Pro/con: U. S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

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PRO/CON: U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

By McClatchy-Tribune, adapted by Newsela staff

March 24, 2014 Sgt. Travor Meysembourg, 25, of Weimar, Texas, is part of the dismount team that goes out on route clearance missions in Kunduz, Afghanistan. One of the few missions that take U.S. troops off their bases is to clear supply routes of land mines. Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT

PRO: An Afghan pullout is an ill-considered decision

WASHINGTON — Former secretary of state, national security adviser and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger is, by all measures, a foreign policy heavyweight. At a recent black-tie dinner, he stood — stoop-shouldered and peering commandingly over his signature thick, black-frame glasses — and remarked: “Unilateral withdrawal is not victory.”

He was referring to the Obama administration's ill-considered decision to pull our military out of Afghanistan. 

Kissinger knows a thing or two about the pain of walking away. After negotiating the Paris Peace Treaty to end the Vietnam War, he saw President Nixon resign in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, then watched Congress pull the plug on all support for South Vietnam.

America’s 25-year effort in Vietnam was wasted with our early pullout. With backing from the our Cold War enemy, the communist Soviet Union, the North Vietnamese rolled over the South, and the country became communist. Vietnam, and neighbors Laos and Cambodia, experienced a bloodbath of brutality and genocide under communist regimes. The Soviet Union, which consisted of several Eastern European countries, and controlled by Russia, was strengthened. It bankrolled new revolutions in South America and Africa and fostered a wave of Islamist terrorism across the Middle East.

Though many Vietnam War protesters, including now Secretary of State John Kerry, trumpet America’s withdrawal as a triumph, there is no reason to be proud of how we left. While we can still debate the wisdom of going to war there, there is no doubt that our total abandonment of our allies left bloody and shameful consequences.

Kissinger’s comments weren’t meant to recall ancient history. He was lamenting history repeating itself, and the prospects of that are now high as Afghanistan could fail ... needlessly.

Plucking Defeat From Victory

The Obama administration’s Afghan strategy is nearly identical to its withdrawal from Iraq. It assumes that once the immediate threat of the collapse of the regime has passed, it’s OK to head for the exit. But absence of looming failure is a poor standard for declaring victory — no better than when George W. Bush gave an unfortunate high-five under the “Mission Accomplished” banner after the initial invasion of Iraq.

That’s not to say that the United States should plan major, unending commitments to a country after a fight. But once the levels of violence have come down, some further commitment is usually necessary to help peace take root.

Iraq is a case study in how to withdraw from a war in the wrong way. It is absurd to argue that the White House could not have gotten permission to retain a small force there — it simply didn’t want to. It is also clear that the U.S. pullout left a vacuum of power that was eagerly filled by al-Qaida as it regained its strength. Today, Iraq suffers much higher levels of violence than when Obama took office.

The prospects for a withdrawal from Afghanistan are even grimmer. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of sending tens of thousands of troops to deal a death blow to al-Qaida was not nearly as massive and effective as the Bush surge in Iraq. The Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan that allow them to operate freely. The Haqqani Network of Islamic fighters is as robust as ever and al-Qaida is waiting in the wings to attack. The drug trade that funds the rebels remains robust as well. These are daunting challenges for the Afghan people to handle on their own.

While Obama talks of finishing the job in Afghanistan, many in the administration would be delighted to go with the “zero” option — no U.S. troops, period. But it’s not clear that a small multinational presence will be enough to hold the hard-won gains there.

The U.S. went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to eliminate the terrorist forces that had killed thousands of Americans and threatened to kill many, many more. Job 1 was not to bring freedom and justice to those lands, but America always prefers to leave a path to liberty and prosperity in the wake of its wars.

Sadly in the case of Afghanistan, Obama seems once again poised to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, as he did in Iraq. Future administrations will reap the blowback from the chaos our withdrawal will bring and they'll have to deal with it — probably at greater cost. “Unilateral withdrawal is not victory.”


ABOUT THE WRITER: James Jay Carafano is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or Newsela.

CON: U.S. has little pull with Afghan government

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Our military withdrawals from Iraq, and now the forthcoming one from Afghanistan, are not the reason that we find ourselves dealing with governments in both these countries that are not doing as we think they should.

We are learning the hard lesson that while our military can remove an existing government, we cannot dictate what will replace it. It is a lesson with huge immediate implications, because in recent days we are hearing new rumblings about a possible U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war.

In Iraq, President George W. Bush apparently gave little thought to what might replace the government of then leader Saddam Hussein.

In 1991, when his father, President George H.W. Bush, attacked Iraq over its occupation of Kuwait, he was urged by some in Congress to expand the operation to attack the capital city, Baghdad, and remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Wisely, he knew that such action would open a can of worms. Under Saddam Hussein, power rested in the hands of the Sunni community, a minority within Iraq that worships one brand of Islam. The majority Shiite community practices a somewhat different type of Islam and was resentful over its treatment at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Removal of Saddam Hussein would upset the existing order, Bush senior realized.

What was not difficult to see when his son ordered the invasion of Iraq was the likelihood that any new government there would be dominated by the majority Shiite community. It was clear that the Shiite community might seek justice for its suffering in a way that would leave the country in chaos.

So when we see current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tilting toward the Shiites, that is the result of the situation we set up with our invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Sunni in Iraq are reacting now with violence. Whether we are there with troops or not, that difficult relationship between Sunni and Shiite is playing itself out with violence breaking out between the two groups daily.

Nor was it difficult to guess that a Shiite-led government in Iraq would be on good terms with the government of Iran, given that Iran has a Shiite government as well. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, we have been at constant odds with Iran's leaders. So by invading Iraq, we were boosting support in the region for the government of Iran.

Living With Political Realities

In Afghanistan, we removed a government headed by the Taliban, an extreme religious party. Afghanistan, as was known at the time, houses a variety of ethnic groups who have never in their history come all together to form political order across the country.

Now the warlords who ruled small fiefdoms in Afghanistan are making a comeback. One of them may wind up as the next president in elections to be held soon. We are having trouble convincing Hamid Karzai, the current president, to let our troops remain in some numbers past the end of 2014. We want to keep Afghan courts from having legal authority over any offenses that may be committed in the future by the U.S. military there. Karzai rejects this demand.

In both instances, our military invasions — Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 — could have been avoided. In Afghanistan, our demand on the Taliban — that it turn over Osama bin Laden and his associates — was not pursued. The Taliban was beginning to respond to our demand, but instead we invaded.

In Iraq, there was even less reason to send our troops. We invaded because, we said, Iraq was preparing mass-destruction weapons to use to attack us, which was later shown to be highly unlikely.

So in both Afghanistan and Iraq, we took military action that could have been avoided. Both invasions had predictable consequences that were negative for the target country and for ourselves.

And this does not include the thousands killed, maimed, or otherwise wounded among our own forces and among the populations of those countries.

Now we have to live with the political reality in both Iraq and in Afghanistan. We are leaving both countries in shambles. If we don’t like the governments we see, we have no one to blame but ourselves.


ABOUT THE WRITER: John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or Newsela.

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