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A call for withdrawal

October 27, 2009 - Jim Anderson
In a column today in the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson calls upon President Obama to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.

“Obama can decide to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy or a counterterrorism strategy. He can do one or the other — not both,” Robinson writes. “If he chooses counterinsurgency, he has to send enough troops to make that strategy work. If he doesn’t want to send all those troops, he needs to pursue counterterrorism or do something else.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is asking for 40,000 or more additional troops for counterinsurgency. Robinson says it would make no sense to try a middle path and approve a troop increase of 20,000.

What will Obama do? In a speech this week, the president paid tribute to the families of 14 Americans who died Monday in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan.

“While no words can ease the ache in their hearts today, may they find some comfort in knowing this: like all those who give their lives in service to America, they were doing their duty and they were doing this nation proud,” he said. “They were willing to risk their lives, in this case, to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda and its extremist allies.”

If that is the point of the war — preventing Afghanistan from becoming an extremist “safe haven” — there is reason to ask whether its importance is overstated.

Eric Margolis, a columnist for The Toronto Sun, points out that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and Spain, and conducted mainly by U.S.-based Saudis to punish America for supporting Israel.

Only a few members of Al-Qaida remain in Afghanistan. There is little, if any, evidence that the Taliban or the Pashtun tribesmen have an interest in attacking America.

“Today, half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control,” Margolis wrote earlier this month. “Anti-American militants could more easily use Somalia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, North and West Africa, or Sudan. They don’t need remote Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments, not camps.”

Even with the known ties between Afghanistan and Al-Qaida, Robinson argues that the mission there has been accomplished. Obama, he says, should choose counterterrorism over a troop-heavy and occupation-dependent counterinsurgency.

Better to bring the troops home, Robinson concludes.

In Margolis’ analysis, the alternative is a broader war not just with Taliban, but with the fierce Pashtun tribes, who comprise over half the Afghanistan population. Tribesmen who had nothing to do with 9/11.

If, indeed, the goal is to prevent an extremist “haven” — at one location out of numerous global possibilities — at what point does an occupation-based focus on Afghanistan become unreasonable.

If our goals are otherwise, then President Obama must define and justify the occupation. Not search for the middle ground.


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