Menendez’s Afghan Folly

Author: Rory B. Bellows

The War in Afghanistan has long been viewed as the “good”, if one can ever use that term, war. Democrat Party Nominee Barack Obama has proposed a surge of troops in Afghanistan and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez has hopped on board that bandwagon. Menendez has long been a political hack so it is no surprise that he jumped on this issue to boost Democrats standing on national security. Both Obama and Menendez opposed the surge in Iraq so it is curious that they would support a surge in Afghanistan. They opposed the surge because they did not think it would work. Why would it not work in Iraq but in Afghanistan?

However, that is not the main reason to question their judgment. History is. Afghanistan is a country that has never been under the control of a central government. Afghanistan is also where the Red Army went to die. In the 1980s, the Soviets poured 400,000 troops into that country in an effort to prop up a communist regime. We all know how that movie ended. The simple fact of the matter is the makeup of Afghanistan makes it very unlikely that any military effort to pacify the country and set up a stable government is doomed to failure. As we all know, there is a large tribal region that is largely autonomous. The country mountains and networks of caves is well documented as a favorable terrain for enemy fighters. Why would Menendez and Obama believe that an additional 10,000 troops could do what 400,000 could not? Surely the American forces of today have superior training, technology and tactics than the Soviets did 20 years ago, but the nature of Afghanistan has not changed at all.

Even prominent Democrats disagree with this policy. Virgina Senator Jim Webb, an interview with the Financial Times said, “We should be very careful from making it sound like we are withdrawing from Iraq because we have to build up in Afghanistan,” he said. “You’re starting to see people say this when they weren’t saying it before.

“We tend to be country-specific when we talk about how to defeat international terrorism rather than looking at the whole dynamic. The dynamic is that terrorism works the seams of international law. We can’t create stable societies in places like Afghanistan … that can’t be our objective.”

While Webb may be a Democrat, he isn’t much of one. This is the traditional conservative view of foreign policy. If you remember the 2000 campaign then you remember candidate Bush famously stating his desire for a humble foreign policy that avoided nation building. Conservatives have traditionally opposed nation building due to the folly of thinking government can change the world. Conservatives are suspicious, and rightly so, of government intervention. People are inherently flawed and therefore the governments that they create are flawed. We do not have the ability to remake the world into a better place so much as keeping people from screwing it up.

There are threats to our security. We need to take them seriously, but we also have to keep in mind what the military is good for, what it is not and what we can realistically achieve in Afghanistan.

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