"We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in," says Barack Obama of the U.S. war in Iraq. Wise counsel.
But is Barack taking his own advice? For he pledges to shift two U.S. combat brigades, 10,000 troops, out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, raising American forces in that country from 33,000 to 43,000.
Why does Barack think a surge of 10,000 troops will succeed in winning a war in which we have failed to prevail after seven years of fighting? How many more troops is he prepared to commit? Is the Obama commitment open-ended?
For, without any visible strategy for victory, Barack is recommending the same course LBJ took after the death of JFK. Johnson bombed North Vietnam in 1964, landed Marines in 1965 and built U.S. forces from 16,000 advisers on Nov. 22, 1963, to 525,000 troops in January of 1969.
Gradual escalation, which is exactly what Barack is recommending.
LBJ never thought through to the end game: how to break Hanoi, withdraw and leave a South peaceful, prosperous and pro-American.
Has Barack thought his way through to how this war ends in victory and we withdraw all U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan? For this writer cannot see anywhere on the horizon any such ending.
If the old rule applies -- the guerrilla wins if he does not lose -- the United States, about to enter its eighth year of combat, is losing. And, using the old 10-to-one ratio of regular troops needed to defeat guerrillas, if the Taliban can recruit 1,000 new fighters, they can see Obama's two-brigade bet, and raise him. Just as Uncle Ho raised LBJ again and again.
What does President Obama do then? Send in 10,000 more?
The Soviet Union, whose 115,000-man army in Afghanistan reached more than twice the size of U.S.-NATO forces, even with the Obama surge, went home defeated in 1988. The Soviet Empire did not survive that humiliation.
Obama -- and John McCain, who has endorsed the build-up -- should, before committing any more combat brigades, explain how and when this war ends in an American victory. For as of today, the Afghan war resembles Vietnam far more than Iraq ever did.
Consider. Taliban attacks are up 40 percent this year. U.S. casualties in May and June exceeded those in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus says al-Qaida is moving assets from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai's writ still does not extend beyond the capital. He is mocked as the "Mayor of Kabul." Security in the capital is deteriorating.
For the sixth straight year, the poppy crop, primary source of the world's heroin, has set a new record. The Taliban eradicated the crop when in power, but are now collaborating with farmers to extort cash to keep fighting.
Most critically, Pakistan has become for the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida the same sanctuary that North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia provided for the Viet Cong and NVA, with this critical difference: We cannot bomb or invade Pakistan.
The new Islamabad regime is exhibiting no enthusiasm for fighting the Taliban who dominate the border regions and North-West Frontier province and have sympathizers in Pakistan's military and intelligences agencies.
Air strikes, to which we have begun to resort, have resulted in wedding parties and families wiped out in their homes on both sides of the border. President Musharraf has even threatened to retaliate against U.S. forces if more of his people become victims.
Anti-Americanism, pandemic in Pakistan, is rising.
As for Afghanistan, how do we win a war in a nation of 27 million, the size of Texas, with only 50,000 U.S.-NATO troops? How long will it take us to train, equip and arm an Afghan army that is both loyal to the regime and an effective fighting force against its Pashtun brothers?
How, ever, can victory be achieved, if the enemy can retire every winter to Pakistan to rest, rearm and prepare new attacks?
If the Pakistani army will not clean out the border regions, how can we accomplish it with pinprick strikes by Special Forces, or Predators and F-16s, which invariably cause civilian casualties?
Afghanistan, in and of itself, is of no strategic importance, if it is not a base camp for al-Qaida. Loss of Pakistan to Islamism, however, a nation of 170 million Muslims with atomic bombs, would be a calamity for the Near East and United States.
Under the (Colin) Powell Doctrine for fighting wars, questions must be asked and answered affirmatively before committing U.S. troops:
Is a vital U.S. interest imperiled here? Do we have a defined and attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully weighed? Is there an exit strategy? Is the war supported by a united nation?
How many of these questions did Obama ask himself before pledging 10,000 more U.S combat troops to what will surely become, should he win, "Obama's war" even as Iraq has become "Bush's war"?