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Mares: Options in Afghanistan

10/20/09 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Like most of us, commentator Bill Bares doesn’t have a solution for the Afghanistan quagmire.  Indeed, with  the help of two long-time observers on the situation,  he has more questions.


(MARES) Somebody wise once said, "Policy is not a choice between good and bad, but between bad and worse." That comment comes to mind as President Obama nears the end of his "agonizing re-appraisal" of our policy in Afghanistan, of both fighting terrorism and nation-building, and whether to follow the recommendation for a new surge of troops in that torn country.
         
He has apparently already added some troops there, but much more hangs in the balance. And as I've attempted to weigh the issues and options myself, I've gathered a composite of ideas from two observers who make a lot of sense to me.
       
For Haviland Smith, a retired CIA officer, who lives in Williston, "words matter."   Smith spent a good deal of time in the Middle East and was chief of the Agency’s counterterrorism staff at their Langely, Virginia  headquarters.
     
Smith says, "Definitions matter."  There is a huge difference between terrorism and insurgency.   But for seven years, the Bush Administration deliberately used the terms interchangeably, and in Smith's opinion,  indiscriminately, and inaccurately.  Smith believes that Bush’s team merged the two because of the emotional  impact  of 9-11 on the American psyche.
           
In fact, they are not the same.   The Department of Defense’s own definition of insurgency is objective and unjudgmental: "an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict."  He reminds us that the Taliban "terrorists" of today were the Mujahaddin "freedom fighters" and insurgents  we supported so fervently against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
         
Smith says that historically,  it's   been easier to deal with terrorism than insurgencies.  When terrorist movements are left to run their course, they tend to last roughly a dozen years or so.


The good news is that  unlike insurgencies, which seldom lose, terrorism rarely seems to win.   When states properly and intelligently confront terrorism, it may be dramatically violent, but it's short-term, and certainly unworthy of having war declared against it, especially a Great War!
       
Will such a war on terrorism EVER end, is what bothers Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University.  In two books, including one titled THE LIMITS OF POWER,  Bacevich has described America’s growing military over-reach.
     
He believes that by acceding to the McChrystal  request, for upwards of 40,000 more troops , we will "perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintain a global military presence, configure US forces for global power projection, and employ those forces to intervene on a global basis."
    
This policy would ironically make Obama an acolyte in George W. Bush’s belief in open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism and maintain military might as the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership.
        
There may not be many good choices for Obama, but it seems to me that there must be a better one than a seemingly endless war, prosecuted by a military-industrial-congressional-media complex.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Bill Mares on line at VPR-dot-net.

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