Schumer: Stability in Afghanistan too expensive

posted at 1:36 pm on October 27, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Chuck Schumer appeared on MS-NBC this morning to endorse an unusual strategy in Afghanistan — the very “air raiding villages and bombing civilians” that Barack Obama derided as a candidate. The clip from Morning Joe is lengthy, but the portion that caught The Hill’s attention takes place in the first couple of minutes. Schumer seems to have missed a couple of strategy sessions in coming up with this idea:

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Schumer said the U.S. might be able to keep itself safe while leaving Afghanistan destabilized.

“If we can accomplish the first part–protecting ourselves from terrorism–without bringing stability to Afghanistan, which I think is a very long, expensive, and iffy process, we should try to do it,” Schumer told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The New York Democrat compared the situation to Iraq, where he suggested stability had been too expensive.

“It cost us [a] trillion dollars and 4,500 lives approximately to bring stability to Iraq,” Schumer said. “Just in terms of the loss of life and treasure, do we want to do the same exercise in Afghanistan?”

The drone attacks in Pakistan have been effective in killing al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership, it’s true. However, that success is tied to getting good intelligence from locals on the ground on target selection. Without building trust locally, on the ground in Afghanistan, we’re simply not going to get the intel to hit those targets in the future. We certainly won’t get intel on target selections in Pakistan from bases in Malta or Okinawa, just as we weren’t going to win Iraq with a long-distance aerial campaign when John Murtha made the same suggestion in 2006.

If we want to prevent Afghanistan from lapsing back into a failed state, then we need to bring it to viability and stability. If we explicitly reject that mission, then we can expect the terrorists to once again take over the country and use it as a permanent base of operations for attacks around the world. Democrats made that argument from 2006 until this year in arguing that we should abandon Iraq to focus exclusively on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now that they’re on the hook for making those decisions, suddenly “air raiding villages and bombing civilians” — exactly what Schumer offers as an alternative — looks attractive.

Actually, Joe Scarborough makes a much better point just after Schumer. It will take at least a decade, and probably several decades, to bring stability and infrastructure to Afghanistan. Forget about Schumer’s argument for the moment; does the American people have the stamina to see that mission through to its end, even for ten years, let alone 20, 30, 40, or more? If not, does it make sense to get out now and leave Pakistan to fend off the radicals as they move their flags across the frontier to avoid the Pakistani army and set up terrorist shop in Helmand while our credibility suffers in the region?


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