Resume the Mission

Author: Gary Hart

Afghan CompassIn his speech to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush made a series of demands on the Taliban government in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He insisted that: al Qaeda leaders be turned over to the U.S.; all imprisoned foreign nationals, including Americans, were to be released; diplomats, aid workers, and foreign journalists were to be protected; terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were to be closed and everyone involved turned over to “appropriate authorities”; and the U.S. was to be given access to these sites to verify compliance.

The penalty for non-compliance was dire: “They [the Taliban government] will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.”

The rest is history.  The next month we invaded Afghanistan to achieve the purposes the President outlined.  And, more than eight years later we are still there.

But, the mission has grown.  When our attention was drawn back to Afghanistan—after the continuing detour into Iraq—by the growing insurgency, the Bush administration permitted, even encouraged “mission creep.”  Mission creep occurs when what you originally started out to do gradually becomes much grander.  In this case we committed ourselves to “winning” or “victory” and that was tacitly assumed to include a stable democratic Afghan government at peace with all its domestic tribal components and its neighbor countries and founded on the rule of law, gender equality, a market economic system, and totally devoid of radical Islamic influence.

Now, the new commander, General McChrystal, says he needs 40,000 more troops to achieve that mission.  And President Obama is weighing his alternatives.

The most plausible alternative is to return to the original mission: capture al Qaeda; protect the foreign community; bring remaining terrorists to justice; and eliminate all terrorist training camps.  This can be achieved without a significant increase in troop strength.  Indeed, it can be achieved by replacing counter-insurgency trained combat forces with counter-terrorism trained special forces.  President Obama’s advisors, seemingly having accepted the mission creep, debate what troop strength is required to carry out the much grander mission.

The more plausible alternative, one that should have been made official policy many months ago, is to resume the original limited mission, the one that took us there eight long years ago.

Gary Hart

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6 Responses to “Resume the Mission”

  1. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    This is exactly right. The country is war-weary and I think most Americans will only support a continued presence in Afghanistan if the goal is capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda high command. Reinventing Afghanistan is a quixotic and unfocused objective that will likely never be realised. What can be the reason for the President’s seeming embrace of such an objective after he has steadfastly opposed the Iraq War for so long?

  2. Steve Says:

    Much respect to you Mr. Hart
    I’d like your estimation as to the long term ramifications of a WEAK US President causing a power vaacum world wide such as former pre GWBush.

  3. Don Washington Says:

    It’s too late to do this. We have done so much physical, fiscal, psychological and ideological damage over the past nine years now that cause and effect have become decoupled. How many schools, how much running water and how many miles of road would it take for you to forgive the torture, rape, or killing of someone you loved? How about the destruction of your imagined future? Someone out there is going to want revenge… justice… and is going to get it. Everything we do there hurts us until we demonstrate that there will be a process that creates justice for our actions and then we get out and even then at some point in the future there will be terrible blow back at some point. The more we are there the worst things will get. Period.

  4. Eric Dobbs Says:

    Earlier, you mentioned the cross-border sanctuary offered by Pakistan among the lessons from Afghanistan. One rationale for expanding the mission in Afghanistan is the ongoing fear of terrorists armed with nuclear weapons. To what degree do we need to be concerned about instability in Afghanistan and nuclear weapons in Pakistan?

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    Good comments and questions and my responses in order: For Brian I can only say that President Obama always drew a distinction between Iraq, which he opposed, and Afghanistan, which he has called “the necessary war.” Nevertheless, my point is that the “necessity” is to disband al Qaeda, not build a “democratic” Afghanistan. In response to Steve, Mr. Bush considered himself “strong”, that is willing to use the military unilaterally, but in fact did weaken America’s standing in the world which encouraged other nations to move into the vacuum. For Don I would draw a distinction between military presence and non-military assistance. Your premise is right: you don’t win hearts and minds by destruction. In response to Eric, my blog supposes a mission that increases pressure on terrorist cells on the Afghan-Pakistan border region as a means of defending the nuclear arsenal. The Pakistanis have greatly increased their military actions in this effort. We need to question whether Afghanistan will become more unstable if we do not expand our counter-insurgency effort there. The key is the willingness of Afghanis to protect their own interests.

  6. Macmath Kerr Says:

    Wishing you the best of luck on this challenge!

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