Declare Victory, Leave Afghanistan
WASHINGTON -- The Nobel Peace crown lies uneasy on President Barack Obama's head as he ponders the next U.S. move in Afghanistan, with hints and leaks showering down to tell us that he will eventually send thousands more troops there.
His decision -- which could be announced soon -- was triggered by the request from Gen. Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more troops to secure the cities and protect the citizens of Afghanistan, in addition to the 68,000 U.S. troops there now.
Obama has been reviewing the U.S. role in Afghanistan for months, a time-consuming study that has led to accusations from conservative pundits that he is "dithering" and afraid to make a decision. Few, if any, of those pundits have been to war.
By taking time and seeking opinion from all sides, this president actually looks careful and deliberate, compared to his predecessor, who rushed to invade Iraq under wrong pretexts.
It's easy for Obama to appease the armchair hawks-- critics like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who managed to dodge the draft as a student during the Vietnam War era. All Obama has to do is give the go-ahead for more drone-dropping bombs on Taliban and al Qaida leaders.
The tougher decision is whether to bolster the numbers of GIs in Afghanistan. And the answer to that question depends on what the U.S. strategy is there.
The reason we have fighting forces in Afghanistan is that, 10 years ago, it was a failed state where the 9/11 plotters could practice their evil in a vacuum, without fear of local authorities.
Withdrawal from the Afghanistan quagmire is not an option for Obama. Even though he inherited the war, the president has embraced it. And he has done so without a whiff of domestic political protest. There are no visible peace makers, no loud protesters chanting "how many kids did you kill today?"-- those painful anti-Vietnam war slogans Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were forced to endure daily in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
More poignantly in the aftermath of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama attended two national memorial services -- one for the victims of the Fort Hood massacre and the other for the dead in all wars at the Nov. 11 Veterans Day ceremonies.
Those provided opportunities for the president to announce that the U.S. would not be a party to further mayhem and that we would be a leader in the search for peace, a word not heard in the White House in recent years.
If Obama cannot learn from the lessons of Vietnam, he is bound to repeat the mistakes from that debacle that besmirched two presidents.
As Obama weighs Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops, he should recall what President Johnson told reporters. All he ever heard from the generals, LBJ said, was "more, more troops" and we will win the Vietnam War. Well, we didn't.
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry -- a retired general who had been the top military commander in Afghanistan up to 2007-- has reportedly sent two cables to Obama objecting to the dispatch of more troops.
Matthew Hoh, a State Department official in Afghanistan quit his post to protest the reality that Americans were dying there, "fighting and dying for the Karzai regime."
Both Eikenberry and Hoh said they were concerned about corruption in the Karzai regime.
The president should listen to these men who have been there and who are sending warnings to him against escalating the war.
He also should consider the high human cost of war on all sides, in terms of Americans killed by
Taliban and al Qaida and in terms of the innocent Afghan civilians who happened to be too near a bomb target.
This war looks like an expensive, endless gopher hole where we can pour our blood and our treasure that could be used to help the Afghan poor and the American people suffering from job loss and poverty.
Obama is facing probably one of the most crucial decisions of his presidency -- one that will define him in history and test his courage to choose peace over war. Yes he can.
© 2009 Helen Thomas