The Cost of Strategic Distraction
by Charles Lemos, Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 01:20:47 PM EST
The New York Times is reporting that the President has approved an increase of 17,000 troops in Afghanistan. The increase to start this Spring and Summer would come on top of 36,000 U.S. troops now there, an increase of almost 50%.
President Obama will send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer in the first major military move of his presidency, White House officials said on Tuesday.
The increase would come on top of 36,000 American troops already there, making for an increase of nearly 50 percent. In issuing the order, Mr. Obama is choosing a middle ground, addressing urgent requests from commanders who have been pressing for reinforcements while postponing a more difficult judgment on a much larger increase in personnel that the commanders have been seeking.
White House officials said that 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy in the next few weeks, aiming to be on the ground in Afghanistan by late spring, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., composed of 4,000 soldiers, will deploy in the summer.
An additional 5,000 Army support troops and so-called "enablers" will also be deploying in the summer, administration officials said, which will bring the number of troops deployed as part of this presidential order to 17,000. The decision does carries some political risks for Mr. Obama, whose election was interpreted by many Americans as a mandate to bring troops home from Iraq. But Mr. Obama has now announced additional American troops are headed to Afghanistan before he has withdrawn any troops from Iraq.
But White House officials said both of the units being sent to Afghanistan were originally supposed to be going to Iraq.
"We have the ability to do this because we will be drawing down in Iraq," a senior White House official said.
Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been pressing for reinforcements of about 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as many as the president has so far decided to send. The commanders hope to have additional forces in place by late spring or early summer as part to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country, particularly in advance of the upcoming presidential elections, which are expected to take place in August.
Let's call this what it really is the first installment on the costs of strategic distraction. We are approaching the ninth year of our largely futile efforts at stabilizing Afghanistan. But our strategic distraction dates back decades to the Administration of George Herbert Walker Bush. The failure back then to provide the necessary aid to rebuild Afghanistan and to construct the necessary edifice of a modern polity has cost us plenty. Moreover, George W. Bush and his neo-con crew in their haste to remake the world in their image further added to the costs of strategic distraction. They seized upon a window of opportunity to invade Iraq without first closing the door on eliminating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The folly of the Bushes haunts us still.
We cannot afford more mistakes in Afghanistan. The question that remains on my mind and I hope on the mind of most Americans is 'what is the endgame?'