Today I will be joined by friends and family in my comfortable home. There will be an overabundance of food and much laughter and enjoyment of each others company. Ask around the room and you will hear a multitude of reasons why we are thankful and what we have to be thankful for. It's a tribute to the human spirit that even in the most difficult times we can find something even though to others it may be small or inconsequential. But there will be one item missing from my list.
President Obama apparently has weighed his options for Afghanistan and will soon announce his decision. Leaked reports--do they float this ahead of time to see what the reaction will be?--indicate he may send an additional 34,000 troops.
Afghanistan, a country with a lengthy history of military failures on the part of the invaders. A country beset with corruption, so much so that Abdullah Abdullah refused to participate in a run-off election against Hamid Karzai this month after the first election results were essentially voided due to rampant ballot box stuffing and other voter fraud and intimidation tactics. Karzai became president by default. It's a country where we pursue and fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban whom many Americans mistakenly believe are one and the same. Regardless, it's a war we can't win.
There are 68,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 from other countries in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army's recently revised counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan's population would require about 600,000 troops.
Adding 34,000 to 110,000 is still well short of 600,000. It's like Obama has picked a number he hopes will send the signal that he's not a wimp but also not foolhardy. The ever eloquent and thoughtful Bill Moyers discussed a similar situation in his program last Friday. Although there are many differences, much of the talk leading up to our increased and extended involvement in South Vietnam repeats itself today.
After eight years we are no closer to our goals--whatever they are--in Afghanistan. We have not created a stable government outside of Kabul. The "enemy" is part of the populace and not easily discerned. Even Afghan soldiers and policemen turn against their American counterparts at times. While we may be able to kill from afar, do we not recognize the civilians who also perish in the attacks provide more reason to fight against us?
As Bill Moyers summarized:
Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we're fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.
Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.
And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he's got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.
And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.
We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.
And that's what I'd like to be thankful for. That President Obama said no.
Two Days in Houston
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