Comment on: I have lost confidence… by Matthew P. Hoh
I consider Mr. Hoh’s letter of resignation to be the soundest evaluation of our situation in Afghanistan that has yet been promulgated. It is unfortunate that a letter of resignation does not offer a real opportunity to lay out what our policy and strategy in Afghanistan should be. Reading between the lines of his letter, an always hazardous undertaking, one could perceive an implication that Mr. Hoh would opt for a “cut and run” decision, such as we adopted in Vietnam and the Soviets adopted in Afghanistan. I deem it unfortunate that no public debate has arisen on what we should do in Afghanistan. We seem to be waiting docilely with bated breath for the President to make his decision: a decision that will be applauded by some and denounced by others.
What should we do? We went into Afghanistan with a very clear and limited objective: To eliminate a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and to capture Osama Bin Laden. We quickly achieved the first objective; we failed to achieve the second objective. In persisting to attempt to achieve it we overthrew the Taliban government and then felt obligated to install and to defend a new one. The subsequent concentration of the U.S. effort on Iraq and the failure to install a government that could control the entire country resulted in the comeback of the Taliban and the involvement of the U.S. forces in a long standing civil and ethnic struggle in Afghanistan.
Today Al Qaeda continues to function in the frontier regions of Pakistan as well as elsewhere in the world, the central government has little control over the country, the government is reputedly thoroughly corrupt, the Taliban has risen from its ashes to become a formidable force.
What should be the objective of the United States in Afghanistan? Before we start talking strategy we need to define our objective. Is our objective to establish a strong Western-style, as-democratic-as-possible government? And in so doing eliminate the Taliban as a military threat? Is this an objective that can be achieved? What would be the timeframe? What would be the costs in manpower and dollars? Or to rephrase, is it of vital U.S. national interest to establish and maintain a democratic government in Afghanistan? What would be the geopolitical consequences if we decided that such was not in the best interests of the United States? Is it of vital U.S. interest to prevent the Taliban from taking over much of the territory of Afghanistan or even the government? Are there ways of combating such a Taliban success other than by the use of massive military power?
Or, should our objective continue to be limited to precluding Al Qaeda from re-establishing itself in Afghanistan? Should we continue to use military forces to attempt to capture or kill Bin Laden? How could these objectives be achieved? Is there any longer any real need to attempt to capture or kill Bin Laden? Would doing so eliminate the threat of terrorism that hangs over both the Western and Muslim worlds?
Or, should we leave the Afghans to their own devices and concentrate our diplomatic efforts and military aid on maintaining a democratic and friendly government in Pakistan?
I regret that the American public is not debating these questions. I hope that the President is asking these questions and getting answers from all his advisors, not just the military.
I am afraid that we Americans are allowing ourselves to slide without thinking, without asking ourselves “Is this what we should be doing?” into a situation such as we allowed ourselves to be drawn into in Vietnam. And the consequences, both domestically and foreign, could become as devastating.