Afghan Blog June 2010 - from Tony Agnello
Afghanistan, The Longest War, Obama's War…Really?
After years of neglect and second class status as the "other war," Afghanistan is now newly positioned at the political epicenter of American foreign policy debate equally on Main Street and in Congress. Elements as dissimilar as committed pacifist progressives and even high ranking officials in the Republican Party are critically framing our engagement in Afghanistan as our longest war or if contextually convenient as Obama's war.
Let us take a quick look at our "longest war," at President Obama's war, to see if those descriptions pass the objectivity litmus test. This past June 7, 2010, marked the 104th month of US military engagement in Afghanistan, very objectively ascribing the title of America's longest war in history to the Afghan Campaign. The Vietnam War, between the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the withdrawal of the last American combat forces from Vietnam on April 30, 1975 lasted 103 months. I had just concluded my Afghanistan duties a few weeks after the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Having converted my travel allowance into a supple supply of US Dollars, flying Bakhtar Airlines from Kabul to Heart then overland through Iran, would mark the beginning of my journey home. On reflection, I now see this ceremony of return from our first responsibilities as young adults, as a rite of passage that we would all make, out of Afghanistan and our shared Peace Corps adventures, launched into the commencement rituals of our adult lives. In the subsequent decades that followed my departure Afghanistan would never be far from my thoughts. However, I would not return to Kabul again until 2003, to implement a girls school construction project through Sarah Chayes in Kandahar and contribute to the building of another school for girls in Ghazni, through Zolaykha Sherzad's School of Hope. My arrival was to a vibrant Kabul filled with optimism, economic activity and millions of people newly returned from the Afghan Diaspora. But that was then, this is now and things have changed.
Then, in this context, there can be no argument, right? Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, case closed. Well actually, the answer might depend on what the real meaning of war is. I remember lamenting the uneven allocation of war funding in the early years of the Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns. I concluded at that point in time that the newly altered American policies in Afghanistan had become insufficiently funded to draw a timely or pragmatically successful closure to our Afghan commitment as our attention became fixed on Iraq. Maybe we were not all that concerned about finding bin' Laden after all and maybe we were not all that concerned about our commitment to Afghanistan.
After a little more than a year or so of primary engagement our Afghan commitment became dwarfed by our efforts in Iraq. For the next seven years ISAF in Afghanistan would be charged with a holding policy hopefully giving the Afghan government sufficient time, if not sufficient resources, to get security issues stabilized. But to call the subsequent post invasion Coalition engagement in Afghanistan a war rather than a policing action would require a suspension of reason and a serious redefinition of what war really is, or should be.
By late 2003 as much as ninety five percent of the financial support for the wars was being diverted away from Afghanistan toward Iraq along with a disproportionate reallocation of human and material resources. Any progress made during the approximately twelve months during which Afghanistan really was our primary military focus began to fade as we took our eyes off the Afghan prize and pursued our misadventure in Iraq. Remember no Iraqis were involved in the attacks on 09/11/2001 and as the unbiased rationale for the Iraqi invasion began to unravel with the revelation that there was no connection between secular Iraq and religio-militant Al'Qaeda, no viable association to enriched uranium…"from Africa" and no weapons of mass destruction, a hold order was put out on American action in Afghanistan for the next seven years. The Iraqi and American people continue to pay very high price for this ideologically driven rush to judgment. While we were preoccupied with the Iraqi calamity, the Taliban were organizing a regional resurgence in the tribal territories and the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan and in the east and south in Afghanistan. This threat extends right up to today and has grown to threaten the stability of nuclear armed Pakistan with the very real possibility of a non-national terrorist group acquiring nuclear weapons from a compromised Pakistani resource.
Skeptics claim that Afghanistan may have simply served as a convenient segue for the ideologically driven Neo-Conservative rush to judgment that brought us, in Shock and Awe, into Iraq with what is generally regarded in hind sight as too few troops, poor intelligence regarding the nature of the Iraqi resistance and with no immediately viable exit strategy. Thus, with the ending of the Powell Doctrine and the advent of the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, America was propelled into the new reality of the twenty first century with a new set of terms and definitions like rendition, enhanced interrogation and domestic surveillance. With Afghanistan placed on the back burner, the conflict in Iraq has raged on for the better part of the ensuing seven years only recently tapering off but still with the lingering threat that sectarian violence might erupt at any time and for any reason.
On my second return visit to Afghanistan in 2006, this time to support Khris Nedam's Kids for Afghan Kids Program funding the construction of two schools in Wardak, I found a very different environment than I had r encountered earlier in 2003. Security, even in Kabul, was on a heightened alert. The insurgency had regrouped and was waging a tenacious resistance that persists up to the present day. I even experienced a bit of apprehension walking around the familiar and virtually unchanged Chicken and Flower Streets at the bus stop intersection Chariee Tora Boz Khan in Share Nau. My concern was probably compounded by the shopkeepers' stories of the occasional suicide bombing or IEDs which were constantly spoken about with a nervous smile and the resigned laughter that hints at the cultural awareness that fate, that kismet, may really be the driving force ultimately at work in all of this; unquestionably and without a shadow of doubt, everything occurring as a result of the guiding hand of Allah.
.(Vote for Khris every day until the end of July to enable our continued support for the educational, medical, orphanage complex at Wonkhai Valley in Wardak.) http://www.energizerkeepgoinghalloffame.com/2010HallofFameFinalists/2010Finalists/tabid/89/Default.aspx#1 (Be sure to find Kris's picture and click on it, then voter for her)
Now, to the next question; whose war is this anyhow? To drive a wedge between the inherited responsibility that the Obama Administration is now confronting in Afghanistan and his own progressive base, some in his own party and many among the loyal opposition in the Republican Party are declaring the war in Afghanistan to be Obama's War. Possession can be defined as being owned by, part of or proper to. In this context, this war that is clearly proper to America, that is a part of American history, this war is now certainly owned by the Obama Administration as the democratically elected Chief Executive of our nation. But it would be a disingenuous assertion to ascribe causal responsibility to the President. Barak Obama is in charge. It is his job to bring this war, that he did not start, to a successful and honorable conclusion that insures a secure and stable Afghanistan, which provides for the welfare and common good of its own citizens while posing no threat to the United States or to any of its regional neighbors.
Now let's address the shortened answers to the two questions posed at the top of this missive. Is this the longest war in our history? Fewer than six months have passed since the Afghan surge began in earnest following a lengthy and serious debate about the optimal American and coalition response in the Afghan Theatre. Add to that the one year of serious military primacy that Afghanistan received prior to our Iraqi commitment and the true US focused and resolute effort in Afghanistan may still be somewhat shy of two years as a truly determined military endeavor.
For that reason, I fall on the side of those who declare that this is in no way our longest war. But I also assert that success in Afghanistan, however we collectively come to define it in practical terms, unclouded by political obfuscation, is now our most pressing international responsibility. Lest we forget the lessons of history; abandoning Afghanistan to ruthless extremists has not worked out well for us in the past.
Let's address the second assertion; that this is Obama's war. Well, of course it is. But let us also fairly understand that the President has been charged with cleaning up an extraordinary mess that was not of his creation either domestically or internationally. That said, it is clearly his responsibility and ours as RPCVs to once again do all that is in our power to help return Afghanistan to stable local rule devoid of foreign occupation forces whose presence always elicits a millenniums old response from Afghan patriots without any ulterior political motivation other than the ancient, visceral xenophobic opposition historically offered to all foreign invaders.
Putting aside political motivations and secure in the understanding that we above all other Americans have a heartfelt interest in insuring a safe and secure Afghanistan for our Afghan friends, their children and grandchildren, let us renew our resolve to bring hostilities to an end that will safeguard the rights of women, as well as those of the Shiite faith and for all ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. Let's also clearly encourage and support American policies as they move in that direction and support the President as he attempts to draw the Afghan campaign to a reasonable closure that will leave a stable nation in place as foreign troops withdraw. But let us again remember that a precipitous abandonment that does not adequately address internal security concerns will plunge the area into yet another period of civil war with the possibility for a spillover into a wider regional conflict that will impel us back into Afghanistan once again within another decade, to deal with issues that the President must address and solve in the present day and in our time. President Obama has a very challenging task before him and he could greatly benefit from our support as could our former host nation, Afghanistan.--
President, Friends of Afghanistan