Just a few weeks ago, Senator Daniel Inouye spoke mainly about the empires that had failed to transform Afghanistan over the last two centuries, in response to questions about whether the US should commit more resources to the Af-Pak theater. After a visit to the country and a briefing from General Stanley McChrystal, the Democrat from Hawaii has changed his tune. Now he wants a full commitment to McChrystal’s strategy, increasing pressure on President Obama to make up his mind:
Without committing himself to specific troop increases, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye returned Tuesday from Afghanistan, seeming to fully embrace Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy that would demand more American resources and manpower.
“I believe Gen. McChrystal’s assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan, is correct,” said the Hawaii Democrat, “and is what is needed if we are to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan.”
“This strategic approach will mean altering our military strategy to focus on counterinsurgency,” Inouye continued in a statement released late in the day. He said “appropriate resources” will be needed “to accomplish this goal” but “as for the specific numbers of U.S. troops that may be required… I will await specific recommendations from the military and the administration.”
A Medal of Honor veteran of World War II, Inouye has been a reliable partner for past administrations—Republican and Democratic—on foreign policy issues, so at one level his statement is not surprising. At the same, time the chairman, who personally manages the annual defense appropriations bill, has been openly skeptical of what can be accomplished with military might in Afghanistan. To this degree, his new statement marks a change and a more determined tone to press ahead.
Inouye joins colleague Dianne Feinstein on Afghanistan. Feinstein made the point more forcefully on Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, but Feinstein had been consistent on her commitment to the Af-Pak theater. Inouye shows that some Democrats may join the GOP in pushing Obama to match his campaign promises to his actions.
No one thinks this will be easy, or short. Michael Yon likens the effort to the space program, but perhaps over a century rather than a decade:
The peril might not yet be obvious, but the consequences are far too grave to ignore. Enemies of humanity are trying to pull India and Pakistan into war. Ignorance is their primary weapon, and Afghanistan is merely one battlefront. Most of these kids will remain illiterate, and the children of their children likely will not be able to read. Even if they were literate, there are few books available in languages such as Dari or Pashto. This kid in Zabul Province is already lost. Afghanistan will be doing well to get his sons and daughters into a school, but more realistically it will be his grandchildren that might first be reached. We must be realistic. America did not succeed in putting people on the moon by hiring mathematicians who could not expertly use the slide rule or correctly perform the math. America succeeded in part by hiring the best mathematicians, along with the best scientists and engineers of all sorts, who possessed powerful intellects, realistic imaginations, and a volatile intolerance for anything less than pure truth. They didn’t drink anyone’s Kool-Aid.
And so President Kennedy said, “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” And they kept pushing through a painful series of dramatic failures, until, within that same decade, in 1969, the first words spoken from a man on the moon came beamed home to earth …
All of that may seem too distant and too expensive, but the alternatives are worse. We have already seen what happens to Afghanistan when left to its own devices as a failed state for just a few years. We cannot afford another round of radical Taliban control, complete with its partnership with other radical Islamist groups, including but not exclusive to al-Qaeda. Nor can we rely on our ability to re-invade later to remove radicals and terrorists. We only had that ability because of cooperation we got from Pakistan and neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, cooperation that would dissipate if we bugged out and left them with the Taliban on their borders after making them targets for their ire.
If we want to stop Afghanistan from being a one-stop shop for radical terrorists, we have to stick to the mission and pull Afghanistan out of the Stone Age, which means a large commitment of resources and time to get the job done right. If we don’t, then we need to get out. And we need that decision now.
Update: The Investors Business Daily/TIPP Poll shows that Americans now support a larger commitment of troops, a reversal from last month:
As President Obama mulls the military’s request for a big troop build-up in Afghanistan, Americans have swung in favor of such a move, according to a new IBD/TIPP Poll.
The survey of 927 adults found that a plurality of 48% favors sending more troops and resources to Afghanistan. That’s a sharp reversal from September, when Americans opposed the idea, 55%-35%. …
That’s because the turnaround comes from a surge in support from Republicans — up 27 points just in October to 72%. A month ago, GOP respondents had leaned against sending more troops, 47%-45%.
Independents narrowly support beefing up America’s commitment to Afghanistan, 45%-42%.
But Democrats say no more blood and treasure by 57%-32%. Many congressional leaders have signaled their reluctance to send reinforcements.
That’s a smaller gap than what I’d predict for Democrats.