Guest Post by Katherine Tiedemann: A Quick Case for Maintaining a Presence in Afghanistan

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Katherine Tiedemann is a program associate at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
I have to push back on Ben Katcher‘s previous post on several points.
First of all, there are indeed preliminary estimates of how much continued operations in Afghanistan will cost: COIN expert David Kilcullen, certainly not part of the same camp as Boot and the Kagans, pegged the figure for 30,000 extra troops at an extra $2 billion per month on top of the $20 billion we already spend there. Considering President Obama okayed sending only 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, the cost will be less than Kilcullen’s estimate. No small change, to be sure, but considering estimates of the cost of the Iraq war range from some $650 billion up to $3 trillion (or $3,000 billion, as my colleague Doug Rediker would say), the Afghan war is still considerably smaller in scale than its behemoth Iraqi counterpart, and therefore commitment in Afghanistan is not necessarily mutually exclusive with addressing the United States’ other national security concerns.
Beyond that detail, the dangers of leaving Afghanistan altogether are great. With Pakistan pushing militants across the border into Afghanistan, security conditions in Afghanistan declining dramatically, and predictions for rising violence in 2009, it is naive to think simply because there are competing priorities on the world’s stage that the United States can turn its attention and resources from this strategically critical region.
President Obama has seemingly embraced the Af-Pak struggle as “his” war, much like the Iraq War was President Bush’s main foreign policy focus. Now is no time to turn our heads from the conflict, just as the United States appears poised to devote the resources to the country that the Bush administration should have.
And so while it is important, as Ben says, to insist on cost estimates and a strategic rationale, we cannot risk allowing the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan’s wild border regions.
Focusing on economic development and reconstruction aid also must not be left by the wayside any longer. In addition to working with Afghan security forces to bolster stability in the country, the United States should press for security-led reconstruction in Afghanistan; for example, securing the Kabul to Kandahar road and completing construction on the Kajaki Dam in the south (as Peter Bergen described in testimony earlier this month.)
It would be a shame to pull out now, just when the war torn, battered country is at long last getting some more of the resources it so desperately needs.
— Katherine Tiedemann

Comments

15 comments on “Guest Post by Katherine Tiedemann: A Quick Case for Maintaining a Presence in Afghanistan

  1. TonyForesta says:

    What is the mission in Afghanistan? Your message-force multiplying, disinformation, and propaganda are no more credible than different than al Jazeerah’s. Great photo, but poll the Afghan population on their support for American efforts in Afghanistan and the picture is entirely different, or opposite. Also, as an actor I notice that all the kids are tight and NOT looking at the soldier whose pained face looks down into the shielded face of a bold champion in his kid circles. The little boy in the foreground looking to his leader and reaching out to protect him. The little girl in the soldiers arms concerned and looking for her mommy. The brave girl stageleft holds onto her sister and looks to her brothers and the champion for direction.
    It is a telling photo. The intended message is overwhelmed by the image.

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  2. Mike D says:

    As I recall, the Taliban mainly became an enemy of the U.S. by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Taliban as a movement had no ambitions other than to govern Afghanistan. The Taliban mostly fight the U.S. now because it invaded and now occuppies Afghanistan.
    Has anyone ever questioned just how important Al Qaeda having a “safe haven” is? It seems that Al Qaeda members or sypathizers could easily keep a low profile and live in the vast teeming cities like Karachi, or Cairo. Or even in London, or anywhere else. They could meet and plan terrorist attacks to their hearts’ content anywhere they wanted, like Hamburg.
    If the mountains of the Afgan/Pakistan border were a great economic powerhouse that gave Al Qaeda its wealth, or if they were building a great military machine there, then a military strategist might sensibly decide it was worth depriving the enemy of this crucial asset. But if it’s just a bunch of guys meeting in caves or mud dwellings and saying bad things about the U.S. what’s the big deal?

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  3. DonS says:

    “Review” of Af/Pak – expansion of the war into new areas of Pakistan on the table:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/world/asia/18terror.html?_r=1&hp
    Obama reaching the turnaround point were he will indeed own the Afghan war. No doubt he will commence the [potential] escalation with rhetoric involving strategy for “success” or “conclusion of histilities”, or “bring peace” or bring the wrong doers “to justice” or “stabilizing” the situation . . . But, of course, it won’t work to disguise the fact that it will be an escalation of “Obama’s war”. Good luck with that Barack.

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  4. samuel burke says:

    gareth porter speaks on afghanistan and the difficulty foreign occupiers haves in overcoming the pashtunwali code.
    http://antiwar.com/radio/2009/03/16/gareth-porter-51/

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  5. samuelburke says:

    eric margolis is a source that knows that part of the world.
    http://antiwar.com/radio/2009/03/13/eric-margolis-13/

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  6. Dag Andersson says:

    My dear jdubya58
    Taliban has already taken over 90% of Afghanistan, and the lesson learned from the soviet occupation should start to penetrate even the thickest skulls.
    Asymmetric warfare is always difficult, from the air stupid and contra-productive. We might in our ignorance and naiveté believe that we know best what is good for the afghan people. and make a serious effort to impose our values on their society. Provided Kharzai wants to extend ISAF’s presence. And what should the purpose be ? Introduce “Western” democracy ? Capture OBL ?
    Rebuild the infrastructure?
    “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.” : Samuel P. Huntington

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  7. ... says:

    jdubya58 – buy an airplane ticket to kabul and help them if you feel that strongly about it.. i doubt you will.. it is much easier to vote for crazed neo-cons while listening to fanatics on talk radio or something.. these are the cheneys of usa politics who keep telling you the terrorists are going to come and get you, if you don’t go over there and get them…

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  8. jdubya58 says:

    Do those of you opposed to persevering in Afghanistan really want the Taliban to retake power? Because that’s what will happen. And when it does, they will take up where they left off – systematically killing off the Hazara and other non-Sunni minorities, banning all females from getting an education, and persecuting (up to and including killing) anyone opposed to their rule and not abiding by the Taliban’s severe form of Islam. The vast majority of Afghans do not want to go back to Taliban rule. They rightfully fear for their very lives if that were to happen. Common decency demands that we help them keep that nightmare from happening again.
    Yes, wars cost lives and money. Not fighting wars have costs, too.

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  9. bangzoom14 says:

    There seems to be this need for the right wing to “win” a war. What is this constant fixation with “winning”? All the countless lives that have been lost and ruined, the endless amounts of money borrowed and spent on war machines. A request to the right wing: Come back down to earth and start thinking smart for a change and stop trying to make money off of other people’s misery. You should be ashamed of yourselves. The time has come to chart a new course and we should do so immediately. You don’t remain in the same pattern with anything just because you’re afraid of what others will say. This idea of saving face is pathetic!

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  10. Dan Kervick says:

    Maybe I missed something, Ms. Tiedemann. But you seem to be talking past Ben Katcher. It seemed to me that Katcher was expressing skepticism about a “surge”, an “escalation” and a “prolonged nation-building effort”. You on the other hand, are raising alarms about “leaving Afghanistan altogether”. That’s a different question.
    This paragraph confuses me:
    “President Obama has seemingly embraced the Af-Pak struggle as “his” war, much like the Iraq War was President Bush’s main foreign policy focus. Now is no time to turn our heads from the conflict, just as the United States appears poised to devote the resources to the country that the Bush administration should have.”
    The first sentence and the second sentence seem logically and evidentially unrelated. Why are they huddling together in the same paragraph? Are you suggesting that we should support the escalation because Barack Obama has embraced it?
    I am wholly behind the notion that Pakistan poses the greatest security threat right now to the region, and probably the whole world. It is an unstable country with nuclear weapons. That gives me the chills. But what is going on next door in the much less worrisome Afghanistan has “quagmire” written all over it.

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  11. JohnH says:

    Ya gotta love this! Fearmongering at its worst.
    Katherine Tiedemann says “the dangers of leaving Afghanistan altogether are great.” I guess we are to believe her because she says it’s so.
    But seriously, what are “the dangers?” Loss of a strategic pipeline route? Loss of a strategic perch atop the crossroads of Asia? Loss of face? Risk of the Taliban projecting power from a safe haven? This last is a nonsensical argument–much of Afghanistan is already a safe haven, since the Taliban controls much of it, and the US helps their recruitment and motivation every day by wanton bombing of civilian friends and relatives.
    Why should Afghanistan be the base of a terrorist attack any more than a number of other failed states around the world? In fact, a strong case can be made that the likelihood of terrorist retaliation would decline dramatically if the US simply left. http://political-science.uchicago.edu/faculty/pape.shtml
    Sadly, this is the standard gruel produced by the foreign policy mob. They absolutely cannot engage in a frank, open discussion of why the US “must” do what it does.
    Whenever I see arguments that the “US must do,” without any supporting strategic rationale, my propaganda sensors go to the Red Alert.

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  12. section9 says:

    Okay, let’s be clear what is happening here. Significant elements
    of the Democratic Party are in favor of ceding
    Afghanistan to the Talib. You all don’t want to come out and say
    so in so many words, but this is basically becoming a rerun of
    Democratic Party internal politics from 2003 to the collapse of
    the Democratic center in 2006 over Iraq.
    Fortunately for the Iraq people, George Bush held his nerve
    when the Democrats collapsed. Now, the Afghans may not be so
    lucky.
    The problem, of course, is that now Democrats own success or
    failure in war, especially the so-called “good war” in
    Afghanistan. And remember, Obama promised success.
    You will not be allowed to wriggle out of this one. You will not
    be allowed to blame defeat on George Bush. You cannot fool the
    voters, who are not as stupid as you think they are. If you
    choose defeat, which Democrats are in the process of doing, you
    will earn it. In more ways than one.

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  13. DonS says:

    Please tell me this is tongue-in-cheek. I’m dumbfounded.
    “. . . the dangers of leaving Afghanistan altogether are great. With Pakistan pushing militants across the border . . . it is naive to think simply because there are competing priorities on the world’s stage that the United States can turn its attention and resources from this strategically critical region.”
    Or else, what? We’ll continue to stir the hornets nest and radicalize the population more? We’ll need another ‘surge’ so we can kick the can down the road like Iraq while expending more personnel and treasure? We’ll inspire Pakistan to get more serious about confronting their own insurgent problem without the strawman of the US buffering the issue?
    “President Obama has seemingly embraced the Af-Pak struggle as “his” war, much like the Iraq War was President Bush’s main foreign policy focus.”
    So what is it? Every President needs a war toprove his manhood or something. I can’t imagine Ms Tiedemann means to sound so vapid, but she does.
    “Now is no time to turn our heads from the conflict, just as the United States appears poised to devote the resources to the country that the Bush administration should have.”
    This statement begs the question. What are the US goals? What are the assurances that the results, even if we have goals, will turn out ‘better’ than Iraq? The assumption that somehow the US presence and effect will be more ‘positive’ than ‘negative’ is stunningly blue sky.
    Just taking 1/10th of the military cost and “throwing” at the social and economic infrastructure of Afghanistan might be a more worthy plan than assume by this post, and with far fewer probable downsides.
    Why not highlight the really big consideration, the political blowback when the “next 911”, or facimile thereof occurs? That’s where Obama needs to really check his manhood when it comes to making the courageous decision to get the hell out. But it surely doesn’t look like he’s passed that gut check yet.

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  14. ... says:

    btw – the financial situation in the usa at present and war around the globe are very connected…. one has to wonder just how much the money machine would work if it didn’t have a way of making war… war = money… can’t we as people see beyond greed and self preservation to something more noble??? nothing noble comes from sending troops to faraway places…
    how would the usa like it if troops were sent to the usa en masse, because the usa supposedly needed it??? americans wouldn’t like it, but they seem okay with sending their troops to other peoples homes…

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  15. ... says:

    katherine, justifying the usa presence in afgan on comparing the costs with the usa presence in iraq is still not justifiable… the usa has become a nation completely divorced from reality, busying itself with military exercises around the globe, while borrowing from china to pay for it… their is nothing conservative about any of this.. anyone who tries to rationalize it via humanitarian goals would be better off dismantling the war machine at home, rather then funding it to continue what it has done to date…
    the cause belli is always the taliban and al qaeda… where would the military industry be without another boogey man to chase down, these being the latest??? can’t everyone see the pattern here?? until people on masse boycott the support for military build up, this crap will continue… i hope the usa runs out of options soon, as they are screwing the planet, and your justifications for it aren’t helping any….

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