Obama’s Neverending Afghan Adventure

If we never quit, then we’ll never leave

President Barack Obama snuck in and out of Afghanistan on Sunday. He made his secret escape from Camp David and flew around the world to show the troops he cared, and to assure all of them and all of us back at the home front—despite all that talk last year of a foreseeable and expected drawdown in troops and eventual withdrawal—that, “The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.... We keep at it. We persevere. And together, with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that."

Bold talk of perseverance leading to victory, delivered to the brave souls who risk death trying to make it come true—now that’s a political narrative for Obama. At least it's the sort of narrative that Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch criticized the president and his media enablers for constantly seeking out: a pithy story, easy to understand and cheer, but without any of the messy realities that unfold in actual life.

As a political move, Obama’s Afghan vacation was a strange choice to cap what had been a pretty impressive streak, with health care and student loans supposedly flowing down like gentle manna from Obama's healing hands. From one perspective, the trip could be seen as drawing attention to an intractable problem whose standing with the American people shifts for no obvious reason.

Barring some catastrophic event unquestionably connected to someone in Afghanistan, I suspect Obama could treat this war like a national Chuck Cunningham and never mention it again. That he bothered to cap his political triumphs with a reminder of this persistent foreign policy bummer seems to prove that he really has adopted this war as his own.

Which is good for neither his political future nor the future of American foreign policy. Consider Afghan boss and American partner Hamid Karzai. He's in office through fraud, he's unable or unwilling to meet U.S. demands in terms of ending corruption and the local drug trade, and he's happy to invite U.S. enemies such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in his country.

Karzai does at least say “thank you” when we ask him to, as he did during Obama’s visit. Still, he can often sound like the most radical domestic opponents of American Empire, as The New York Times recently noted

“[Karzai] has developed a complete theory of American power,” said an Afghan…who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.”

Mr. Karzai said that, left alone, he could strike a deal with the Taliban, but that the United States refuses to allow him. The American goal, he said, was to keep the Afghan conflict going, and thereby allow American troops to stay in the country.

This is the ally we have chosen. Beyond the country's domestic politics, things do not seem to be on a one-year stroll to a forceful quelling of the Afghan insurgency. American casualties during the first three months of this year are nearly double that of the same period last year. Justice in Afghanistan remains rudimentary and terrifying by American standards, and barely half the Afghan population prefers the government’s courts over more tribal or private means of adjudication. Twenty-six percent of the civilian casualties in 2008, the most recent year with accurate records, were from pro-government air strikes. The Brookings Institution, which has the best civilian statistics collection on the Afghan war effort, sums up the current realities:

In terms of raw violence, the situation is at a historic worst level, with early 2010 levels of various types of attacks much higher than even last year at this time. Much of that is due to the recent Marja campaign and, more generally, the deployment of additional U.S. (and Afghan) troops to parts of the country where they have not been present before. One hopes, therefore, that it is a temporary effect only.

By way of comparison, the rate of attacks in Afghanistan country-wide is now more than double the level seen in Iraq. However, civilian fatality rates for the two countries are comparable. That is because in Afghanistan, the enemy targets security forces selectively, more than civilians, and also because General McChrystal's emphasis on reducing accidental harm to civilians has led to more care by NATO troops in the use of firepower. 

As goes Marjah, so will go Kandahar—or at least that's the hope. (Though the significance of the Marjah victory might be less than it’s being spun, both in scope and in victory.) Undoubtedly, Afghanistan presents fertile ground for any number of future "victories," complete with casualty figures higher for Them than for Us (and with the civilian Them somewhere in the middle).

But none of this means that the end goal of establishing internal security, crippling the insurgency, and guarranteeing that no one will ever plot wickedness against the U.S. from the Afghanistan area will be reached, or could be reached, minus an eternal American occupation.

Domestic and foreign policy foolishness dovetail in Afghanistan. Among all the other dubious things we are trying to accomplish in this tribally-torn land—whose younger generation has known pretty much nothing but internecine strife—is the elimination of poppy and opium production, which as much as 35 percent of the country is likely involved in. We'll probably never learn just how much peace and prosperity we could bring to this troubled land simply by letting them grow that which the world seems to most want from them. How much peace and prosperity we can bring with 100,000 troops, we will alas find out.

This doesn’t mean some sort of “victory” is impossible in Afghanistan. We already knocked out the Taliban government that enabled our Al Qaeda attackers, which was the reason we invaded in the first place. But then overthrowing a government can be much easier than propping up an existing government that's reviled by lots of angry, well-armed people. And as far as driving Al Qaeda out of a safe haven where they could safely grow, well, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself last fall, we’ve pretty much done that.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Obama feels that as long as he's killing innocent people somewhere in the world, the right can't call him an absolute pussy.

    That, and denial of basic constitutional rights, is what passes for liberalism in this country these days.

  • ||

    Hey, that was pretty good, Vanneman. Still, I think your time would be better spent reviewing Hamburger Hill.

  • The Gobbler||

    I'd stop to comment but I'm busy writing a brand new book entitled 'Of Mice and Men'.

  • The Taliban||

    he's killing innocent people

    And a hat tip to you, Alan!

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Hamburger Hill"? Don't know about that. I was in the Parrot's Beak.

  • ||

    You can't build a nation where the citizenry doesn't want one.

  • Donald Rumsfeld||

    Dammit, TV, the surge will make it happen! It has to work!

  • The Gobbler||

    I just want to thank you for reserecting the word "slog".

  • Invisible Finger||

    Mission Assimilated

  • ||

    I am Locutus of Borg

  • ||

    Obama's neverending adventure was Bush's neverending adventure and in 2013, it will probably become someone elses neverending adventure.

  • The Wine Commonsewer (TWC)||

    Excellent forecast, after all, we've been in Korea my entire life. And I am friggin' old.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    :::shudders::: You have a point.

  • Eric||

    How do you like your Samsung TV?

  • ||

    I hope your not trying to say the war was worth it because of being able to buy a T.V. from South Korea...

  • ||

    ""Excellent forecast, after all, we've been in Korea my entire life. And I am friggin' old.""

    With no end in sight!

  • ||

    Well we already know the way to fix things...we need another surge....whenever we have a surge we totally kick ass! Nobody can deny that the surge wasn't awesome.

  • ||

    While nobody denies the exxtacy of a surgegasm, the post-coalition depression is too much to bear.

  • Donald Rumsfeld||

    That's the spirit, boy!

  • ||

    President Barack Obama capped off an impressive streak of domestic victories

    Like what, exactly?

    Healthcare. And I guess some kind of do-nothing "jobs" bill.

    That's an "impressive streak"?

  • Almanian||

    Maybe he was graded on a curve versus his first six months ??

  • The Gobbler||

    He nationalized the student loan industry.

  • ||

    Don't forget Lily Ledbettor. Right out of the box he was enacting universe changing legislation that will forever be remembered as the legacy of our greatest president ever.

  • ryan||

    "As a political move, Obama’s Afghan vacation was a strange choice to cap what had been a pretty impressive streak, with health care and student loans supposedly flowing down like gentle manna from Obama's healing hands."

    Is this what you completely failed to paraphrase correctly?

  • Tim||

    If we give up Afghanistan where will we launch our drone attacks into Pakistan from? Huh?
    [sarcasm]

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Nevada?

  • ||

    hopefulyl a libertarian leaning republican like Guliani will win in 2012 so that we can totally defeat the middle east.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Oh God that's funny. Bwhahahahahahaha!!!!

    (Breath)

    BAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Sudden||

    President Obama capped off an impressive oppressive streak of domestic victories...

  • Sudden||

    FIFY Brian

  • Eric||

    Look people, if you are confused as to why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, then you really need to look at a Map .

  • Eric||

    Ok, that link didn't work the way I wanted it too.. Basically, Having bases in Iraq and Afghanistan would create two fronts for an invasion of Iran.

  • Eric||

    Look people, if you are confused as to why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, then you really need to look at a Map .

  • Sudden||

    we're not gonna invade Iran and I really don't think thats the reason we're in either of the places. We're in Afghanistan and Iraq because of hubris, a belief in nation-building, and plain idiocy.

  • Eric||

    I think the option is still on the table:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8573087.stm

  • Don Rumsfeld||

    Dammit, Sudden, we're there to bring nationhood to people who don't want it! Get it straight, man!

  • ||

    My friend,Thomas Freidman, knows we are in Iraq to tell the muslims to suck on this

  • Benjamin Netanyahoo||

    That's what you think, goy boy.

  • ||

    ""We're in Afghanistan and Iraq because of hubris, a belief in nation-building, and plain idiocy.""

    We are in Afganistan because the Taliban refused to hand over OBL and destory AQ training bases. Bush gave them a chance to avoid an invasion, they refused.

    But the mission became a nation building exercise. If we found OBL tonight, and knew no AQ base existed on Afghan soil, we would probably still be there for years to come.

  • ||

    The reason we're in it is someone is making a load of money off of it.

  • ||

    "The reason we're in it is someone is making a load of money off of it."

    'Someone' make a load of money of pretty much anything government does.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    At some point, you guys are going to realize that the libertarian heroes (corporations) and villians (governments) are more or less the same group of people...and that's why we're in Afghanistan.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Not too quick on the uptake, eh, Scotch? Don't worry, no need to project.

  • Troll Master||

    You'd better start trying harder, or Warty, Gobbler and team will descend upon you like hellfire and bring pain upon you. Not pretty.

    Let's get in the game before you get hurt.

  • The Gobbler||

    I wouldn't shit in his mouth even if his kids were all starving.

  • Troll Master||

    Hee hee! That made me shoot pop out my nose...

  • ||

    God, you're terrible. What's happening to H&R? We used to have the best trolls on the intertubez, and now we get this asshole?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    They might have to unbanish LoneWacko to up the quality of troll (ouch).

  • The Gobbler||

    I hope they do. He was surprisingly semi-lucid just prior to the banhammering.

  • Urkobold™||

    IT IS JUST POSSIBLE THAT THE SAME ENTITY THAT PROCURED THE LOBSTER GIRL FOR HIS OWN PERSONAL USE HAS ALSO HIRED AWAY ALL THE QUALITY TROLLS FOR HIS OWN NEFARIOUS, YET SHOCKINGLY EVIL, PURPOSES.

  • ||

    Well, that's fine, but get with the evil purposes already. I'm bored.

  • Urkobold™||

    BOREDOM IS MERELY THE FIRST PHASE. YOU'LL KNOW THE SECOND PHASE HAS BEGUN WHEN NUDE FEMALE BULLFIGHTING BECOMES THE BIGGEST FAD IN AMERICAN HISTORY.

  • ||

    Why tell us? The U.S. government wouldn't be in Afghanistan if anybody listened to us.

    Why don't you toddle on down to the White House and explain all this to your hero Barack?

  • EJ||

    "At some point, you guys are going to realize that the libertarian heroes (corporations) and villians (governments) are more or less the same group of people"

    obviously you have never read rand, hayek, friedman, or even adam smith... all of them figured that out a long time ago

  • Citizen Nothing||

    At some point Scotch is going to realize that the liberal heroes (government) and villains (corporations) are more or less the same group of people.
    There's a good Scotchy! A good widdle scotchywotchy!

  • ||

    +1

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    I'm trying to do you guys a favor...at some point you are bound to realize that libertarian philosophy winds up in a Catch-22.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    You're so wise, oh Scotch. And by wise, I mean dreadfully dull.

  • ||

    Wow, you just get worse. You don't troll well under pressure, do you.

  • The Gobbler||

    Do you even know what a Catch 22 is? Because you are not using it correctly.

    In Heller's own words:

    There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Or would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    Thanks for the lesson but the term has evolved since then...it's shorthand for "either way you're screwed"

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Oh, man, you even fail at pedantry, Scotch. You're probably the worst troll I've ever seen. This is sad.

  • The Gobbler||

    Well looky here:

    http://centerforadvancedsarcasm.blogspot.com/

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Good find, Gobbler. This changes...everything.

  • Charles||

    Holy crap, Scotch is Dan T.?

  • Marc||

    That is just... awful.

  • Veritas||

    This guy seems retarded from American 'culture', I feel sorry for him and do not blame him for his ramblings.

  • Mr. Chartreuse||

    No I think that's what "Between a rock and a hard place" means.

  • ||

    And I'm just trying to do you a favor... at some point you are bound to realize that statist philosophies wind up in a double bind.

    Wow, it's easy to just assert things! Who knew?

  • ||

    "I'm trying to do you guys a favor...at some point you are bound to realize that libertarian philosophy winds up in a Catch-22."

    I think I see your point. I also think you can find a catch-22 in some form of any philosophy. I'm certainly no expert on libertarian philosophy (or any other kind), but my impression is that there are different strains of libertarianism. (I'm no fan of Rand, but I think Hayek is great.) This is true of liberals, conservatism, marxism, etc. Any assertion like this may be more applicable to some strains than others.

  • ||

    Obama should declare victory and bring the troops home. He should have done this 15 months ago. I really don't give a rat's ass about the fool's mission of planting democracy in Afghanistan.

    The soil (culture) will not support it.

    Trolls note that I and many others here were saying this back in 2006. It was a foolish waste of lives and treasure then and remains one now.

  • The Wine Commonsewer (TWC)||

    Nicely put, Brian.

  • Xeones||

    I hereby rescind my rescinding of my initial hate of Scotch Hamilton. Scotch, you suck. Eat a bag of dicks.

  • ||

    There is no greater sin at H&R than poor trolling.

  • Bag of Dicks||

    please don't eat me.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    “The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.... We keep at it. We persevere. And together, with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that."

    Gotta be careful with copy-and-paste Brian, you accidentally dropped a McCain quote in this article.

  • Contrarian P||

    I know this isn't all that popular an opinion, but just a short while ago it was "Iraq is Bush's Vietnam. We can't win, quagmire, etc. etc." Now that we seem to be ready to withdraw troops from Iraq as planned, we're now on to "Afghanistan is Bush/Barack's Vietnam, we can't win, quagmire, etc. etc." Now I do think that Afghanistan will be much more difficult to build to a point where we can declare victory without the world laughing in derision, but I'm not quite willing to say we should just cut our losses at this point.

    I do find it interesting that there wasn't much bitching and moaning from the Democratic party on this war as for a long time you didn't hear much about it. It was all Iraq since it was a political expedient. Of course the fact that so many Democrats voted for invading Afghanistan and there was no real way to skew the facts into "those evil Bushites tricked me" may have had something to do with it too. I'm hopeful that we find a way to exit gracefully. Not optimistic, but hopeful. If there's one thing our government can actually do fairly well, it's blow some shit up.

  • ||

    There has to be some cost benefit analysis involved in these adventure hasn't there? How many hundreds of billions and how many millions of lives ruined and/or destroyed has all of this been worth. Precisely what metric applies here?

  • Contrarian P||

    I agree. I'm not sure that we shouldn't have left before now when things were looking largely good. All wars, even those that may be for perfectly justifiable reasons, cause widespread death and misery for lots of people, in addition to costing lots of money. It would have been hard to argue against invading Afghanistan back in 2002. Now the question is can we make our exit without sending the region into the hands of a bigger foe than we took out in the first place.

  • Peaceful Idiot||

    don't worry, we'll hit Iran or something and lose about 20k troops in retaliation. Don't worry, the fun is just beginning.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    Now that we seem to be ready to withdraw troops from Iraq as planned

    We're not leaving Iraq. Because we can't figure out how to cut a deal with Iran, who will basically run Iraq the minute we pull out.

    Iran is the key to Iraq.

    Pakistan is the key to Afghanistan.

    Both keys are evil monsters that are eating us alive.

  • ||

    Hopey McChange was alive and sentient during the Presidency of LBJ right? He was, wasn't he???

  • ||

    The author treats the quote from Karzai with hostility, as if he shouldn't have "gone there."

    Does anyone actually disagree with what Karzai said? As a Pashtun, I'm sure the Taliban would be willing to talk with him (they already are, according to some accounts). But they WILL NOT negotiate with infidel occupiers.

  • ControlFreakLiberalTroll||

    Sheeeeeeeeeesh! You people are worried about war while here on the home front Ronald McDonald is corrupting our children in ways that would make Joe Camel blush.

    http://www.chicagobreakingbusi.....etire.html

  • Peaceful Idiot||

    poor poor Reason... they're sad about the ol' Empire.

    Too bad they sided decided to give in to fear and team up with Jami Kirchick instead of taking a principled stand against Empire when they had the chance to.

    Oh well, the folks at Reason can boo hoo hoo and cry about it over their heroin needles.

  • Kolohe||

    he's happy to invite U.S. enemies such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in his country.

    This is a somewhat weak part of your piece. Iran is Afghanistan's next door neighbor - they're going to have a relationship that independent of either's relationship with the USA.

  • ||

    Agreed...the love of sucking uncle sams dick and the military industrial complex shines through brightly udring a couple of the points made. overall, a weak anti-war article.

  • ||

    oBOMBya needs to be arrested by the military for High Treason, as do the Congress and Senate for allowing this illegal WarMongering to go on and on and fucking on..

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    The one thing we could do—ridding ourselves of a state that coddled our enemies and giving the Afghans another chance to try self-rule—is done, and thus there is no reason our “mission” should not be as well.

    No Brian, that's not really true.

    We drove the Taliban into Pakistan. Now they're home sick and returning to Afghanistan.

    I agree with your motion for the US military to Abandon Asia and the Middle East. But it's not quite right to say we knocked the Taliban out. We just made them move next door for a while.

    Would it have been cheaper -- or "better" by any other measure -- to have invaded Afghanistan several times, pull out after each one and then return to knock the Taliban out again?

    I still have not seen a solution to the Afghanistan problem that makes any real sense.

    Iraq had/has a solution: don't do it in the first place. But Afghanistan was different.

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    James Bond (or an independent actor, with no US afilliation) in an Iron Man suit is the solution to all our foreign terrorist problems. Captialism, get working on that shit.

  • Drax the Mispeller||

    Goddamnit. Capitalism. Capitalism.

    I apologize to the comment gods.

  • Captialist||

    Just when I thought you guys were coming around to my way of thinking.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    I understand Jack Bauer will be free this coming May...

  • $||

    Too bad they sided decided to give in to fear and team up with Jami Kirchick instead of taking a principled stand against Empire when they had the chance to.

    Everyone knows that it is either racebaiting or Empire. There is no in-between.

    Damn you, Reason, for singlehandedly losing Ron Paul the election!

  • ||

    April Fools! We're NOT leaving!!

  • ||

    Ohhhh-Noooo! If we leave "The Terrorists" win. If we leave they will attack us here. Ohhhh-Noooo!

    They will come over with carts pulled by donkeys, wearing sandals and sleeping on rugs in the dirt. They will have 1980's Russian AKs with 3 bullets each! Ohhhh-Noooo!

    If that bastard Obama had not canceled the F-22 program we would be able to repel them. Now all is lost! Ohhhh-Noooo!

    They will have a navy of speedboats from Somalia and attack our ports and ships, too! Ohhhhh-Noooooo!

    The terrorists have already won because Americans are too stupid for mere words.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    "The terrorists have already won because Americans are too stupid for mere words."

    And you would be at the top of this list JV99.

  • ||

    let's just tell hamid karzai that he has 6 mos to get his corrupt ass in gear to run his country in a democratic manner OR WE WILL LEAVE and then we will just wait till we see something that threatens us, such as, poppy production or training camps or volvo dealerships or our EPA setting up camp at which time we will turn those sites into huge glass ashtrays.......CASE CLOSED.
    AND NO WARNINGS.
    THERE WILL BE LIFE OR DEATH AFTER AMERICANS LEAVE.

  • Rachel||

    The surge Did work - as a humanitarian aid worker who has been there for the past 10 years, we experienced a noticeable difference when it started. Now Afghan youth have hope that life WILL be different for them. The story WE are writing as an American nation is victory.

    Rachel
    www.about-afghanistan.com

  • Scarpe Nike||

    is good

  • xiaoyang||

    Beer and wine kisumu 2 possess a small amount of methyl alcohol, also known as fuel line antifreeze along with cook oven fuel. It is just a harmless quantity in ale and wine beverage but when distilled atmbt sapatu the wrong temp a dangerous amount of methyl alchol can be done.

  • sd||

    sd

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