The U.S. isn’t going to "win" in Afghanistan.
Look at the country on a topographic map. Except for the southwest, Afghanistan is a series of rugged snow capped mountains interspersed with deep valleys and near impassable gorges, the worst possible terrain for a modern army. Now look at Afghanistan’s history.
Alexander the Great used Afghanistan as a gateway to India, and various armies have fought there ever since. Afghanistan has been at war for centuries, but nobody has "won" the land or successfully conquered the people. Afghanistan is immune to death and hardship. It will outlast anything an enemy tries to impose upon it.
We may have Afghani’s best interests at heart, but the U.S. military will never "win" a war fought on Afghani land. I think President Obama knows this, but he is trapped by circumstance. The same thing has happened to American Presidents before. Vice President Nixon had a plan for getting out of Vietnam, but he lost the debate over how to do it to John F. Kennedy.
However, Kennedy couldn’t do it either. President Johnson finally declared "victory" and brought our troops home, but critics still say American blinked. If we had just sent more troops, spent more money, had a little more courage and perseverance, we could have "won."
Now Obama is in the same position. He can’t become the President who "lost" Afghanistan. Congress will argue endlessly, but in the end no Representative or Senator will vote against "supporting our troops" so Mr. Obama is giving General McChrystal what he wants.
But can we "win?" I don’t think so. At a cost of a million dollars for each solder we send, we will bankrupt ourselves before we "save" Afghanistan. Should we just bring our troops home? Maybe, but I’m not sure we can. I hope Americans remember this next time we are tempted to go to war.
Why the quotes around "win," "victory" and other terms concerning recent wars. Because they’re basically football terms, a sports mentality, the way one judges an argument or a contest of some sort. This isn’t a football game.
In Vietnam and now in Afghanistan we talk about "winning hearts and minds" as if we had some formula for converting a beleaguered people to our own way of thinking. If winning hearts and minds is what we want, we should learn something about the Afghani heart and mind first. Read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini was born in Kabul and writes about the plight of ordinary Afghani people.
Read "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. Mortenson lived in Afghanistan. He learned their language and worked side by side with local Afghanis building their schools. None of these schools were burnt by the Taliban because Mortenson let the people themselves decide how and where to build.
American forces, no matter how well meaning, can’t go into another country, tell them what to do, and expect the people there to be grateful. If we are going to spend billions in Afghanistan, we need to ask the Afghani people what they want, not the military, not the politicians, and not the international financiers. These things cannot be decided behind closed doors in Washington nor in Kabul.
Last comment: The other side of "winning" is failure, and I’m afraid a significant percentage of North Georgians want President Obama to "fail." As long as we look at our foreign policy through those eyes, America will fail.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears every other Tuesday and on gainesvilletimes.com.