Obama should authorize troop surge in Afghanistan

Every great presidency has a defining event. For Lincoln it was the Civil War, for FDR the Great Depression, and for Kennedy the Cuban Missile Crisis. Barrack Obama’s defining event remains to be seen as he nears the end of his first year in office. Among the possibilities are an economic recovery and a healthcare overhaul. But there is another situation waiting to be resolved that Obama can and should make his project: the war in Afghanistan.

As of Oct. 7, Operation Enduring Freedom is eight years young. Young because in those eight years American forces, with the war in Iraq overshadowing them for much of the time, have managed to achieve few of their goals. We removed the Taliban from power, set up a democratic government, and temporarily quelled Al Qaeda’s terrible storm of violence and murder. Yet Osama bin Laden still enjoys freedom, the Taliban is making political and military advances in the tribal areas of Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda is continuing its slaughter of civilians and American soldiers. We have quite a ways to go.

Obama is now faced with a most important decision: do we stay or do we go? Do we continue to occupy a country that has seen the deaths of over 1400 American soldiers and thousands more civilians, or do we quit while we can and leave the Afghan people to govern and protect themselves? The answer is not as simple as peace over war or life over death. No, it is more a question of whether we are willing to go through the events of 9/11 again. The answer is obvious.

First of all, it is extremely clear that we must defeat Al Qaeda as best we can. The memory of 2753 civilians buried in the rubble of a tragedy on 9/11 demands it. Since 2001, U.S. authorities have foiled plot after plot, including a plan to detonate liquid explosives on planes and a plan to blow up a New York City tunnel.  Authorities also recently arrested a man in Dallas in connection with a terror plot. The terrorists and murderers of this world will not stop unless we force them too, that much is certain.

If the United States pulls out of Afghanistan immediately, the already weak democratic government will probably not last. Even if it does, it will be unable to extend its authority to the outer regions of the country without the aid of about 40,000 American troops. The Taliban will return, Al Qaeda will build support and control in the rural areas, and terrorists will once again use the mountains of Afghanistan as a hideout while planning attacks against the U.S.

Perhaps an eight year drought from a tragedy like 9/11 has allowed us to forget what terrorism can do.  Or maybe it is the fact that the wars in the Middle East are so distant and casualties relatively few so that most of us don’t feel the pain of terrorism.  But with Iran and North Korea seeking nuclear weapons, it is likely that the next terrorist attack will be even more catastrophic than the last. Thus, we cannot provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda and others in Afghanistan — we do not want to see the consequences.

Success in Afghanistan is a vague term. Real success would be the elimination of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but this, like defeating the Vietcong in Vietnam, seems impossible. To defeat the insurgency, we must seek and destroy militants and eliminate Al Qaeda’s recruitment base. Easier said than done, though. It will require immense force over a long period of time, and in the near future, it is our job.

Afghanistan is not our country, however, and it is not our duty to police it forever. That is why Obama needs to authorize a sharp surge of troops to about 100,000  in Afghanistan for the time being. This added force would temporarily help suppress the insurgency while training Afghan forces so that they can eventually take over. The Afghan people have seen the blood of their neighbors and the wreckage of their cities, and this is their fight as much as it is ours.

Also, the U.S. needs to educate and modernize the Afghan population so that they can, as a people, develop a self-sustaining and prosperous economy. This means a larger middle class and more jobs, which will lead to greater stability. Furthermore, if the people have jobs and opportunity, their desire to join radical groups will dwindle and Afghanistan will enjoy the prosperity of a modern democratic nation.

None of this is possible, though, without a surge in U.S. troop levels. It will cost lives, no doubt, but we must not let 1400 Americans die for nothing. As Macbeth said, we are “in blood, stepped in so far that, should [we] wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” We have killed and been killed and, should we pack our bags and return home now, what would we have to show for the sacrifices we have made? Nothing but grief and defeat.

In all, abandoning Afghanistan is simply not an option. It would jeopardize American safety, stability in the region, and the security of the Afghan people. Operation Enduring Freedom must continue until the Afghan police, military, and government are capable of patrolling and ensuring the safety of their country.

Until then, we must keep in mind what we are fighting for. We are not fighting for the Afghan people, we are not fighting for imperialistic goals; we are fighting to ensure that the United States will never again be the victim of a terrorist attack like the one we experienced eight years ago.  Our soldiers risk their lives for our safety, our freedom, and our lives. It is our war as much as it is the Afghan people’s war, and with our security at stake, we must not give up.  We simply cannot afford to do so.