June 25, 2011

Ending the War in Afghanistan | The Wheeling Intelligencer

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has managed to rub a lot of people - both Republicans and his fellow Democrats - the wrong way during his few months in Washington. Good. Manchin pledged to represent the people of West Virginia, not political party leaders or bureaucrats.

Last week the senator aroused the wrath of none other than Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was his party's nominee for president in 2008. McCain differed with Manchin on the issue of how quickly U.S. troops and financial assistance should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Manchin delivered an excellent speech on the issue, and on the need for this country to get its financial house in order. Afterward, McCain attempted to chastise our senator, suggesting he "doesn't know much about history."

It isn't difficult to understand where McCain is coming from on the war in Afghanistan. The senator from Arizona is a genuine war hero, in part because of several years as a POW in North Vietnam. He understands clearly the U.S. experience in Southeast Asia - and failure of too many Americans to support our troops there during the 1960s and early 1970s - sent something of a message to our enemies. It was that if you push the Americans hard enough and inflict enough casualties, they'll go home.

But Afghanistan is not Vietnam. And once Americans do go home from a foreign war, it doesn't mean we have to stay here.

Perhaps McCain should study a little history, both of the distant and the recent past.

The last person to subdue Afghanistan was a fellow named Alexander the Great, and he didn't control the place for long. For around 2,000 years, Afghans have resembled one stereotype of West Virginians: The only thing that will keep them from fighting each other is the presence of a foreign occupier.

Ask the British. They suffered humiliating defeats in Afghanistan.

Ask the Russians. They were forced out of Afghanistan just a few years ago. Some of the weapons being used against our forces there now were captured from the Red Army.

And oh, yes, ask the Pakistanis. Wonder why they often aren't much help in the war against Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan? Because they don't want to see a unified, strong Afghanistan on their border. One reason is that too many Middle Eastern countries' borders were established by European powers, with little regard for ethnic and tribal considerations. Pakistanis still worry a strong Afghanistan might attempt to unify the Pashtun people in both countries, at Pakistan's territorial expense.

A major difference between the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars is that in Southeast Asia, Americans faced an enemy with almost exclusively political motives. In Afghanistan, the bad guys may want political power, but they're able to motivate followers through use of religion.

Despite massive aid to Afghanistan, its army still isn't ready to take over the war against the Taliban. And the Afghan economy relies almost exclusively on foreign aid.

But the Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, want us out.

McCain may well believe it is imperative the Taliban be destroyed - and yes, that would be a good thing. But even with them gone, chances are excellent other guerrilla groups would take up the fight, as was the case during the war against the Soviet Union.

So here's the thing: American troops were sent to Afghanistan to deny al-Qaida terrorists a safe haven there. Al-Qaida has been decimated, but not destroyed. The Taliban want Afghanistan back.

Let them have it - with one thing made perfectly clear: Taliban leaders should be reminded there was virtually no objection to sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan when the mission was to root out and kill al-Qaida terrorists. If al-Qaida resurfaces in Afghanistan and launches new attacks against Americans, U.S. troops may well come storming back.

If the Taliban want us gone - for good - they'll tell al-Qaida to take a hike. And that would be, in some ways, a mission accomplished.

By:  Mike Myer