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Save Our Troops from Futile Death in Afghanistan

A Commentary by Tony Blankley

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The administration's Afghanistan War policy seems to be settling into a dismal combination of confusion and cynicism. Before the November elections the administration was adamant that the troops would start coming home by July 2011. This, it is presumed, was to keep the president's liberals calm.

But before the various recounts were even finished, the White House announced that the target date for turning the fighting over to the Afghan government was pushed back to 2014 -- and that even that distant date was merely "aspirational." 2014, presumably is to keep the pro-war Republicans and Pentagon calm.

But can any rational observer remain calm as we watch our young brave troops risking -- and too often giving -- their last measure of devotion in that god-forsaken land? It is not clear what has changed for a Westerner fighting in Afghanistan since Rudyard Kipling wrote the flowing closing stanzas in his poem "The Young British Soldier":

   "If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
   Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
   So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
   And wait for supports like a soldier.
   Wait, wait, wait like a soldier ...
   When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
   And the women come out to cut up what remains,
   Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
   An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

I am not arguing that we could not win a theoretical war in Afghanistan. But this particular war is being fought without sufficient resources, without a strategy than can remotely succeed and, most unfortunately, with at least one eye on our domestic politics, rather than both eyes on victory.

Regarding resources, the strategy calls for us to deny sanctuary to the enemy such that al-Qaida could not get back in the country safely. Yet even with the surge troops, we cannot occupy any but the most populous areas -- so even if we succeed in our current efforts (which we are not doing), we will not be executing our strategy for want of troops.

Regarding the strategic failure, the premise of this war as currently being run is that we turn everything over to our Afghan government army and policy, who will be capable of maintaining whatever successes our troops will have achieved. This is laughable.

As virtually any troops or officers recently back from Afghanistan will tell you, the number of troops and police being recruited, trained and kept in service is pathetically short of targets.

Moreover, most of them won't fight. The idea that they will be ready to take over in 2011 or even 2014 is just not in the cards. And yet that is our strategic exit strategy.

Finally, it is apparent that the strategy of this war has been fatally tainted by domestic political calculation. This proposition was unambiguously described by Woodward in his recent book "Obama's War."

This is already our nation's longest war, and it shows no sign of ever finishing according to plans. It will end when some president decides he has had enough -- or when some future president decides to fight the war to actually win -- assuming we have the resources at that point to carry out a victory strategy. We do not currently have such resources in our military.

Until that day comes, we will continue to lose 50, 100, 150 of our finest troops every month. Many more will come home with terrible injuries to the brain and limbs.

I do not understand how, as a country, we can continue to send our troops into that cauldron with no rational expectation of success.

Our nation's longest war is quickly becoming our nation's most pointless war, although it didn't start out that way. After Sept. 11, we had to send in troops on a punitive raid to punish the Taliban for giving succor to those who attacked us. After overthrowing them and killing as many as we could, though, our job was done.

But first under President Bush and now under President Obama, a punitive raid has been turned into an exercise in nation building in a place that does not have nation in the modern sense of the word. We could reform Germany and Japan after WWII because they were countries before the war. We will never turn Afghanistan into anything capable of exercising close authority over all its land.

The public knows this, even if our government does not. A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed that, for the first time, support for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is negative. Forty-four percent of the public supports the U.S. role there, with 50 percent against. In September, 49 percent supported U.S. involvement, with 41 percent against.

Among Democrats, only 33 percent say the U.S. is doing the right thing in Afghanistan; 62 percent say it's not. Among independents, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has 40 percent support; 54 percent oppose. Republicans are the only group favoring the U.S. commitment, supporting the war 64-31.

The public needs to make a lot more noise about this. We need to save the lives of our troops now from their heroic sacrifice. Where are the tears for our sons and daughters on the front lines? A war that can't be won should never be fought.

Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington.

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