2009-12-04 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Obama Steps Up
By Stuart W. Mirsky

With President Barack Obama's nationally televised address at West Point the other evening, informing cadets there and the American people of his response to General Stanley McChrystal's troop request for the Afghanistan campaign, a lengthy period of agonizing indecision has finally been brought to an end. The president deserves credit for making the hard choices here despite the anti-war sentiment of his Democratic base and American discomfort, generally, with overseas military actions. It never made sense to seriously contemplate walking away from the situation there.

Though it's easy to forget now, we got involved in Afghanistan because that was where al Qaeda leadership, which perpetrated the attacks on this country on September 11, was operating from. They were not only based there, however. They were intimately connected with the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan who had seized power in the aftermath of the Soviet expulsion. Though America had helped the mujahedeen fighters oust the Russians, we took no further interest once that was accomplished and allowed the worst elements in the Afghan resistance to drive out or dominate all the others. These became the Taliban and a new Taliban/al Qaeda nexus quickly arose in Kabul, a symbiotic entity with the Taliban protecting al Qaeda and al Qaeda providing financial support and political guidance to the Taliban.

The Taliban, of course, is the fundamentalist Muslim group that made it public policy to restore medieval norms in the nation they had seized control of by publicly beheading gays and systematically stripping women of their civil rights by denying them schooling, putting them in burkhas, preventing their free movement in public places and administering public whippings and executions for violations of these restrictions. The Taliban also systematically defaced and demolished thousand year old Buddhist religious relics in their country while banning the practice of any religion other than Islam. Christians, if discovered, were killed.

None of this, of course, is a reason for us to put our troops in harm's way in a foreign land. We have no obligation to fight such people in their own country or to support more tolerant alternative regimes there. But the nature of the Taliban and their long history of alliance with al Qaeda argues strongly against walking away from this fight. It's to the president's credit that, despite increasing anger on his left over this conflict and his own disinclinations, he has recognized the risks to this country of precipitous withdrawal from the Afghan struggle.

While disengagement would un - doubt edly save us tons of money and please many Americans in the short term, a resurgent Taliban and the resultant disarray in Afghanistan would only re-establish the kind of sanctuary al Qaeda enjoyed there in the days prior to 9/11, while sending a message to other states in the region that America is an unreliable partner, signaling them that the time had come to cut their own best deals with the fundamentalist fanatics who dream of our demise. This would leave us increasingly isolated on the world stage while giving the Islamicists room to grow their murderous designs for empire.

That isn't what the anti-war left wants to hear, of course. Most of them seem to think the Islamicists won't bother us if we don't bother them. But we didn't the last time when these fanatics simply upped the ante with the attacks perpetrated on September 11. Despite it all, the left continues to argue against any further overseas involvement while blaming America for those who would attack us.

It's true that it's sometimes hard to see which came first in a process like this. But for those whose eyes are open, it's even harder to look away from what happened on 9/11. It makes no sense to imagine the Islamicists were merely expressing themselves in the shadow of all those who were murdered on that day.

President Obama has a tough row ahead of him in this conflict because he must act against his own instincts and against the desires of his political base if he's to look out for American interests as he has sworn to do as our president. Things get messy in wars, as we've seen, and it's never easy predicting outcomes. It wasn't when President Bush initiated the action in Afghanistan or decided to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Or when he upped the ante and surged the troops there near the end of his presidency.

It'll get tough in Afghanistan, too, going forward and the anti-war sentiment will swell again as it always does when we hit areas of turbulence. But that's when presidents face the really difficult tests, when they must decide whether to hang in and push for a win, despite the inevitable setbacks, or to pick up their marbles and just go home. In the end wars aren't about good forecasting or meeting goals. They're about having the will to see things through. rockirreg@aol.com

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