Afghanistan: Is It Worth It?

THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNSThe Public Debate has been revolving intensely around Health Care lately, so we haven’t had much of a chance to discuss the War in Afghanistan.

Last night, I read an impassioned article by Tom Engelhardt, discussing the costs, escalation, public opinion, fraudulent elections, private contractors, ect. I would strongly recommend it to anyone, because it goes by numbers and facts. Here are just a few of them.

EscalationNumber of additional troops General McChrystal is expected to recommend that President Obama send to Afghanistan in the coming months: 21,000 to 45,000, according to the McClatchy Newspapers; 10,000 to 15,000 (“described as a high-risk option”), 25,000 (“a medium-risk option”), 45,000 (“a low-risk option”), according to the New York Times; fewer than 10,000, according to the Associated Press.

Number of support troops Defense Department officials are planning to replace with “trigger-pullers” (combat troops) in the coming months, effectively an escalation in place: 6,000-14,000. (“The changes will not offset the potential need for additional troops in the future, but could reduce the size of any request… officials said.”)

Number of additional NATO forces General McChrystal will reportedly ask for: 20,000.

Optimal number of additional Afghan National Army (ANA) troops to be trained by 2012, according to reports on General McChrystal’s draft plan: 162,000. (According to Naval Postgraduate School professor Thomas H. Johnson and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason,”[T]he U.S. military touts 91,000 ANA soldiers as ‘trained and equipped,’ knowing full well that barely 39,000 are still in the ranks and present for duty.”)

Public Opinion

Percentage of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan: 57%, according to the latest CNN poll, an 11% rise since April. Only 42% now support the war.

Percentage of Republicans who support the war: 70%, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Percentage of Americans who approve of President’s Obama’s handling of the war: 48%, according to the latest CBS poll, a drop of 8 points since April. (Support for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan is now at just 25%, down 14% from April.)

Percentage of British who feel their forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan: 59%.

Percentage of Germans opposed to that country’s 4,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan: More than 70%.

The Presidential Election

Estimated cost of staging the 2009 Afghan presidential election: $500 million.

Number of complaints of voting irregularities: More than 2,500 and still climbing, 691 of them described as “serious charges.”

Number of members of the “Independent Election Commission” not appointed by Afghan President (and presidential candidate) Hamid Karzai: 0.

Cost of blank voting-registration cards in Ghazni Province in May 2009: $200 for 200 blank registration cards.

Cost of such a card purchased by “an undercover Afghan journalist working for the BBC” this fall: $8.

Number of voter registration cards (not including fakes) reportedly distributed countrywide: 17 million or almost twice the estimated number of eligible voters.

Number of ballots cast at the Hajji Janat Gul High School polling place, half an hour from the center of Kabul: 600.

Number of votes recorded for Karzai at that polling station: 996. (Number of votes for other candidates: 5.)

Number of ballots marked for Karzai and shipped to Kabul from 45 polling sites in Shorabak District in Southern Afghanistan that were shut down by local officials connected to Karzai before voting could begin: 23,900.

Number of fake polling sites set up by backers of Karzai where no one voted but hundreds of thousands of votes were recorded: as many as 800, according to the New York Times. (Another 800 actual polling sites were taken over by Karzai supporters “to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai.”)

Number of ballots in Karzai’s home province, Kandahar, where an estimated 25,000 Afghans actually voted, submitted to be counted: approximately 350,000.

It is becoming apparent, and has been apparent for some time now, that there is likely no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems, problems that we largely created, I might add.

Here may be the single strangest fact of our American world: that at least three administrations – Ronald Reagan’s, George W. Bush’s, and now Barack Obama’s – drew the U.S. “defense” perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.Imagine for a moment, as you read this post, what might have happened if Americans had decided to sink the same sort of money – $228 billion and rising fast – the same “civilian surges,” the same planning, thought, and effort (but not the same staggering ineffectiveness) into reclaiming New Orleans or Detroit, or into planning an American future here at home. Imagine, for a moment, when you read about the multi-millions going into further construction at Bagram Air Base, or to the mercenary company that provides “Lord of the Flies” hire-a-gun guards for American diplomats in massive super-embassies, or about the half-a-billion dollars sunk into a corrupt and fraudulent Afghan election, what a similar investment in our own country might have meant.

Ask yourself: Wouldn’t the U.S. have been safer and more secure if all the money, effort, and planning had gone towards “nation-building” in America? Or do you really think we’re safer now, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7%, an underemployment rate of 16.8%, and a record 25.5% teen unemployment rate, with soaring health-care costs, with vast infrastructural weaknesses and failures, and in debt up to our eyeballs, while tens of thousands of troops and massive infusions of cash are mustered ostensibly to fight a terrorist outfit that may number in the low hundreds or at most thousands, that, by all accounts, isn’t now even based in Afghanistan, and that has shown itself perfectly capable of settling into broken states like Somalia or well functioning cities like Hamburg.

The MSM has, to no one’s surprise, been paying little attention to this, and would instead like to bloviate endlessly about things no one cares about, like Michelle Obama’s shorts.

In a perfect world, Congress would be putting more pressure on the President. They would be demanding a timetable for withdrawal, since a majority of Americans are now opposed to how he is handling the War.

Americans who voted for Obama expected better. He ran his entire Campaign on an obscure speech he gave in 2002 as a State Senator from Illinois, where he allegedly said

Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.

[…]

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Well, I’d wager that this is a dumb war, wouldn’t you?

Obots threw this speech in our faces, citing it as proof of his superior foreign policy judgement.

Too bad for them, huh?

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