Bring Them Home, Mr. President

It is axiomatic that a successful counterinsurgency program requires a partnership with a reliable, legitimate government. If the Karzai regime is not such a partner, the goal that McChrystal would be pursuing with those extra 40,000 troops is not achievable.

Obama is also reported to be considering scenarios in which he would send roughly 30,000 extra troops, somehow convincing our unwilling NATO allies to make up the difference, or send about 20,000 troops and modify the McChrystal plan, opting instead for a “hybrid” strategy that’s part counterinsurgency, part counterterrorism. I’m skeptical that either of these options sets goals that are achievable, and I’m certain that neither sets goals that are clear.

Following his visits to Dover, Fort Hood and Arlington Cemetery, Obama should focus the attention of the White House and the Pentagon on a question that too often is overlooked: What troops?

Our all-volunteer armed forces have been at war for eight years with no end in sight, serving tours of duty of up to 15 months in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many units have been called to serve multiple tours. By contrast, most Vietnam War veterans served a single one-year tour.

Fighting two big simultaneous wars with our armed forces stretched so thin has put enormous emotional, psychological and economic stress on military families. The suicide rate in the armed forces has climbed steadily, as has the incidence of stress disorders among veterans. The Pentagon is adept at shuttling its people around and has worked out how to provide the 40,000 troops McChrystal wants. But any new deployment would come at a heavy cost – a human cost – far beyond the billions of dollars required to train, equip, transport and maintain the units being sent.

There are reports that Obama has refused to sign off on any plan until his advisers tell him how they propose to end the expanded war they advocate. But this sounds like just another way of saying: Tell me how we’re going to fix the mistake we’re about to make.

As long as our goals in Afghanistan remain as elusive as they are now, Obama shouldn’t be sending troops. He should be bringing them out. (Posted by Bulatlat)


Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is

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