Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Get bin Laden, then get out

By DeWayne Wickham

"Don't go down that rabbit hole." That's what the voice of reason inside Barack Obama's head should be shouting as pressure grows for the president to sharply increase American military forces in Afghanistan.

There are already 68,000 U.S. troops - and an even larger number of quasi-military contractors - in that war-torn country. And Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American commander there, is expected to ask for between 10,000 and 45,000 more troops.

He says they're needed to help stabilize Afghanistan's government and military. That's a nation-building subplot which diverts resources from what ought to be the Obama administration's primary mission: hunting down Osama bin Laden and destroying al-Qaeda.

That's the job the Bush administration set out to do. But, it got bogged down trying to punish the Taliban, botching a mission that started as retaliation for al-Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.

Taliban leaders were chased from power shortly after U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001. In the years since, first Bush and now Obama have used U.S. military power to prop up the corrupt but pro-American government of Hamid Karzai.

Keeping Karzai in power - and the Taliban at bay - has become an increasingly demanding job for American forces. This side mission has also clouded the judgment of a lot of people who have a hand in defining the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Instead of committing this nation's military to a generational war against a religious sect over control of a distant land, Obama should give American forces in Afghanistan a single, clearly stated mission: Get bin Laden and his top aides and then come home.

This is an approach that most Americans would back, and it comports with the Powell Doctrine. That's the strategy - first articulated by soldier-turned-diplomat Colin Powell - of using overwhelming military force against a threat to our national security. Such a mission must also have popular support and a well-defined exit strategy.

What Obama shouldn't do is commit more troops to what amounts to a fight to decide who will govern Afghanistan. That shouldn't be America's war because there simply aren't any good guys in that battle. Though the Taliban would reinstate a misogynistic rule upon the Afghani people, it does not differ dramatically from the current government.

Earlier this year, Karzai signed a bill into law that permits Shiite men to starve their wives if they refused to meet their husbands' sexual demands. Under this legislation, women must also get their husband's permission to work outside the home and give guardianship rights of children exclusively to men in the family.

And then there's last month's "democratic" election. Karzai's supporters were widely reported to have made a mockery of the democracy that his government was supposed to have ushered into Afghanistan. According to various news reports, widespread ballot box stuffing plagued the presidential contest.

Some of the cases were so flagrant that the ballot boxes at one empty polling place were full of completed ballots just an hour after it opened.

This is the democracy that American troops are fighting for in Afghanistan, while bin Laden and his top advisers continue to elude capture.

Obama should leave it to Afghanistan's warring factions to decide who will govern that forsaken land, and he should use the sizeable force of U.S. troops already in Afghanistan to wage a war of necessity - against Osama bin Laden.

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