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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Hoh’

Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” —President Obama, Dec. 1, 2009

NYTWe wanted to take time to try to make sense of President Obama’s speech at West Point last week in which he announced his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 over the next six months. We pray he knows what he’s doing. We can only imagine the risks and variables he has been weighing. Because he is a peaceful man by nature (the Nobel may have been awarded at the wrong time but it was not given to the wrong man), we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, even though he knows more than we’re privy to, we are still skeptical. Our favorite lines in the address were those quoted above. Perhaps the most painful part of the speech is its overall contrast with and cancellation of those fine-sounding sentiments.

There are truly no good options—all are fraught with unacceptable consequences: 360 degrees of damnation—and yet we feel the president has made a tragically wrong decision. Even though we were impressed by his methodical and deliberative approach to a maddeningly complex issue, and even though it is theoretically possible that with unlimited time, money, and the blessings of fortune this new “Way Forward” can work, we do not believe it will. There is too much reliance on military force, too many moving parts that have to come together just so. (There is a saying that whenever you have two Afghans you have at least three factions.) Of course the generals say they can do it—give ’em enough troops  and they’ll promise you anything. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker that Obama would have faced “a probable Pentagon revolt” had he chosen to withdraw starting now, and if such a decision had been followed by a large-scale terrorist attack he would face “savage, politically lethal scapegoating.” Very likely. This is the situation we’re in. Nicholas Kristof observes in his New York Times column that amid all the president’s consultations of experts, one important set of players not consulted were the tribal elders of Afghanistan. Without their cooperation, nothing will work.

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