For eight long months President Obama has been wrestling with the request of his commanding general in Afghanistan for at least 40,000 more American troops to reinforce the 68,000 already there alongside the 50,000 NATO soldiers. Virtually the entire foreign-policy establishment has been tied up in a series of eight long meetings on Afghanistan; papers have been researched, written, and discussed in excruciating detail.
As the nation awaits the president’s decision, it seems clear that the enormous investment of time and study presages much more than a decision on the number of troops. The president must offer a game-changing strategy: either the application of irresistible force for victory within a reasonable time or a prompt exit strategy. The irresistible force might be assembled quickly by transferring U.S. forces now in Iraq to Afghanistan. The exit might be blamed on the corruption, ineffectiveness and drug dealing of the hopeless Karzai government.
Why has it taken Obama so long to decide? We should keep in mind that the Afghan war is not his prime problem. His administration will succeed or fail primarily on the economic situation in the nation, the level of jobs and business activity. Is there a relationship between the economy and Afghanistan? Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a clue on November 12 as he commented on the president’s many meetings on Afghanistan. Mr. Gates was talking to reporters on his plane en route to a Wisconsin factory that is churning out thousands of armored trucks for use by American troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates was in Wisconsin to visit the Oshkosh Corp. which is making 6000 trucks to help protect troops from improvised explosive devices (IED), which account for the vast majority of American and NATO casualties in Afghanistan. “Obviously, if the president makes the decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan”, Mr. Gates said, “We would look at this in terms of whether we needed to buy more”.
Is the war in Afghanistan indirectly part of the Obama stimulus plan to increase economic activity and employment? An exit from Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal from Iraq would mean wholesale cancellations of military contracts, expenditures that the Congress supports and welcomes. Such cutbacks would exacerbate the difficult business and employment situation. Will this be a factor in the Obama’s decision? As a student of American history, he knows that FDR finally overcame the Great Depression with an armament program beginning in 1938-39 that stimulated the economy and put millions of workers back on the payroll. Will that be a factor in Obama’s decision about continuing the wars in Southern Asia?
This post originally appeared on The Relentless Liberal on November 14, 2009. Jerome Grossman is Chairman Emeritus of Council for a Livable World.