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O's Surge a Giant Sucking Sound

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

This column originally appeared on May 4th, 2011

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, the press is starting to think that it’s time for a strategy change in Afghanistan. That time came a long time ago, like September 10th, 2001


Despite surging troops into the landlocked, south-central Asian country, ala the Iraqi surge of 2007, we’ve seen no drop in violence and no sign that the responsible civilian government there will govern responsibly.

Afghanistan is a strange place where loyalties outside the family are only temporary and fleeting. We saw that in Tora Bora in 2001 when local troops fought Al Qaeda under our direction during the day and then helped the Islamic fighters at night. 

To think of Afghanistan as nation in the way that we define the word, or in the way that we apply it to countries like Iraq, will ensure only that we never leave, stuck in a place where appellations like war and peace mean nothing.

In fact, modern Afghanistan was long maintained as nothing more than a buffer zone between Great Britain and Russia. The world largely ignored the wars that went on inside the borders of Afghanistan as long as the wars remained inside those borders.     

As history has shown, the Obama troop surge wasn’t intended to stabilize the country, anyway.

Instead it was an attempt to make Obama look tough on national security matters.

Curiously, sending more troops to Afghanistan was one of the few campaign promises Obama kept.

He made it a priority to keep it.

By keeping the promise, he knew that he could partially neutralize opposition on foreign policy from Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, neither of whom has ever met a war they didn’t like.

Their opposition to Obama’s foreign policy of friendly relations with Tehran and stiffer relations with Israel were going to be hard for the president to manage. If Obama talked tough and carried a big stick on Afghanistan, at least the domestic partners McCain and Graham would be a little more manageable. 


But before the administration starts planning the victory parade on Pennsylvania Avenue for the troops that they bring home from Afghanistan, they might ask themselves one question:

What policy towards Afghanistan is in the best interest of the United States?

Few policies put forward by either party on any matter of public business are formulated so as to meet the logic of that simple question. Sure, some might accidentally meet the requirements that they be in the best interest of the country.

But again that’s mostly accidental. 

When we first invaded Afghanistan we only did so because Taliban leaders would not give up Osama bin Laden and the rest of Al Qaeda.

Once troops kicked the ground there, it wasn’t long before NATO was making brave promises that we would help Afghanistan enter the modern world even if we had to drag them there.

After ten years, it’s apparent that they don’t want to go into the modern world or even the industrialized world. We should stop kicking and screaming then.

And the scope of our mission should change accordingly.

While I don’t think that we should bring all of our troops home, I think we can prevent Afghanistan from becoming an operational base for terrorism with a much reduced troop presence.

That should be our only interest there.   

We should leave it to the Afghans to broker peace amongst themselves, if peace is what they wish.

That is their business.

We should stop making their interest our business.


We have enough business and interests of our own without getting bogged down in the giant sucking sound of a never-ending ground war in south-central Asia. 

To paraphrase President Lyndon Johnson and General William Tecumseh Sherman, that kind of war’s a bitch.  

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