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Debate: More troops to Afghanistan under Obama

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Should the Obama administration escalate the War in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010?

Background and context

In 2009, the Obama administration has increased troop levels from around 30,000 to over 60,000. In the late summer of 2009, the administration began considering, based on a request made by Afghanistan General Stanley McCrystal, adding additional troops, possibly increasing the total number to over 100,000 in 2010.
Eight years after the War in Afghanistan began, many are asking wehther such a renewed escalation of the war effort is justified, with a heavy national debate ensuing. The main questions being considered are the following. Is the war in Afghanistan "necessary" for US national security? Is it key in preventing future terrorist attacks, similar to the September 11th attacks? Is a continued war effort necessary to achieve these goals and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a "safe haven" once again for Al Qaeda terrorists? Or, are targeted strikes on any budding terrorist cells, continued elevated border security, and heavy airport security and screening sufficient (without an increase in troops)? Does the US and NATO have a moral obligation to Afghanistan, and to helping it develop into a stable democracy? Or, is it justified to consider efforts in Afghanistan only in the context of counter-terrorism, and leave if such interests are secured, or deemed "securable" without troops on the ground? Does Afghanistan have a larger value to the US and NATO, or is its general strategic value relatively limited? Can continued large expenditures of blood and treasure be justified in Afghanistan? Or, in a world of finite resources, should the war be brought to an end sooner than later, whether the endeavor is considered a success or not?

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Terrorism: Is the War in Afghanistan necessary to deprive Al Qaeda of a safe haven?

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  • Afg only one of many possible terrorist safe havens Peter Navarro. "Orange Grove: Get out of Afghanistan now" OC Register. September 25, 2009: "Consider the first argument: Afghanistan must not be allowed to be a staging area for al-Qaida terrorists. Of course, it was from Afghan soil that Osama bin Laden oversaw the 9/11 attacks so this argument seems at first glance compelling. However, Afghanistan is now just one of many possible staging areas for al-Qaida. In fact, hot zone that Afghanistan is, it is now much easier for al-Qaida's decentralized networks to conduct operations in numerous other places, with Algeria, Somalia, and Yemen emerging as the newest strongholds. Why aren't we invading them?"


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Historical lessons: Does history suggest the War in Afghanistan cannot be won?

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Pro

  • War in Afghanistan will not become "Obama's Vietnam" Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009: "what of the [] argument—that as far as the United States is concerned, the war there will be a rerun of Vietnam? Hardly. The similarities between the Taliban and the Vietcong end with their mutual hostility toward the U.S. military. The some 20,000 Taliban fighters are too few to hold even small Afghan towns, let alone mount a Tet-style offensive on Kabul. As a military force, they are armed lightly enough to constitute a tactical problem, not a strategic threat. By contrast, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army at the height of the Vietnam War numbered more than half a million men who were equipped with artillery and tanks, and were well supplied by both the Soviet Union and Mao’s China."


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Con

  • Nations throughout history have failed to succeed in Afg Eugene Robinson. "In Afghanistan, Downsize." Real Clear Politics. September 22, 2009: "As if on cue, the leader of the Taliban, Mohammad Omar, issued a taunting statement reminding Obama that for more than a millennium, would-be conquerors have tried and failed to subdue the mountain fastness known as the 'graveyard of empires' -- Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C., the British in the 1800s, the Soviets from 1979 to 1989. [...] 'The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan,' Omar said in a message marking the end of Ramadan, reported the Financial Times. 'The more the enemy resorts to increasing forces, the more they will face an unequivocal defeat.' [...] As galling as it is to accept tutelage from one of Osama bin Laden's key enablers, this does seem to be what history teaches. Pouring forces into Afghanistan has always proved counterproductive. The presence of large numbers of foreign troops is the one thing that reliably unites Afghans -- if only for long enough to drive the foreigners out."
  • Fear-mongering used in escalating Afg War, was used in Vietnam Peter Navarro. "Orange Grove: Get out of Afghanistan now" OC Register. September 25, 2009: "During my senior year in high school, in 1966-67, our local congressman came to speak to us soon-to-be-draftees about the necessity of the Vietnam War. His basic pitch was a frothy combination of Red menace, yellow peril, and domino theory. [...] the speech rang as hollow as a beer keg after a frat party. [...] Today, I get the same kind of hollowness in my gut every time I hear President Barack Obama and a gaggle of Democratic and Republican hawks offer eerily similar arguments for the Afghanistan war. Terrorism is the new Red menace. Yellow peril has morphed into radical Islam. Dominoes, perhaps surprisingly, are still dominoes. In fact, sober analysis of the two major arguments in support of the war leads me to the same conclusion as my gut – let's get the hell out."



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Strategic value: Is Afghanistan of strong strategic value to NATO/US?

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  • Afghanistan is of little strategic value to US/NATO Andrew J. Bacevich. "The War We Can't Win". Commonweal. August 14, 2009: "What is it about Afghanistan, possessing next to nothing that the United States requires, that justifies such lavish attention? In Washington, this question goes not only unanswered but unasked. Among Democrats and Republicans alike, with few exceptions, Afghanistan’s importance is simply assumed—much the way fifty years ago otherwise intelligent people simply assumed that the United States had a vital interest in ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. As then, so today, the assumption does not stand up to even casual scrutiny. [...] For those who, despite all this, still hanker to have a go at nation building, why start with Afghanistan? Why not first fix, say, Mexico? In terms of its importance to the United States, our southern neighbor—a major supplier of oil and drugs among other commodities deemed vital to the American way of life—outranks Afghanistan by several orders of magnitude."
  • Sending more troops digs deeper hole for US in Afg Tom Andrews, National Director of Win Without War, argued in February of 2009: "The first principle for someone who finds himself in a hole is to stop digging, The US policy 'hole' in Afghanistan is not of the new Administration's making. But it is important for the President to consider if adding new US combat forces in Afghanistan, without a new and comprehensive plan, for US policy there, might be digging an even bigger hole."[2]
  • More troops in Afg will anger Muslims, impair efforts in ME More troops in Afghanistan will certainly be received with concern and anger in the Islamic world. This will make it more difficult for Western and Middle Eastern countries to work together toward mutual objectives, such as peace between Israel and Palestine.
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Moral obligation: Does US have a moral obligation to send more troops to Afg?

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Pro

"Obama's war. Why the Afghanistan war deserves more resources, commitment and political will." The Economist. October 15, 2009: "withdrawal would amount to a terrible betrayal of the Afghan people, some of whose troubles are the result of Western intervention. [...] Millions of refugees have returned and millions of children have the chance to go to school. But the West has failed to protect civilian lives, to bring the development it promised, to wean the economy off its poppy-addiction and to ensure fair elections—and failed even to agree about what it is trying to do in the country. The Western-dominated United Nations mission has fractured in a public row between its two senior officials. Locally, NATO forces have done fine and heroic work. But too often the best initiatives are dropped when the best commanders end their tours. The Afghan conflict, it is often said, has been not an eight-year war, but eight one-year wars. NATO comes off worse each time. And so to the fourth and most important reason for persisting in Afghanistan: the coalition can do much better."


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Con

  • US/NATO have no more moral obligation to Afg than other states. The idea that the US and NATO have a moral obligation falls flat when considering that this would put the US and NATO in a position of having a moral obligation to many other third world countries that are struggling and in conflict. Yet, such a broader obligation obviously does not exist, so why should it exist in Afghanistan?
  • Limited resources constrain moral obligations of US/NATO to Afg. Resources are limited, and limit the ability of the US and NATO to fulfill any "obligation" to Afg. After 8 years of conflict, the US/NATO have run out of resources and political capital for the War in Afghanistan. This is not something to be ashamed of, but is instead simply a fact of life based on the reality of a world of limited resources.
  • US/NATO cannot solve Afg, so cannot fulfill any moral obligations. The US/NATO cannot solve Afghanistan's problems, and may actually be doing more harm than good. In so far as a state cannot have a moral obligation to do something impossible, the US and NATO should not have a moral obligation to fulfill the impossible task of stabilizing Afghanistan.
  • The US has destroyed Afghanistan enough The US led war has already killed at least 30,000 civilians. That is 10 times more than the amount of people who died in 9-11. And that is not counting starvation as a result of the war, which Aid agencies were predicting in 2001 would take the lives of 7 million people if the US bombed. Nobody knows how many people actually starved to death but Medicine without Frontiers reported a doubling of the child mortality rate between August 2001 and January 2002. As well as this colossal mass murder, the US has empowered the warlords who destroyed Afghanistan in the 1990's. These warlords now form the Northern Alliance and the US has given them huge support, continuing the saga they began in the 1980's when they supported these warlords to fight the Soviets. The war against Afghanistan has caused massive harm to Afghan society. It is also the supreme international crime of aggression and the only moral thing the US could do is withdraw immediately. For more information on this see Michael Albert And Stephen Shalom Interview, Malalai Joya - Johann Hari, The 'Good War' Is A Bad War - John Pilger, The Great War For Civilization - Robert Fisk, 9-11 - Noam Chomsky and Bleeding Afghanistan - Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls.
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Stable country: Can Afghanistan be made into a stable country/democracy?

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Pro

  • Afghanistan is more stable and governable than often assumed Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009: "corollary to the argument that Afghanistan is unconquerable is the argument that it is ungovernable[...] But the level of violence in Afghanistan is actually far lower than most Americans believe. In 2008 more than 2,000 Afghan civilians died at the hands of the Taliban or coalition forces; this is too many, but it is also less than a quarter of the deaths last year in Iraq, a country that is both more sparsely populated and often assumed to be easier to govern. [...] Not only are Afghan civilians much safer under American occupation than Iraqis, they are also statistically less likely to be killed in the war than anyone living in the United States during the early 1990s, when the U.S. murder rate peaked at more than 24,000 killings a year."
  • US need not state-build in Afg, but counter terrorism While the US and NATO could try to focus on state-building and democratic institution-building in Afghanistan, this is too lofty a goal, and unnecessary. The initial post-9/11 goal was to get rid of the Taliban and prevent Afg from continuing as a safe haven for terrorists. This goal remains legitimate, and any larger state-building goals should be seen as non-essential.
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Con

  • More troops in Afghanistan perpetuates corrupt Afghan government Thomas Friedman. "From baby-sitting to adoption". New York Times. September 5, 2009: "On Aug. 29, this newspaper carried a front-page headline that should make your blood boil: 'Karzai Using Rift With U.S. to Gain Favor.' The article said that Obama officials were growing disenchanted with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, whose supporters allegedly stuffed ballot boxes in the recent elections, while Mr. Karzai struck deals with accused drug dealers and warlords, one of whom is his brother, for political gain. The article added, though, that in a feat of political shrewdness, Mr. Karzai 'has surprised some in the Obama administration' by turning their anger with him 'to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States.'[...] It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black — Karzai & Co. — and dark black — Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure."
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Afghan security forces: Are more troops needed to train/foster Afghan security forces?

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  • Afghanistan security forces can hardly be trained Ann Jones. "US wins mind, Afghan hearts are lost". Asia Times. September 22, 2009: "In the heat of this summer, I went out to the training fields near Kabul where Afghan army recruits are put through their paces, and it was quickly evident just what's getting lost in translation. Our trainers, soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, were masterful. Professional and highly skilled, they were dedicated to carrying out their mission - and doing the job well. They were also big, strong, camouflaged, combat-booted, supersized American men, their bodies swollen by flack jackets and lashed with knives, handguns, and god only knows what else. Any American could be proud of their commitment to tough duty. [...] The Afghans were puny by comparison: hundreds of little Davids to the overstuffed American Goliaths training them. Keep in mind: Afghan recruits come from a world of desperate poverty. They are almost uniformly malnourished and underweight. Many are no bigger than I am (1.6 meters and thin) - and some probably not much stronger. Like me, many sag under the weight of a standard-issue flack jacket. [...] American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen - and ever faster."
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Economics: Is sending more troops to Afghanistan economically sound?

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  • The "military industrial complex" profits from escalation in Afg. Whenever there is a steady escalation of war, in which more troops are sent and more resources expended, the so called "military industrial complex" of military contractors profits greatly. And, certainly, this complex is lobbying for such an escalation for this reason. The public should always be skeptical, therefore, about the motivations surrounding the escalation of war. Yet, even if this "complex" is not driving the thinking and decision-making on sending more troops to Afghanistan, it is important to simply raise the point that the great taxpayer expenditures on the war on making a great number of military contractors very wealthy. This is a moral hazard.
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Opinion: Where do opinions stand in Afghanistan and the US?

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Nancy Pelosi said in late September of 2009: "I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress."[4]


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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links


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