President Obama recently announced a new "surge" strategy in Afghanistan, warranting the deployment of additional 30,000 troops over the next 18 months. According to the President, the troops would come home after the 18-month period, once the Afghan security forces were appropriately trained and could protect their own country independently. As justification for the sending of troops, President Obama cited the 9-11 Al Qaeda terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, and the lingering Al Qaeda threat from Afghanistan that has continued ever since. Thus, the United States is preventively self-defending in Afghanistan, by trying to neutralize the enemy (Al Qaeda) before it strikes again.
I believe that the President is wrong in his strategy. Afghanistan looks like another Iraq: an unstable, ethnically diverse country, poor and potentially prone to housing terrorists. In Iraq, the United States sent troops in 2003 with the goal of quickly replacing the rogue Saddam Hussein regime. When commentators say that the surge in Iraq has worked, they imply that this goal has been accomplished. At what cost, however? In 2009, we are still in Iraq. Thousands of American soldiers have died, and so have countless Iraqis, caught up in so-called sectarian violence sparked through the American involvement. We have spent billions of dollars in Iraq, neglecting domestic problems and causing a major financial crisis at home. Now, soldiers are returning from Iraq to be immediately deployed in Afghanistan. It is likely that several years from now we will still be in Afghanistan, and that the surge there could work only if we sacrifice thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars....again. When Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates were questioned by the press about the 18-month deadline for the return of our troops home, they both fidgeted with their answers and admitted that the deadline was flexible, and that the President could always change his mind. 18 months means 18 months only if the President agrees, and in the summer of 2011, he may no longer agree.
Moreover, I believe that the President's justification for sending troops to Afghanistan is flawed. While the concept of preventive self-defense has evolved as an emerging norm of international law, it has not been universally accepted and countries, like the United States, that have relied on it, have been heavily criticized. When President Bush announced the infamous Bush Doctrine as justification for attacking Iraq, many world countries denounced this foreign policy and viewed the United States as an aggressor, not as a self-defender. President Obama runs the same risk with his justification of our involvement in Iraq. Al Qaeda is certainly present in Afghanistan, but this is not the only country where it hides. Its operatives train in Pakistan, Somalia, and other Arabian Peninsula countries. Does this mean that the United States should deploy troops everywhere in the world that Al Qaeda may have some presence? We cannot be everywhere at the same time, and we cannot possibly neutralize every terrorist operative. Counter intelligence should be our only strategy abroad, unless we have true evidence of an imminent threat of attack against us. Only then should we deploy thousands of troops, in the name of true self-defense. Otherwise, counter intelligence officials should protect our national safety, not thousands of soldiers. Afghanistan should not be another Iraq, and the Obama doctrine should not merge into the Bush doctrine.