Most of the chatter in Washington is still about domestic issues and how the Obama administration is doing now that the bloom is starting to fade.
Will the Senate approve the cap-and-trade bill? How many Republicans will vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor? Will further nationalization of health care be passed at any time this year? How many more family-values Republicans will be caught in flagrante delicto? Will Sen. Al Franken be funnier trying to be serious than when he was consciously making jokes?
Over the past few days, however, we were rather forcefully reminded that this country is still involved in two active, shooting wars and, specifically, that the war in Afghanistan — a war that can justly now be called Obama’s War — is not going especially well.
The Taliban on Sunday released a video of the first U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, 23, of Idaho, to be captured and used for propaganda purposes in the Afghan war. The obviously terrified private talked about how much he misses his family, his fear that he will not be able to marry his girlfriend, and (with some off-camera prompting) about how the United States should get out of Afghanistan.
On Monday, four Americans were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, making July already the deadliest month since the U.S. established a presence in Afghanistan in 2001. Four aircraft crashed within three days, apparently only one because of enemy fire, with one crash killing 16 NATO soldiers. Opposition to a continued Afghan presence is congealing in Great Britain.
U.S. Marines pushing into the southern province of Helmand have run into fierce resistance after a few days of relatively unmolested success. After taking the Lakari Bazaar in the city of Garmsir the Marines encountered machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades in ambushes as they tried to advance further.
To be sure, although every life is precious, the death toll among Americans in Afghanistan — 30 so far in July — is not as high as has been the case in some previous wars. The relevant question, however, is not how many Americans will lose their lives so much as whether continuing to occupy Afghanistan is a prudent use of American power.
As we have noted before, the Taliban, as little as one would enjoy living in a country under its rule, is an indigenous Afghan organization likely to persist long after Americans leave. Al-Qaida, reportedly now based mostly in neighboring Pakistan, carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has international jihadist ambitions.
The core U.S. interest in Afghanistan is not to dictate what type of government it has, and especially not to build a Western-style strong central government in a country with little or no desire for it, but to make sure that al-Qaida doesn’t re-establish operational bases in Afghanistan that could be used to attack the United States.
The U.S. interest, then, can be fulfilled by informing the present Afghan government and any successor government, that if any al-Qaida bases are allowed in Afghanistan, the U.S. will calmly blow them to kingdom come. Defeating the Taliban (which will inevitably involve killing civilians) or bolstering the present government are not necessary.
One could argue it might be a mistake to begin a military pullout now, in what might be regarded as a sniveling response to Pfc. Bergdahl being taken hostage. As soon as his situation is resolved, however, we should rethink Afghanistan and begin ending our military involvement. Insofar as there is a real danger to the U.S. in South Asia, it is in the badlands of Pakistan, not Afghanistan.