Amid the swirling debate over Iraq now taking place in the halls of Congress, comes the harsh reality that there are other theaters worthy of our immediate attention. This week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on a fact finding mission to Afghanistan, has come away with the distinct impression that the United States would benefit strongly by sending more troops to this once Taliban-led country where we have been active now for more than five years.
Strangely, while many of the Administration’s harshest critics on the Bush strategy in Iraq, which calls for sending an additional 21,500 troops to Baghdad and the neighboring communities, demand that we “cap” our commitments there, call now on the Administration to up the ante in Afghanistan.
Sen. Hilary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) wrote a letter recently to Gates saying in part that: “It would be tragic if we fail in Afghanistan because of an unwillingness to deploy a manageable size of additional troops.”
The letter was also signed by Sen. Evan Bayh (D.-Ind.). This “manageable size” increase is estimated by our military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan at around 2,300 more troops, including some who might be held in reserve status.
Incongruity aside, and make no mistake, it is very incongruous bordering on some kind of weird double standard, we should jump at the chance to have a bi-partisan agreement on the continued policing of Afghanistan which has seen more stability afforded to it in the past five years with our presence there than it really ever has before.
We have about 24,000 military personnel in the country now, along with NATO forces which number another 20,000. With these forces, we have been able at least temporarily, to rid the country of the miserable archaic Taliban, although in recent weeks the situation has not been as good as when we first entered the country and went all out to drive Al-Qaeda and their friends from power and from their hiding places.
Gates told reporters from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan this week that: “I think it is important that we not let this success here in Afghanistan slip away from us and that we keep the initiative. … There is no reason to sit back and let the Taliban regroup.”
The Secretary is absolutely right. It is our duty to keep this country out of the hands of 14th Century-minded fanatics who hate women, hate freedom, hate history and religious icons of any kind, and who just plain hate period. These people want nothing but their power back so they can continue their reign of terror in the name of a convoluted religion that they want everyone else but themselves to follow. We should do everything we can to keep Afghanistan and other countries like it from becoming playgrounds for terrorists.
However, it is true that we do not have unlimited resources. Our ground forces are indeed stretched thin, because of our long strife in Iraq most certainly. To that end the Pentagon has announced plans to request of Congress that the size of the Army be increased right away by 65,000 to a grand total of 547,000 and that the Marine Corps go from the few to the more: namely another 27,000 brave and proud which would up their total to just over 200,000 troops. Those new figures would mean adding several billion dollars to the Pentagon budget. Thus it will be up to Congress to decide the fate of our modern military. Given the hostilities over these issues in both the House and the Senate, it is vastly important that we find an area of common agreement on our wars around the world. What is important to keep in mind as we attempt to grapple with these seemingly large budgetary figures is to remember that we are 1) a nation now with over 300 million people dwelling here and about one million are in the military, so that we really have a force equal only to about a third of one percent of all our citizenry, and 2) there are a lot of nasty hateful killers on the loose in the guise of governments, political parties and just outright murderous gangs throughout the world. If we want to remain free and strong and keep ourselves and our neighbors at peace we must not be afraid to empower our military to do all the jobs we are asking them to do.
While it is very discouraging to see the domestic battles shaping up over Iraq, it is very encouraging to see the same minds that want to limit us there recognize and support, via really the same arguments in favor of strength not weakness, being applied toward Afghanistan.
A bipartisan agreement or at least a tacit understanding on Afghanistan would accomplish more than just strengthening the chances of that country becoming free and more democratic in its policies than ever before. It would also signal to our allies around the globe and to ourselves that while we may be divided about our strategies in Iraq, we all, by and large, are agreed that isolationism is not a serious option for the United States and that we shall not abandon our commitments to make other nations free of miserable tyrants and, in the process, shall continue on the offensive in our international war against terrorism and those who wish only to destroy our country, the world and even themselves. Indeed, this week that seems to be an issue on which Democrats and Republicans can agree, albeit only for now in Afghanistan.