by Walter Brasch
American Reporter Senior Correspondent
Dec. 8, 2009
THE NO-NEWS, NO-COLUMN COLUMN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Most nations view war as a last resort, a serious act used only when absolutely necessary.
The United States is not one of those nations.
Since World War II, no nation has started and fought more wars, and bombed and invaded more countries, than the United States. For the last six decades, our armed forces have been involved in conflicts great and small on nearly constant basis.
Although constant war is the norm, leaders still have go through the motions of justifying military action. Although President Obama attempted to present a coherent reason for sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in his speech at West Point on Tuesday, it rings hollow.
During the run-up to the Persian Gulf War of 1991, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell came up with a list of eight questions that needed to be answered before our nation committed itself to military action.
Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? Have all nonviolent policy means been exhausted? Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? Have all the consequences of our action been fully considered? Is the action supported by the American people? Do we have broad international support?
These questions, which ultimately became known as the Powell Doctrine, weren't asked or considered by the Bush Administration before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Nor were they asked or considered before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But President Obama took great pains to try and answer those eight questions in his West Point speech.
Is the national security threatened? Obama argued that "our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan" and that "this is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida."
Do we have a clear, attainable objective? Obama said the goal is "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future." To do this, he said three objectives must be met: "We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
Have the risks and cost been fully and frankly analyzed? While he touched upon the nation's current economic difficulties in his speech, Mr. Obama glossed over the true cost of a wider war in Afghanistan, estimated at more than $30 billion a year if his plan is carried out.
Have all nonviolent policy means been exhausted? By all accounts, they have been barely explored.
Is there a plausible exit strategy? President Obama envisions a campaign that lasts about 18 months and will wind down in the summer of 2011. By then, he believes the goals will be met and the Afghans can take control of their own destiny.
Have all the consequences of our action been fully considered? The Obama Administration has spent months carefully weighing all the options and the President said Tuesday that "I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means or our interests."
Is the action supported by the American people? While the President hopes his speech made a convincing case, a CBS News poll taken before the speech found only 38 percent of Americans support the war in Afghanistan.
Do we have broad international support? There are 42 nations involved in the Afghan war effort, Mr. Obama said, and the countries of NATO have been asked to contribute more soldiers to the fight, but it looks like there is skepticism among our allies.
And, the Powell Doctrine aside, President Obama's speech ignored several key points. The United States install and has propped up a corrupt and ineffective regime whose only economic success has been allowing the opium trade to flourish to the point where Afghanistan is the world's top producer.
We're trying to bring a centralized democratic form of government to a nation that is comprised of tribes and clans that has never known a centralized government in 2,000 years. The Taliban now controls half the country, while al-Qaida has set up shop in the remote mountainous regions of Pakistan and are being protected by a government whose commitment to the fight is not nearly as strong as Mr. Obama paints it.
President Obama has set the nation on a perilous course in Afghanistan, and he admitted it won't be easy. We think his plan strikes a middle ground between the politically impossible - a full withdrawal - and the politically unacceptable - a massive escalation. But to not acknowledge these other points in last Tuesday's speech was unconscionable.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.