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Special Edition

Country Joe & The Fish said it best in their famed anti-Vietnam War song: “1.2.3. What are We Fightin’ For?” A question I’ve been asking myself since President Obama took office.
 


 

Last night, President Obama addressed the nation from the West Point Military Academy to tell us he was sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan (in addition to the 21,000 he already sent last March). To achieve this, troops will be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan. And while NBC News claimed yesterday that this would result in “more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the first time”, that won’t be the case until sometime next Summer, after another 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have returned home in addition to the 30,000 redeployed to Afghanistan.

CORRECTION: A slight error on my part in Monday’s column. The links I provided claimed there were only “13,000 American troops in Afghanistan” when President Obama took office. That number now appears to be in error, actually closer to 30,000 according to President Obama last night. I’m not sure where the “13,000” figure comes from, as even the NYT-based tool I linked to now shows 30,700 troops at the end of 2008, not “13,000”. While the troop escalation is still substantial at more than double, the “500%” figure now appears to be incorrect. I apologize for the error.

In any case, I wholly expected to entitle today’s column: “The Day President Obama Became a One-Term President”. Again, it appears President Obama is more concerned about pleasing Republicans… a group that will NEVER vote for him… while alienating his base, which is becoming more and more apathetic with each concession to Conservatives, making them less likely to vote for him again as well. So is it any wonder he’s looking more and more like a one-term president? After hearing rumors that the war in Afghanistan was being extended “an additional three years” (to the end of Obama’s first term), I was encouraged when President Obama set a goal of “mid-2011” (18 months from now) for a FULL withdrawal from that country. Much too slow in my opinion, but far better than late 2012.

I was pleased to hear the president express continuation of the war in “economic” terms as well as militarily. He cited the fact the war in Iraq “has already cost this country over a Trillion dollars” and that “extending the war in Afghanistan for another year will cost an additional $30billion dollars” (or roughly $450,000 per soldier per year). When I hear numbers like that, all I can think about is how much healthcare that could buy. I think about Republicans that think spending money we don’t have to stabilize a country with a corrupt government and allowed the Taliban to seize power in the first place, is a better use of our tax dollars than providing every American with affordable health insurance.

After the president’s address, NBC had on (who else) John McCain to ask his opinion of what he’d just heard. While he supported President Obama’s decision to send more troops, he “strongly disagreed” with his call for “an arbitrary timetable”… an argument he made repeatedly during the 2008 Presidential Campaign about Iraq. Then came the election, Obama took office and ordered “all troops out of Iraq by August 2010.” And wonder of wonders, Iraq didn’t fall apart. The U.S. has lost 146 troops in Iraq so far this year, the least number of casualties since the start of the war (less than half the 2008 number and WELL below the peak of 2007 with 904 U.S. troops lost.) So pardon me Sen. McCain when I listen to your fear-mongering over “arbitrary timetables” and wonder if you’ve even been paying attention for the past year.

So, as the song asks, what exactly ARE We fighting for? If the goal is to ensure al Qaeda can never use Afghanistan as a base to attack us from again… that’s a fools’ errand. What does it matter WHERE al Qaeda attacks us from? Currently, it appears they have settled into Western Pakistan quite comfortably. And unless we occupy Afghanistan forever, there is NO way to prevent any terrorist group from EVER using Afghanistan as a base ever again.

If the goal is to get al Qaeda, well, they’re not in Afghanistan anymore. Current estimates put the number of al Qaeda in Afghanistan at under 100. Where are they now? They’re in Pakistan, and they’re in Yemen, out of reach of U.S. troops. Do we really need 68,000 troops in Afghanistan to defeat less than 100 members of al Qaeda?

One last quick observation: Remember what happened when President Obama ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan? Violence spiked. The year is not even over yet, and already the number of coalition deaths is up 67% over all of last year (485 fatalities this year vs. 295 for all of 2008), making this the deadliest year of the war in Afghanistan so far. Did sending more troops make things better or worse? Expect a similar spike in violence once “the surge” begins in earnest early next year.
 

1.2.3. What are We Fightin’ For?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.
Next stop Afghanistan.

 


 

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