Bill Hamilton: Gumming the bullet
November 17, 2009
After the heads of the various agencies with responsibilities with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq were assembled in the White House situation room, the President told them to take their seats. He explained that Mr. Axelrod, his chief speech writer, would manage the briefing.
“Mr. President, none of the hope and change we promised the voters last November is working out. So, we need to change the national conversation from domestic to foreign policy. Your trip to China will be helpful; however, two of your top generals are pressing for a decision on Afghanistan. If you look at the screen, Mr. President, you can see Afghanistan.”
“That’s not anywhere near Iraq is it?”
“No, Mr. President, it is not. Iraq is in the Middle East. Afghanistan is in South Asia.”
“I see. What do they have in terms of community organizing? I dig that sort of thing.”
“Iraq has three distinct populations: the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. Currently, they are cooperating in a coalition government that came about after the dictator Saddam Hussein was deposed. Iraq is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iran, all of which are pleased that Saddam no longer poses a military threat to their borders. Persian Iran, however, is worrisome to its Arab neighbors. Iran is especially worrisome to Israel which Iran has promised the Islamic world that it will destroy.”
“I see. That’s that nuclear weapons thing. I may have to give the Iranians a stern talking-to about that. Tell me about community organizing in Afghanistan.”
“Historically, Afghanistan has never had a central government worthy of the name. Moreover, Afghanistan has never been ruled successfully by any outside power. The British tried it, and failed. The Soviet Union tried it, and failed.”
“Can’t we just send our Navy to Afghanistan as a show-of-force? You know, fire a few salvos across the bow of the Taliban?”
“Unfortunately, Mr. President, Afghanistan is land-locked. Unlike Iraq which is at the head of the Persian Gulf and can ship out its oil to via the Arabian Sea, Afghanistan is geographically cut off from the sea by Pakistan and Iran.”
“Pakistan. While I was campaigning in all 57 states, I think I said we ought to attack Pakistan. Can we still do that?”
“Yes, Mr. President, we could attack Pakistan; however, Pakistan is, for the most part, our ally in our attempts to destroy what remains of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is not considered good form to attack one’s allies. We do, however, have several options with regard to Afghanistan: We can pull out our troops and leave Afghanistan to the Taliban. The American feminist movement might not like that, although they did not take any notice of the liberation of the Afghan women by your predecessor.
“Or, we could do what your two top generals want you to do: Provide them with 40,000 additional troops for a “surge” like the “surge” that was so successful in Iraq.
“Or, we can simply not do anything; however, your top generals may decide to “retire,” which would create a political firestorm. The senior of the two might even become a presidential candidate in the next election cycle.”
“Oh my,” said the President. “We can’t have that. Let’s get Colin Powell, who voted for me for President, to suggest that we take our time. But, if I send more troops, Afghanistan becomes my war. If I pull out, Afghanistan becomes my defeat.”
“Whatever we do, Mr. President, we are caught between the Doves and the Hawks.”
“Tell you what. I’ll think about it.”
– Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a retired Army officer and Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College.