The Afghanistan War: A Gold Medal in the Special Olympics?

Posted on 13. Sep, 2009 by in Uncategorized

Karzai’s electoral fraud has added to the telling signs that Afghanistan could become Obama’s Iraq. Bush’s presidency can now be summarized with the name of the latter country. If Obama  doesn’t want to end-up in the same place he must now aggressively seize the Afghan War’s narrative, not through a show of blank check commitment, as the last administration did in Iraq, but through targeted, attainable goals and the recovering addict’s recognition of what things America can and cannot change.

For liberals, the Afghanistan War came to be thought of as the Righteous Fight. That framing was forged as a contrast to the Iraq War, the Futile Fight. One war was a direct reaction against extremists that had hurt us. The other, an imperial blunder, a hubristic distraction unrelated to self-defense or vengeance.

The Futile Fight took away men and resources from the Righteous one, according to this line of thinking. Perhaps more importantly, the second war seemed to have goals guided more by fantasy ambitions, rather than military strategy.  As the steady hum of violence went from shocking to banal, as our soldiers continued to fall, the solution became clear.

Move our toil from the distraction to the main attraction. This was the argument made by Democratic challengers in the last two presidential elections. And with Obama’s victory, America has done just that. The military is moving troop from Iraq to Afghanistan,

But as the focus has shifted the casualties have too. August was the deadliest month for American soldiers in Iraq.

And the narrative may be shifting too.

Senator Dianne Feinstein who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, now says ““I don’t believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan. I believe it will remain a tribal entity….I think the Congress is entitled to know, after Iraq, exactly how long are we going to be in Afghanistan.”

Republican Susan Collins of Maine says, “I’m just wondering where this ends and how we’ll know if this succeeded.”

A call for a deadline for withdrawal. A sense that the goals are ill-defined. Afghanistan’s is looking like this season’s Iraq.

Yesterday’s just war is today’s boondagle. Are we more fickle now that the renewed focus is ratcheting up the stakes in terms of blood and treasure?

A friend recently suggested something different when I said that Afghanistan was a better war than Iraq.”What’s better than winning the gold medal in the special Olympics? Not being retarded.”

This thinking holds that a continued Afghan War only seemed righteous  when held  in comparison to years of Iraq War buffoonery. If a continued military presence in Afghanistan isn’t going to produce a democratic state, and isn’t going to defeat a resurgent Taliban, than this war is even more futile than Iraq, according to this reasoning.

This thinking will become dominant  soon if the lessons of the Iraq War presidency aren’t learned. Americans, both of the chattering and Walmart groups, do not want undifferentiated statements of vigilance, of will and staying power. When Bush did so people correctly sensed he was trying to use gumption where wisdom was needed. After nearly 9 years of continuous war Americans want to know that the government has a grasp on what we can and cannot achieve with military strength.

The military can hold the Taliban at bay, hopefully for long enough to help the country become a place where extremism won’t be able to take control. But the U.S. does not have greater staying power than the Taliban.

We can try to build Afghanistan. We can and should bring in our full  economic and technical know-how to help rebuild that society, while we buy time. But buying time is the only realistic option the military has. And Obama needs to be frank about that if we wants to get us onboard.

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