By Patrick J. Buchanan
December 19, 2008
Just two months after the twin towers fell, the armies of the
Northern Alliance marched into Kabul. The Taliban fled.
The triumph was total in the "splendid little war" that had cost
one U.S. casualty. Or so it seemed. Yet, last month, the war
against the Taliban entered its eighth year, the second longest war
in our history, and America and NATO have never been nearer to
So critical is the situation that Defense Secretary Robert Gates,
in Kandahar last week, promised rapid deployment, before any
Taliban spring offensive, of two and perhaps three combat brigades
of the 20,000 troops requested by Gen. David McKiernan. The first
4,000, from the 10th Mountain, are expected in January.
With 34,000 U.S. soldiers already in country, half under NATO
command, the 20,000 will increase U.S. forces there to 54,000, a 60
percent ratcheting up. Shades of LBJ, 1964-65. Afghanistan is going
to be Obama's War. And upon its outcome will hang the fate of his
presidency. Has he thought this through?
How do we win this war, if by winning we mean establishing a
pro-Western democratic government in control of the country that
has the support of the people and loyalty of an Afghan army strong
enough to defend the nation from a resurgent Taliban?
We are further from that goal going into 2009 than we were five
What are the long-term prospects for any such success?
Each year, the supply of opium out of Afghanistan, from which most
of the world's heroin comes, sets a new record. Payoffs by
narcotics traffickers are corrupting the government. The
fanatically devout Taliban had eradicated the drug trade, but is
now abetting the drug lords in return for money for weapons to kill
Militarily, the Taliban forces are stronger than they have been
since 2001, moving out of the south and east and infesting half the
country. They have sanctuaries in Pakistan and virtually ring Kabul.
U.S. air strikes have killed so many Afghan civilians that
President Karzai, who controls little more than Kabul, has begun to
condemn the U.S. attacks. Predator attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida
in Pakistan have inflamed the population there.
And can pinprick air strikes win a war of this magnitude?
The supply line for our troops in Afghanistan, which runs from
Karachi up to Peshawar through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, is now a
perilous passage. Four times this month, U.S. transport depots in
Pakistan have been attacked, with hundred of vehicles destroyed.
Before arriving in Kandahar, Gates spoke grimly of a "sustained
commitment for some protracted period of time. How many years that
is, and how many troops that is ... nobody knows."
Gen. McKiernan says it will be at least three or four years before
the Afghan army and police can handle the Taliban.
But why does it take a dozen years to get an Afghan army up to
where it can defend the people and regime against a Taliban return?
Why do our Afghans seem less disposed to fight and die for
democracy than the Taliban are to fight and die for theocracy? Does
their God, Allah, command a deeper love and loyalty than our god,
McKiernan says the situation may get worse before it gets better.
Gates compares Afghanistan to the Cold War. "(W)e are in many
respects in an ideological conflict with violent extremists. ...
The last ideological conflict we were in lasted about 45 years."
That would truly be, in Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, "a long, hard
America, without debate, is about to invest blood and treasure,
indefinitely, in a war to which no end seems remotely in sight, if
the commanding general is talking about four years at least and the
now-and-future war minister is talking about four decades.
What is there to win in Afghanistan to justify doubling down our
investment? If our vital interest is to deny a sanctuary there to
al-Qaida, do we have to build a new Afghanistan to accomplish that?
Did not al-Qaida depart years ago for a new sanctuary in Pakistan?
What hope is there of creating in this tribal land a democracy
committed to freedom, equality and human rights that Afghans have
never known? What is the expectation that 54,000 or 75,000 U.S.
troops can crush an insurgency that enjoys a privileged sanctuary
to which it can return, to rest, recuperate and recruit for next
Of all the lands of the earth, Afghanistan has been among the least
hospitable to foreigners who come to rule, or to teach them how
they should rule themselves.
Would Dwight D. Eisenhower -- who settled for the status quo ante
in Korea, an armistice at the line of scrimmage -- commit his
country to such an open-ended war? Would Richard Nixon? Would
Hard to believe. George W. Bush would. But did not America vote
against Bush? Why is America getting seamless continuity when it
voted for significant change?
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