Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008
Today, according to the New York Times, marks a new high in annual deaths for American service men and women in Afghanistan: 112 Americans have been killed in that country this year thus far, more than in any other year of the "War on Terror" that we are waging.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday (as recounted in an AP story by Robert Burns today) as he addressed the House Armed Services Committee, that "Frankly, we are running out of time" in Afghanistan, and that "We cannot kill our way to victory" there. This came one day after Mr. Bush announced yesterday that one Marine battalion and one Army brigade would be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan this fall. Adm. Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who joined him in testifying, both stressed that relying on military force to win in Afghanistan was short-sighted, and said that what is needed is better Afghan government, a more diverse economy (shifted away from a reliance on poppy farming), more cooperation with Pakistan, and more non-military U.S. aid.
What is plain to me (and I hasten to add that I echo these two) is that our strategy in Afghanistan needs to change. I have long wondered, given the clear effects of the Marshall Plan in post-WW II Western Europe, why we continue to rely principally on our military power to solve what is at least as much an economic and sociologic problem on the ground in Afghanistan. This is a nation that for many years, until the 1970s, was a peaceful and stable nation. The Taliban has risen because of a lack of sources of strength available to the people there - it has arisen in a vacuum, so to speak, where economic and educational possibilities are practically nil after nearly forty years of war, first with the Russians, and now among the forces that seek to hold sway over a ravaged nation. If we give the people of Afghanistan evidence that their long lack of possibility is over, by rebuilding economic and educational infrastructure in their nation, the Taliban will inevitably fade. This ought to be our main effort.
Easy for me to say, yet there it is.
And I must say it is refreshing to hear two such estimable men speaking what has, to me, the ring of truth.