.

    “I’m just totally fed up with “cultural sensitivity,” diversity, quotas and all the other trappings being forced on us by stupid bureaucrats.”

    Also agreed… and not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  7. Tom |

    Harvey, rules of engagement have nothing to do with not allowing soldiers “to fight an aggressive war.” They’re designed to ensure that we don’t do things in combat that we don’t want to do, such as destroying churches and mosques, destroying cultural and historical sites, and most of all not killing noncombatants. Rules of engagement are established in all armed conflicts, with variations specific to given situations. However, soldiers are never prevented from defending themselves from direct attacks that threaten their lives.

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