Last night President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, about the future of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan -- Gen. McChrystal -- has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.And with that he announced that an additional 30,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan. I can't feign shock or awe. The political left has always maintained that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and foolish, but the war in Afghanistan was justified. NATO even said so.
But at this point, eight years on, what are we doing there? U.S. and British forces completed major operations in the first few months. We let Osama bin Laden get away, and he probably isn't even in Afghanistan now. In fact, al-Qaida is scarcely there either. According to the president's national security adviser, former Marine Gen. James Jones, "The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."
Terrorism doesn't live in Afghanistan. Terrorists can plot anywhere. An al-Qaida cell that plotted the 9/11 attacks resided in Hamburg, Germany.
What we're doing in Afghanistan is exacerbating problems in a Muslim country, propping up a lousy and corrupt Afghan president (who wants us out anyway), and ultimately looking to build some kind of pipeline. It always comes down to wanting another country's natural resources, doesn't it?
If we're serious about fighting terrorism and making ourselves safer, we could do much more police work right here. In the last five years, suspected terrorists in the U.S., those on our actual watch lists, successfully purchased guns or explosives 865 times! I think the most crucial line of defense needs to be at home.
So I'm not going to predict the end of an empire, but sometimes I look at what we're doing and question whether Rome ever really died.