Commentary Magazine


Despite the Dithering, We Mustn’t Quit the Fight in Afghanistan

Tony Blankley, in a column headlined “If We’re Not in to Win, Bring Our Troops Home,” gives voice to what I suspect will be an increasingly common viewpoint on the Right. He begins by expressing frustration with President Obama’s doubts and hesitations over Afghanistan — as exemplified by leaks from the White House, according to which it would be too expensive to send enough troops. This, at a time when Democrats are avidly pushing multi-trillion-dollar health-care bills. He concludes:

This president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.

I sympathize with his viewpoint and share his frustration, but I have to dissent from his conclusion. As discouraging as the White House deliberations have become, Barack Obama is the commander in chief and will be so at least until 2013. We don’t have the luxury of giving up the war effort now and hope for the best in the future. A more hawkish successor, if there is one, will have, to put it mildly, a difficult time dealing with a situation in which the Taliban have taken over most of Afghanistan — which is what would happen if we pulled our troops out. That result would be a catastrophe on many levels. It would not only be a betrayal of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan; it would also create terrorist safe havens in that country and give fresh impetus to Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

We as conservatives don’t have the luxury of saying that if Obama won’t fight the war as vigorously as we want, we shouldn’t fight at all. Even a reduced level of commitment can help to stave off a catastrophe. But it would be far, far better for the president to make the necessary commitment to win — an objective within our power to achieve, but only if the White House provides the resources and commitment necessary.

The danger here is that we may wind up re-enacting the final stages of the Korean War — the period from 1951 to 1953, which followed the initial push by American-led forces to the Yalu River and then the devastating counterattack by Chinese troops, which was just barely halted north of Seoul. Thereafter, U.S. and other United Nations troops slogged it out for two years in a miserable deadlock that resulted in copious casualties but did not change the results on the ground.

Would it have been better for President Truman or his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to have said that, since we aren’t seeking total victory over North Korea and China, we should just pull out? Clearly not, because even a deadlock was better than a Communist triumph. But the final two years of the war were still a miserable experience that killed and maimed far too many people. We should do whatever we can to avoid such a scenario in Afghanistan, short of actually conceding defeat.