September 12, 2009

Full Disclosure

Enough is enough. The American people have suffered eight years of muddled strategy in Afghanistan, an ambiguity that has attributed to the more vicious suffering Afghans and Pakistanis have endured. With a president that campaigned on transparency, Americans still impatiently wait in the dark. Once again the answers we were expecting have been delayed until further notice.

It’s time for President Obama and Congress to stop thinking about their next election and do what’s right for America and the Middle East.

Americans had hoped that, good news or bad, they would finally hear the future of Afghanistan, but a few irregularities have morphed into a full blown pattern. General McChrystal’s troop assessment, which floated around the media all summer, was expected in August. A fragile election led to a delayed release, irritating but reasonable considering the political atmosphere in Afghanistan. US officials then admitted that McChrystal’s assessment ignored troop levels, to be considered in a separate troop-to-task process later this month that won’t be made public.

But this week White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that "several different assessments that will happen" prior to a troop request. No decision on troops is expected for “weeks and weeks.”

“I think it will be many weeks of evaluation and assessment," Gibbs said in his press briefing. “I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion.”

While Americans undoubtedly share trepidation towards increasing US troop levels, it's impossible ignore an endless string of reports citing support for more troops inside General McChrystal’s review team, the Pentagon, and the White House. We are not fools, yet we are still treated as such. Congress, already eager to delay troop requests, jumped at the opportunity to postpone the debate.

A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned of low Congressional support for more troops, Senate Arms Forces Chairman Carl Levin sought to push the debate back to 2010 at the earliest. Instead of more troops, Levin proposed shifting resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, extra outreach to “moderate” Taliban, and speeding up the training of Afghan forces beyond an already breakneck pace.

“I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion,” Senator Levin said.

Now holding off on a commitment is one thing, but not debating one at all is another beast entirely. Levin claimed, “We should implement these steps on an urgent basis, before we consider an increase in U.S. ground combat forces beyond what is already planned by the end of this year.” He added that Congress wants to evaluate the effects of the full deployment, of which the last portion isn’t to arrive until November, before considering new troops, effectively pushing the debate into 2010 where it could be delayed again.

Such a strategy is headed for disaster. It has become overtly clear that President Obama is shunning a debate out of political fear. Meanwhile Congress has turned Afghanistan into a campaign issue, not a matter of war. Opposition to increased troop levels is legitimate - opposition to the debate itself is cowardly. It’s time for President Obama and Congress to face the American people and forget their political careers; Afghanistan is bigger than any one individual.

This means the American people have a critical responsibility themselves.

Fear caused by political disapproval is marring the debate over Afghanistan. In a rigorous task, the American people must be open and rational about Afghanistan. The anti-war movement cannot automatically stonewall the slightest whisper of escalation. Hawks can’t keep screaming 9/11 as if it were a strategy or comparing the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan when the environments are so different. America usually faces domestic difficulty with its wars because ideology often trumps reality. We must demand and give the government a civil but uninhibited discourse.

In return we expect full disclosure, not security through obscurity. President Obama and Congress neglect that failing to be truthful with the American people is more damaging than speaking candidly and will drive public support down further. Delay tactics will only build pressure on the government and undermine its credibility; anger at the present silence will increase. Avoiding a dreaded decision makes the choice harder, not easier. And health care isn’t an excuse. This is America, we must be able to solve two crises at once.

President Obama and Congress should get the country used to the discussion of more troops. 2010 is an unacceptable wait for the American people, who will ultimately bear the war in Afghanistan. Afghan forces aren’t a good bet in the next two years - America in all probability needs more troops to fill the security vacuum. Another deployment may not be necessary, but the topic should be on everyone’s tongue in case it is.

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