Thursday, September 23, 2010

Was Obama Right on his Afghanistan Policy? Is it a War that can't be Won?


In all the uproar over the new book by Bob Woodward, Obama's Wars, and the volatile internal debate, denunciations and recriminations raging in the media, we tend to get distracted from the underlying policy actions of the President in the midst of the internal conflicts.

What needs to be assessed is did the President come to the right conclusions in overriding the advice of his military commanders and attempting to contain the build up in Afghanistan?

What seems clear is this. The president redirected the war effort from one of nation rebuilding to one of targeted terrorist attacks. At the same time he greatly expanded the use of drones and other counter terrorism efforts and increased coordination with Pakistan in an effort to reach beyond the Afghan border in pursuit of Pakistan based terrorists.

History has demonstrated that no outside nation has successfully undertaken a war against Afghanistan and won including the world's only super powers the Soviet Union and the United States. Afghanistan is a tribal run society with no particular loyalty to anyone or any political philosophy.

Could a conventional war ever be successful in Afghanistan? Hardly, but war is seldom waged for conventional purposes. Prior to World War II it was the arms dealers of the world and the international bankers, both of whom were based primarily in Europe, who dictated the proliferation of war in the world.

With American intervention into World War II the American military industrial complex became the dominant world force in war, or the instigation of war more properly. We were warned of this danger in explicit terms by President Eisenhower, the Commander of the Allied war effort, just three days before he gave up his presidency to newly elected John F. Kennedy.

The haunting words of Eisenhower delivered to the nation are as follows:

Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

(Excerpts delivered 3 days before leaving office)

"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present - and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system -- ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society."

Nearly 100 years earlier and just before his death President Abraham Lincoln also warned of the dangers facing America:

"We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."

The passage appears in a letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864.

History would indicate President Obama has taken the right course in seeking a means to get out of the Afghan country as soon as possible. His compromise with the military by sending 30,000 more troops will make the path more difficult and his goal is opposite of the military industrial complex will to keep America at war. It will be a task he faces and one all presidents have faced throughout our history.

All Americans should support a path to a return to America's role as a peacekeeper, not an advocate of war. By now we should have learned the dangers of war after Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time we return to traditional American values.


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