President Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan during the next six months does not seem to make much sense, no matter how one looks at it. Political actions often represent tried-and-true ploys to enrich the politician’s supporters at the expense of his opponents and the great mass of the people. And perhaps this action simply falls into that category. But even if it does, it makes little sense, because Obama would seem to have many avenues open for buying more support elsewhere with the additional $30 billion a year that will be spent on this Big Push.
Hardly anybody has real enthusiasm for the plan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are both lukewarm, at most; some are stridently opposed. The military bigwigs apparently support it, but, again, it seems that the president can appease this powerful interest group just as readily in alternative, less politically risky ways.
We might go out on a limb and assume that the president is telling the truth about his reasons for sending the additional troops: he believes, as he declares in his speech Tuesday, that “we must deny al-Qaida a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum. … And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government.” Why? Because “”it is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted.” If these statements express the president’s actual thoughts, then he is much less astute than he is usually given credit for. These reasons are so weak as to seem almost far-fetched.
Al-Qaida, if such an organization may actually be said to exist as anything more than a sprawling, loosely articulated collection of hyper-zealous, anti-American Muslims, does not need Afghanistan to plan and mount attacks against the United States and U.S. allies. Such terrorists may spring, as they have sprung, from many places in Asia, Africa, and Europe. They have emerged in Indonesia, Turkey, Spain, and Germany, just as they have emerged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern venues. Even if U.S. forces held Afghanistan in an iron grip — an unachievable condition — the security of Americans in America would not thereby be appreciably enhanced. In short, subduing U.S. opponents in Afghanistan is a low-yield investment, at best.
Worse, it is almost certainly a losing investment. Opposition to the U.S. forces and their Afghan puppets arises for the most part from the deeply entrenched tribal character of the Afghan people and their implacable desire to rid the country of any and all foreign occupiers. One need not have studied the history of the place for a lifetime to have learned this lesson.
To make his Big Push idea even more impenetrable, the president promises that eighteen months after the buildup is complete, troops will begin to be withdrawn. Does anyone really imagine that the Taliban and other anti-American groups in Afghanistan are too stupid to sit tight and wait for the foreign devils to depart? If these groups are anything, they are in the fight for the long haul. They can afford to be patient.
Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. He is also a columnist for LewRockwell.com. His most recent book is Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. He is also the author of Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.