Afghanistan has been visited by conquerors and saviors repeatedly through the centuries. As an international crossroads, as a source for mineral wealth, as a center for opium production; Afghanistan and her tribes have always attracted attention for the wrong reasons. Great Britain tried to subdue the area for its own use in the 19th Century, the Soviet Union tried exporting Communism there in the 20th Century. In our time, the United States tries to install “U.S.-style democracy” in the imposing geography of Central Asia.
We are hampered, as ever, by our own contradictions. As we try to install central government in a nation that has never had a successful central government, we fight the trappings of central government at home. As we fight to remove the bipartisan corruption evident in our democracy, we are asked to work with an Afghan leadership consumed by graft. America is engaged in Afghanistan to deny comfortable training grounds to Al Qaeda, but the terrorist organization needs no headquarters to operate. In many ways, we are fighting a rat infestation in our barn, by burning one of the hay bails inside.
The McChrystal incident, and its fallout, highlight the divisions in leadership on how best to accomplish the mission. But the larger question on whether fighting the Taliban is necessary to countering terrorism is not being asked. The Rational Middle will make no plea for peace at any price; but we need to, as a nation, be able to stand down the politics and make a no-bull assessment of strategy. We need to evaluate the benefits of reducing terrorists opportunities in the region versus the costs of providing terrorist recruiters and fundraisers the material they need.
In the aftermath of the President’s decision to accept General McChrystal’s resignation, we have seen the inevitable politicization of the moment. Feverish liberal demands for retribution preceded the firing, and ridiculous claims of the President’s “petulance”, “hurt feelings”, and “spite” have made the rounds in the right wing media. Many in the military who do not care for the President will still tell you that the behavior of the staff and General is more than inappropriate; it compromises the chain of command.
President Obama’s task now, is to limit the number of chef’s in the kitchen. The dysfunction that preceded the failure of discipline is Mr. Obama’s responsibility, and must be corrected immediately. Following that work, a continuing assessment must occur that includes the entire region. The relationship between India and Pakistan, the former Soviet republics, Iran, and the emerging/continuing issues with regard to Israel; all are components relevant to the conflict that has consumed our foreign policy for close to a decade.
The solutions to these issues, lay in shades of gray. Few things can be more annoying to we Americans than answers that are neither black or white, but we must deal with facts at hand. The decisions, money spent, and lives changed and lost, must all be considered sunk costs. One way or another, we must move on from this tragic episode.
The Rational Middle is listening…