Historic lessons loom over empire
Afghanistan: where empires go to die.
Or so history would make us believe. First, it was the British - fresh from their conquest of India - that attempted to occupy the country in 1839. A short three years and some 20,000 casualties later, the Brits left to try again somewhere else. More than a century later, the Soviet Union met an equally devastating fate. The Red Army invaded with 100,000 troops in August 1978, and ended up fighting until February 1989, only to be outfought by the Afghan mujahedeen. Two years later, the USSR ceased to exist.
So far, the equation seems eerily absolute. A dominant superpower invades Afghanistan, fights an arduous war against the underestimated nation, suffers an embarrassing defeat and permanently damages its superpower status. Does this sound familiar? As President Obama announces troop redeployment to Afghanistan, one has to wonder whether our own engagement will follow history's ominous course. Right now, it is hard to remain optimistic.
Certainly Obama is making the right decision by stationing 17,000 more soldiers in Afghanistan. The war that had been the sole bragging right of the Bush Administration has deteriorated beyond the point of lawlessness. According to the International Council on Security and Development, the Taliban now has a permanent presence in more than 72 percent of the country, a 50 percent increase from 2007. Without a complete strategy overhaul, the United States will cede Afghanistan to the terrorists who began this war on Sept. 11, 2001. More troops are needed to bring the focus back on the country that originally defined the War on Terror.
This would be a serious undertaking if the United States were in only one war. But, we are not. We are in two. This creates both logistical and political problems for the Obama administration. Much of the potential success in Afghanistan depends on Iraqi strides toward sovereignty. Of these 17,000 new soldiers, 14,000 were originally pinned for deployment in Iraq. It is the relative Iraqi stability that is allowing for this strategic diversion of troops. If Iraq should fall into disarray yet again, the likelihood of any Afghani improvement is little to none. Mr. President, cross your fingers.
To make elements worse, the United States is receiving little assistance from surrounding nations. It is well known that the Taliban insurgency is using Pakistani border towns to base their operations. Even if every American soldier were stationed in Afghanistan, the Taliban would remain safely sheltered in Peshawar.
In a more recent setback, the parliament in neighboring Kyrgyzstan overwhelmingly voted to close a key U.S. Air Force base in the city of Manas. This base had been vital in the initial invasion and has continued to supply the forces. Clearly, this dissent from surrounding nations undermines all potential gains made in Afghanistan.
As if difficulties in foreign policy itself were not enough, the woes of the U.S. economy are certain to dent our military power - if not our resolve. As anyone who watches CNN has realized, "the economy is issue number one." This affects two elements of the war in Afghanistan. First, the massive domestic spending increases deplete potential resources that could be directed toward military use. Moreover, as both the public and the media fret over the United States' economic future, national tolerance for military endeavors will be in short supply.
Historically, the fact that economic disaster was a significant reason for the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan is a troubling similarity. But while disturbing historical parallels exist, it is important to realize that the White House's current dilemma is not identical to that of the Kremlin's. Most importantly, our enemy is not being funded by a fellow superpower. And surely a new administration brings the potential to reverse U.S. fortunes. If not, history will be doomed to repeat itself.
Joe Wenner is a freshman in the School of International Service and a moderate columnist for The Eagle. You can reach him at email@example.com.