Will Afghanistan become Obama's Vietnam?

Will Afghanistan become President Obama's Vietnam? That's the question being asked by conservative/isolationist commentator Pat Buchanan and a number of the president's fellow Democrats, including your favorite Appeal columnist.

In a recent opinion column, Buchanan argued that "the Taliban are winning and America is losing the war in Afghanistan." "Well into the eighth year of war, the Taliban are more numerous than ever, inflicting more casualties than ever, operating in more provinces than ever, and controlling more territory than ever," Buchanan wrote in the wake of a disputed national election. "President Obama thus faces a decision that may decide the fate of his presidency," the columnist added.

The decision Buchanan wrote about is whether Obama should accede to the request of his military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, by sending 20,000 to 40,000 more troops to that war-torn country, or whether the president should make the anti-war left and the isolationist right happy by withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan. Whatever Obama decides, Buchanan asserted, his decision could cost him the presidency.

But neo-conservative commentator William Kristol, who pushed for the invasion of Iraq, took issue with Buchanan. "Congressional Democrats ... are falling all over each other searching for the exits (from Afghanistan)," Kristol wrote before quoting House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who reminded the president that "now is not the time to lose our resolve. We must give our forces the time and resources they need to show progress in the fight against the enemies responsible for the 9/11 attacks." So should we stay in Afghanistan, or should we leave?

Hard-line senators Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.), Joe Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) backed Skelton last Sunday in the Wall Street Journal. "Our problems in Afghanistan are not because the Taliban are invincible or popular," they wrote. "Rather, our problems result from what was, for years, a mismanaged and under-resourced war ... More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan, but a failure to send them is a guarantee of failure."

Personally, I favor the middle ground on this contentious issue, something akin to a proposal by Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, who advocates a "kinder, gentler" counter-insurgency strategy that would "build long-term stability by protecting the Afghan population and promoting political reconciliation" - exactly what we've been trying to do in Iraq for the past six years with decidedly mixed results.

Perhaps political reconciliation is impossible in a lawless, tribal Third World country like Afghanistan, but the least we should do is to promote a fair and honest do-over of a fatally flawed national election.

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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