Friday, February 09, 2007

Taliban making a comeback while we are fixated on Iraq

While all the focus is (still) on Iraq, it seems like no one is paying attention to 'the forgotten war' in Afghanistan. And while we have been ignoring it, the Taliban have re-emerged as a major power structure within the country and now control or have a great deal of influence in large areas of the country.

Like Iraq, the situation is deteriorating and has been for over four years. Like Iraq, we have seen poor leadership from this administration that has played into why we are stuck in such a bad situation. And like Iraq, our troops have become targets in an ongoing civil war.

There is a difference however. Lest we forget, those who actually did us harm on 9/11 were hiding out in Afghanistan, not Iraq. And unlike Iraq, which was simply a war of George Bush's choice, and which was therefore not supported widely within the international community, there was very little opposition from that community to our invading the Taliban-run country.

But Afghanistan has just never been a major concern for this administration. As former President Clinton astutely noted, there are more than seven times as many American troops in Iraq as there are in and around Afghanistan. The whole argument about 'fighting terrorists over there...' falls flat on its face when we see how little the war against al-Qaeda in the place where we know for a fact they are strongest fits into the priority scheme. In fact, we even have President Bush on record:

I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority.

-- George W. Bush on March 13, 2002 (more than a year before the Iraq war, but when he was starting to ratchet up the rhetoric against Saddam Hussein).

Obviously he was telling the truth when he made that quote. Because Afghanistan has not been a priority at all. Well, maybe for a few short weeks during election season (as I wrote in a post entitled Terrorism and the Afghan War (written last year, exactly two months before the November election). The President had at the time been talking a lot more about the Afghan war and al-Qaeda than he had for-- well-- since the 2004 election:

I bet that by Christmas, Afghanistan will be relegated to the same second thought that it has been over the past few years.

I was right about that. Came Christmas, and it was. Fortunately, the Bush administration had gone to that well one too many times and the American people didn't buy it.

I believe two (not necessarily contradictory) things about Afghanistan. The first is that we actually have a real reason for being there and we should stay until the Taliban and bin Laden are gone. The second, on the other hand, is that we have already compromised our position in Afghanistan because of the focus on Iraq. If we are not ready to make fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda there our priority then getting out is a much better option than continuing to fight the war of attrition we see going on right now.

Continuing to send American troops to fight and die in Afghanistan while we send the resources they would need to Iraq is the worst of all worlds, and if that is the Bush administration's plan then we owe it to our troops to get them out of there.

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