There are 65,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan and President Obama is taking his time considering whether to send all or part of the 40,000 recommended/ requested by General Stanley McChrystal. Cheney says Obama is dithering (Does what Cheney thinks still matter?) It’s the first real decision that Obama is going to make in his role as Commander In Chief.
It brings up a few questions, all of political significance:
1. Should we escalate the troop levels in Afghanistan?
This question makes me wonder what Afghanistan troop levels are like compared both to the contemporary levels in Iraq and to the historical levels in a conflict to which it is being sometimes, and increasingly, compared to, like Vietnam. To answer, the 65,000 we have there now is about half of the current Iraq number, 130,000- so the conflict is far from even the largest going on right now. And Vietnam?
At the peak we had 537,377 troops there. During the first four years we increased troop levels there during the first four years by 100,000 per year, leading up to that peak number. So, in comparison to those other conflicts/ wars we’re still quite low. But 40,000 is still almost a 60% increase in the level- why?
Arguments range from the need to change strategy and storm certain areas along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the claim that we have never had enough people there to begin with to the need for us to establish a strong presence there so we can effectively negotiate with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The point that Obama seems to be pondering right now is whether extra troops are necessary and if they will have support from the folks at home. Us.
"I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done,” Obama told Navy personnel and their families in Jacksonville.
2. Should we start bringing troops home?
While I phrase the question as a “should?” it may be more of a “can?” And the answer is no. With a request for more troops to be sent, the idea of starting to withdraw troops, with Osama bin Laden still not captured and the Taliban gaining influence and strongholds, this is a battle we are now in for the long haul. What would the message be to the Taliban and al Qaeda be at this point if we started thinning our troops?
3. How will Afghanistan reflect on Obama’s leadership and decision-making?
As I said, it’s his first big decision as Commander in Chief. It has already reinforced his assertion that he will not rubber stamp military requests the way former President Bush seemed to. Is he dithering? It’s too early to say that- he is certainly taking his time, perhaps weighing the political impact of his choices and thinking about these very same questions.