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IL-SEN Mon Dec 07 2009

IL-SEN: The Senate Candidates on Afghanistan: Right and Wrong

Afghanistan matters. In 1984, George Orwell memorably had an old proletarian character wave off a question about a specific war by saying, "It's all wars." The point beautifully made with that little throwaway line is that wars, ultimately, benefit very few while generating hardships for the many, and for those who bear the hardships, wars are hardly discernible from one another. War is the best way to create artificial scarcity. And the war in Afghanistan is a war that gets unmitigated support from so-called deficit hawks who mewl about the smallest bit of discretionary spending; it justifies a class of spending by making opposition to it synonymous with treason. And it displaces needed spending -- that might be why some are so gung ho about it.

Unless you consider the potential resources spent in Afghanistan as necessarily limitless, there is a wrong and right position on President Obama's announced intention to escalate the war: a withdrawal-focused policy is right, and escalation is wrong. If that sounds absolutist, it's because I'm basing it on the available evidence: Afghan human rights advocates say the American presence degrades human rights; we are alienating who should be our greatest ally in the region (India); there's evidence that American presence strengthens the Taliban, and little that the American presence weakens it; we are propping up a kleptocracy of the sort that "creates terrorists"; and the architects of the surge strategy in Iraq have said that a similar strategy won't necessarily work in Afghanistan.

That is a case that does not favor committing more troops and enormous sums of money to that fight -- if we first accept the premise that "victory" in Afghanistan does not warrant inexhaustible resources; that there is some reasonable cut off for costs. The surge in Iraq may have helped eventually facilitate the current drawing down that is occurring: but only after immense cost; and with a great likelihood that co-opting Sun'ni insurgents had more to do with the (relative) stabilization than the increase in manpower.

Of the four Democrats running for their party's nomination to run for the junior Senate seat, two have come down in favor Surge 2.0, and two against. There is no "good Democrat" position on this issue; what do Democrats stand for anyway? Evan Bayh is one of the more powerful men in the Senate, and he's among the league leaders in "deficit hawk" hypocrisy. Neither position is the "right" position as far as the primary goes. But I know that I will appreciate the independence of the skeptics from the Party leadership on this issue.

First, statements from the two pro-escalation candidates:

Alexi Giannoulias:

support the President's decision as part of a larger military and political strategy to defeat the Taliban insurgency and permanently expel al Qaeda from Afghanistan. This is not, and should not be, an open-ended commitment. Our military presence in Afghanistan should be aimed at preventing the Taliban from establishing a base from which to destabilize Pakistan, giving the Afghanis an opportunity to develop a government that works, and training and enabling the Afghanis to secure their own borders and to keep al Qaeda and the Taliban out of the region themselves.

A short-term build-up of troops must be met with a redoubling of our non-military efforts. We need reliable partners both in Kabul and in Islamabad to succeed. The Karzai government has to root out corruption and take concrete steps to deliver a better standard of life for Afghanis and ensure the rights of its citizens, especially those of Afghani women and children. Our allies in Pakistan must work with us to defeat extremists on their side of the border, and deny them safe haven in the border areas.

Jacob Meister:

My support for President Barack Obama, members of our Armed Services and his decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan remains steadfast. I echo the President's call for a time of national unity, as the challenges we face today as a Nation will take our collective will and courage to overcome. We should all commend President Obama for his careful consideration of all the strategies that could be pursued in Afghanistan and for his sober assessment of the conditions in that country and the consequences of letting the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to operate with impunity in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Waziristan border region.

The two escalation skeptics:

Cheryle Robinson Jackson:

I respect and support President Obama but I disagree with the decision to commit more troops and resources to Afghanistan. It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home. Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home. Some Illinois soldiers are facing their third or fourth deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. I am so grateful and humbled by the heroism of our brave men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much.

The commitment of 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan is estimated to cost more than $30 billion. Illinois taxpayers spent $49 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, according to the National Priority Project. That money could provide more than 20 million people with health care, fund five million college scholarships, 760 thousand elementary teachers for a year or a million new public safety officers. The cost in money and lives of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is too great, and I am concerned that our mission in Afghanistan is unsustainable in light of corruption and instability in the Karzai government.

David Hoffman:

I, along with millions of Americans, closely watched President Obama's speech tonight in which he announced plans to send an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan to secure population centers outside of Kabul, roll back the influence of the Taliban in the countryside, and accelerate the training of Afghan forces.

While I respect the judgment of the Commander-in-Chief and recognize that President Obama did not come to this decision without great deliberation and reflection, I remain skeptical that adding more troops is the right strategy for our country. My concern is that the mission of securing all of Afghanistan is very broad, expands beyond our core mission of protecting our country from al Qaeda, is likely to be very costly in both lives and dollars, and may very well take a very long time.

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