Afghanistan: Why America's Longest War is NOT a Campaign Issue
Image Credit: Joint Base Lewis McChord (flickr)

Afghanistan: Why America's Longest War is NOT a Campaign Issue


It’s not surprising that an isolated incident in Benghazi, Libya, took up a significant chunk of the 2nd Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, while the war in Afghanistan, now in its twelfth year, was ignored. It shouldn’t have been, but although the war is mostly lost, it is even more important to dissect the reasons for that failure, in detail, and it’s a tragedy that American voters aren’t demanding that the political class be held accountable for it.

Since 2009 polls show that Americans have turned sharply against the war, with two-thirds to three-fourths of respondents opining that war isn’t worth fighting. Although the war has long been considered unwinnable by many foreign policy experts, American voters now seem to have reached the same conclusion. President Obama’s decision to wind down the war by next year, and to withdraw all U.S. forces in 2014, isn’t controversial. But 2,000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Afghans, are dead – yet that war-battered country is arguably no closer to peace and stability than it was at the end of 2001, weeks after the U.S. invasion.

In the past, Romney has expressed some important differences with the president on Afghanistan. He’s said that he’d never talk to or negotiate with the Taliban, and he’s criticized Obama for drawing down too quickly the 30,000-plus troops that were deployed in the 2009 “surge” that Obama ordered. During the Republican primary season, Romney said repeatedly that he’d reconsider withdrawing U.S. forces depending on conditions on the ground, and on the advice of the generals.

But, lately, Romney has pretty much thrown in the towel, declaring his support for the president’s timetable. And when, in the vice presidential debate last week,         Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, halfheartedly tried to revive the conditions-on-the-ground argument, Vice President Joe Biden slammed the door. “[W]e are leaving,” said Biden. “We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.”

In stunning, lengthy editorial entitled “Time to Pack Up” on October 13, the New York Times reversed its long-held, stay-the-course view on Afghanistan. “Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home,” said the editors. The editorial began with a ringing declaration of failure:

Jon Shafer
October 21, 2012 at 14:19

….and might I add that al Qaeda was created by OUR government, a CIA project during the Jimmy Carter years to destabilize the then Soviet Union during ITS failed adventure in Afghanistan. There are also CIA/al Qaeda ties that extend, as well, into the Taliban. We play foreign policy games with this, unknown to most Americans. Al Qaeda was used under NATO who armed them to help unseat Gaddafi in Libya. The lies of our government are deep while America's war on the truth about them is turning our world upside down. Corruption in government, of course, is everywhere, such as the UK's complicity in 9/11 as well as ours, and other governments world wide. But, as the strongest superpower, our corruption is particularly sinister, with terrible consequences in store for us all if we don't wake the hell up!

Jon Shafer
October 21, 2012 at 14:04

Why was your question posed this way? That Afghanistan is NOT a campaign issue when you speak of its failure? It IS a campaign issue because American foreign policy, and the direction it goes, IS an issue! Our foreign is a total disaster! And preemptive war as a foreign policy is insane, and it needs to STOP! And THAT makes it an issue!
Ezatullah, you speak of the death of bin Laden. The entire Navy Seals assassination is a fraud and a massive fabrication! Bin Laden has been dead for YEARS, and kept "alive" as the bogeyman of choice to help fuel America's wars! And THAT is a campaign issue: the LIES of our government through our State Dept and CIA/military industrial complex. It IS a campaign issue because Mr. Obama has embraced this lie, when there are so many anomalies and errors of fact, such as holding bin Laden responsible for 9/11 when the FBI made NO such connection. It IS an issue, ALSO, because for a president to order the assassination of ANY foreign leader violates rule of law and due process that WE CLAIM AS AMERICANS under the Constitution. A president swears to uphold, defend and protect the Constitution. WHY aren't we doing that any more?? THAT is an issue!
THEN we talk about fighting terrorism. Our war policies are causing death and destruction everywhere under the false claims we are fighting terrorism. IF WE WERE NOT OVER THERE, there would be NO terrorists to fight, would there? WE started this mess, and WE are the ones creating the conditions of hate against the U.S. in which people become terrorists to FIGHT THE OCCUPIERS of their countries, WHICH IS US! That is INTENTIONAL, to create the hatreds against us by which we then label them "terrorists" who yell "death to America," and therefore, we manufacture through FALSE pretenses the psy-ops propaganda, and therefore justification, to send young American troops into harm's way to wage a propagandized war against them!
That makes US the terrorists under so many dishonest, deceptive and manipulative ways!
Iran has never attacked us. Nor has Iraq. But Israel HAS attacked us, back in 1967. Yet we cave in to the madness of making one single, yet UNPROVEN nuclear weapon in Iran, a basis for threatening Iran while WE, the U.S., have over 8,000 nuclear weapons, and Israel in the HUNDREDS.  Of course, our dishonest media refuses to report THAT side of things. Or that there were reported Israeli Mossad agents intentionally stirring up the "demonstrations" that led to the assassination of a U.S. ambassador who, it might be also mentioned, was acting almost as a de facto head of state.
Afghanistan, further, is a huge drug conduit….an opium producing nation whose drug trafficking has escalated since this war began. Why? Might I suggest our interest in that drug trade. It is commonly known, but obviously not talked about, that the CIA is deeply into drug trafficking and has been for many years.
So I'm a little tired of hearing the political bullsh*t about all our foreign policy objectives of  "peace and democracy" by bombing the f___ out of other nations in the name of peace, and shoving it down throats of weaker nations because, well, we are now the world's "super power" and can dictate the terms. Like former deputy secretary Richard Armitage was quoted as saying during the Bush years to Pakistan, "you work with us or we will blow you back into the Stage Age!," or words to that effect.
And THAT is the blunt, and evil, edge of what American foreign policy is all about…..

October 20, 2012 at 04:58

All Afghan people shall be forced to leave the mountain and countryside area and move into city where the government have major control.  Everything can move in the mountainous area and region could be destroyed instantly and if you deed to move out of the city area, you are on your own perill. 
In this strategy, it may cost more money at the beginning but it is more cost effective in the long run. It also denies the taliban's last resort of support.  
NGO DINH DIEM  of South Vietnam had defeated the communist insurgency with this strategy: strategic hamlets.

October 19, 2012 at 22:10

The Taliban is disappearing due to lack of interest, and the Afghan Security Forces are growing stronger every day.
> So then how do u know these taliban isn't trying to disappear to gather their strength in order to deceive us, so that when we leave, they will pick up their attacks again?……..just like in Vietnam when we left, the North took over the South?
Sounds like a good strategy for me….let America leave so we don't have to face her, then we strike at the Afghan the gov. Not to mention the Afghan gov have many soldiers willing to join the Taliban.

October 19, 2012 at 22:06

@Buck: Obama isn't ending any war.  He is 'cutting and running'.  The war will follow.  It always does.
Paying Danegeld never gets rid of the Dane.  Peace only comes through victory.  Victory requires strength.  That has been true for thousands of years.  Technology will NOT change that.

> Not quite. I believe victory is only achieved through the completion of military objectives because war is only a means to an end. An means to complete political goals.

October 19, 2012 at 16:54

I thought this article interesting and somewhat informative.
Then I read: And what steps will you take to bring Russia, China and Iran to an agreement with the United States and Pakistan to reduce political conflict among their allies in Afghanistan?
And I thought…  R. Dreyfuss just doesn't get it.  Since the Soviet invasion Afghanistan has been a play ground for proxy wars fighting for influence and drug money.  There will be no effort by Russia, China, or Iran to agree to reduce conflict there.  There will only be victorious chest thumping after the American military moves out.
No, I'm not saying they should stay.

Ezatullah Ahmadzai
October 19, 2012 at 12:27

Mr. John:
I recently came to the States to do my Masters Degree in Finance.  Before coming to the States, I was part of the Transition process.  I respect your opinion, but things are not the way you perceive them.  Talibans are getting hold of the outskirts of the country especially those areas that are bordering either Iran or Pakistan.  Pakistan's Government and politicians are openly declaring Taliban's War against the Afghan Government and the International Security Forces as a Jihad and I am 100% sure that if the US and the International Community ignored Afghanistan, the insurgents can get hold of the capital within days.  We should make our country by our own and this is how it should be, but at the moment, Afghans haven't stood by their feet completely.  We need the International Community's support to be able to stand on our own feet.  In addition, we, with the help of the International Community especially the US, have to resolve our disputes with Iran and Pakistan which is of critical importance to a long-lasting peace and stability to our country and the region.   

Ben Torode
October 19, 2012 at 11:58

Forgotten? No. Overshadowed? Yes. This was a town-hall style debate where the voters pick the questions most important to them. And keep in mind that a presidential debate is not the forum for a substantial discussion on anything, let alone something as complex as Afghanistan. You simply cannot sum up a decade-long war in sound bites crafted to appeal to the most uninformed portion of the electorate (the voters who are inexplicably undecided at this late stage). 
Afghanistan is sure to get a lot more attention at the next debate on foreign policy, but neither candidate is going to give a full appraisal of the situation because that would have to include criticism directed inward. People don't want to hear the tough truths.

October 19, 2012 at 11:54

"Yet that war-battered country is arguably no closer to peace and stability than it was at the end of 2001, weeks after the U.S. invasion."
This statement, and the argument that surrounds it, is inaccurate, and an over-simplification at best.

Pundits and politicians argue that with the drawdown of foreign forces in 2014, the Taliban will be unstoppable. Their frame of reference for this pessimism is the Taliban's awe-inspiring march across the country in the 1990s, when within three years of their formation they had around 90 percent of the country in their control. The political and economic landscape of Afghanistan today makes the Taliban's cruise across the country simply fantastical. In 1996, the Taliban won control of Jalalabad — the supply route to Kabul, and the commercial and population center of eastern Afghanistan — by bribing the local forces in the region in cash (reportedly at the cost of $10 million), and a promise of safe passage. With the wealth and power that local actors around the country have amassed these days, though, the price for any such deal down the line has gone up exponentially. It is hard to imagine the current strategic actors in just the Jalalabad region striking any financial deal — unless the Taliban offer hundreds of millions of dollars, which is unrealistic given the economic strife of their principal paymasters in Pakistan.
When the Taliban first emerged on the political and military stage in the 1990s, they were an untested group, offering an exit from the chaos of commander rule. In the past 10 years, however, by resorting to brutal terrorist attacks and violently countering any efforts at development, the group has exhausted any public space it once had. Consider this: the Taliban have now operated twice longer as an insurgency than as a government. Their brand is now associated with the brutality of beheadings. This year, popular uprisings against them in the rural and urban areas of the country are a spreading reality. Urban Afghans have long seen that the Taliban represents regress, but rural Afghans increasingly recognize it too.
Battlefield realities further undermine any possibility of the Taliban's forceful return. The insurgency has suffered massively over the past two years, in particular the ranks of its mid-level commanders. A targeted campaign by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to kill and capture field commanders has weakened their capability and also sown mistrust among the leadership and field operations…
…In short, projecting that there will be a full return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan is as lazy as the alarms about civil war. At best, the Taliban have turned into a terrorist outfit that enjoys a foreign sanctuary but is finding it hard to win any decisive battle or territory within Afghanistan.

October 19, 2012 at 09:54

I just returned from Afghanistan earlier this year, and what I saw in my year and a half there was nothing at all like you describe.  The Taliban is disappearing due to lack of interest, and the Afghan Security Forces are growing stronger every day.  There is still a lot that the U.S. can do over the next two years to help set the Afghan government up for success when we leave, but I think that even if we left today, the Afghan government would retain control over all of the major urban areas and the vast majority of the countryside.  We are down to scattered pockets of resistance at this point, and we could eliminate those pretty quickly if we were willing to commit the resources and the willpower that we had two years ago. 

Ezatullah Ahmadzai
October 19, 2012 at 07:45

Fighting terrorism can be a long-lasting endeavor; a decade may not be sufficient time to measure successes and failures correctly.  The real success of the US, and its allies in the War against Terrorism, is to keep supporting the Afghan Government and people and to facilitate environment for resolving the long-lasting regional issues/conflicts.    

Buck O'Fama
October 19, 2012 at 07:34

Obama isn't ending any war.  He is 'cutting and running'.  The war will follow.  It always does.
Paying Danegeld never gets rid of the Dane.  Peace only comes through victory.  Victory requires strength.  That has been true for thousands of years.  Technology will NOT change that.

Ezatullah Ahmadzai
October 19, 2012 at 07:31

The United State's objective isn't complete merely with the death of Osama.  The US, and its allies in the Afghan-War, have to provide with the necessary support to the Afghan government so that Afghans are able to defend their land against the insurgents.  I hope the same is the case for another decade or so; otherwise, Afghanistan can become a safe heaven for some terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Taliban for one more time.  Till to date, some of the Al-Qaida's individuals have been assassinated, the network is still active albeit weaker and with limited capacity.  If the intention of US is to ignore Afghanistan for one more time, it will be US's yet another mistake.  
The US and the International Community not only have to support the Afghan Government, but they have to play a facilitating and positive role in the contemporary issues/problems of the region.  A sovereign, developed and peaceful Afghanistan and the region is in the best interests of the West in general and of the US in particular.  The US and its allies should not forget about the geographic realities of Afghanistan, still we are surrounded by forces that are not in the best interests of both Afghanistan and the West.    

Steve Beren
October 19, 2012 at 06:43

Afghanistan is an issue in the election campaign.  President Obama is not "ending the war" by withdrawing troops.  After all, the war is being waged against America, by the Islamic fascists political movement.  Broadly defined, this movement consists of anti-liberty, pro-terrorist outlaw regimes such as Iran and Syria, and the terrorist networks they support, such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.  Withdrawing troops does not "end the war" being waged against  America by the Islamic fascists.  A conditional transition for tactical and strategic purposes beneficial to America is one thing, but a hard and fast timeline "no matter what" (a la Biden and Obama) is disastrous.  Obama lacks a victory strategy in the war being waged against America by the Islamic fascists; he doesn't take the threat seriously enough, tends to blame America for the war, tends to assume our retreat "ends the war," and favors massive military cuts.  We need to reverse the Obama foreign policy of apology, weakness, retreat, appeasement, decline, and defeat – and we need a return to the pro-liberty, morality-based, traditional conservative foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.

Jim From BC
October 19, 2012 at 03:38

There's nothing exceptional about this failure really. In the history of Afghanistan interventions it's fairly typical no matter who the outside power is.

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