President Obama laid out his strategy for Afghanistan last night, one that involves adding more troops and a time line for withdrawal based on the theory of leaving behind an strong Afghan government and an Afghan people willing and able to take care of themselves.
Obama proposes that this strategy can be accomplished in 18 months and that his time line is the motivation the Afghans need to get their acts together and get something done. I pray that he is right.
He was right about his acknowledgment that Afghanistan is not Vietnam, and it is from the perspective of that acknowledgment that Americans must consider the potential consequences of any Afghanistan strategy.
When the United States failed in Vietnam, it consigned the Vietnamese people to 30 years if communist rule that crushed that nation’s economy and hope. Yet, other than the emotional scars, the United States suffered few direct ill effects from failure in Vietnam as a nation.
Afghanistan is not Vietnam. The people who attacked us on 9/11 planned, funded, and trained in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda had safe bases for operation there. The Taliban created perfect conditions for recruitment and obfuscation there. If we fail in Afghanistan, the Taliban will retake that country and al Qaeda will have its most secure base of operations back. And now, if we fail, the Taliban and al Qaeda will turn their attention to taking over Pakistan, and at this point in history, they have a great chance of succeeding.
What would result from failure is a region stretching from the Persian Gulf–yes, I am including Iran here–to India containing a billion people ruled by religious extremists in possession of nuclear weapons or the technology to build more. The United States cannot afford such a failure. The world cannot afford such a failure.
It has been a long eight years. A lot has happened that has led to the moment the world now faces, but whatever might have happened, the moment must be faced. The United States must succeed in Afghanistan because failure is an option no one wants to live with.