In Afghanistan and at Home, We’re Being Driven Off a Cliff

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Football fans have been quite taken by a recurring segment on ESPN’s "NFL Countdown Show" called "C’mon man." Inspired by former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, botched plays from NFL action are highlighted, with the players involved being targeted for the "C’mon man" admonition.

It’s funny stuff. But when President Barack Obama, after weeks of indecision, prepares to tell the nation in a prime time address that tens of thousands of more troops are going to be sent into the endless war in Afghanistan, it’s not so funny. It’s depressing. It’s revealing. It’s a decidedly serious "C’mon man" moment.

Perhaps as soon as Tuesday, the president will explain best he can why tens of thousands of additional American soldiers and Marines are needed to pursue a war soon to pass Vietnam as the longest in our history. Some of our war fighters will be in their fourth or fifth tour of duty in combat zones. The cost of the war there could top a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, yet virtually all the generals and admirals and think tank armchair warriors have concluded that a military solution isn’t possible.

President Obama says this is a war we must win. Retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, who has written widely on military power and its limitations, says it’s a war we cannot win.

In a piece earlier this year in Commonweal, Mr. Bacevich wrote, "Liberals may have interpreted Obama’s campaign pledge to ramp up the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan as calculated to insulate himself from the charge of being a national-security wimp. Events have exposed that interpretation as incorrect. It turns out – apparently – that the president genuinely views this remote, landlocked, primitive Central Asian country as a vital U.S. security interest."

He suggests that if moral considerations are at the heart of our foreign policy, as many war proponents insist – if it’s nation building that motivates us – we should fix, say, Mexico, which is of far greater importance to us than faraway Afghanistan.

So what can be expected to be achieved? There are murmurings about staying until a stable national government is in place in Kabul and the Afghans themselves are able to guarantee their own security. But we know there has never been a stable central government in that backward land. It’s a tribal society, largely rural and famous for its ferocity and fearlessness, for a refusal to tolerate foreign occupation. Ask the Russians.

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Ron Smith [send him mail] can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on Baltimore’s 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Wednesdays in The Baltimore Sun.

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