Frank Rich writes forcefully and passionately about President Obama’s new commitment in Afghanistan today. Unfortunately, his piece gets mired in a weakly trying to find importance in the White House Party Crashers non-story. This portion of his opinion piece today could have been edited out without the least bit effect on the article usefulness, but the rest speaks for itself:
It’s not just that Obama is fielding somewhat fewer troops than the maximum Gen. Stanley McChrystal requested. McChrystal himself didn’t ask for enough troops to fight a proper counterinsurgency in Afghanistan in the first place. Using the metrics outlined in the sacred text on the subject, Gen. David Petraeus’s field manual, we’d need a minimal force of 568,000 for Afghanistan’s population of 28.4 million. After the escalation, allied forces will reach barely a quarter of that number.
If the enemy in Afghanistan today threatens the American homeland as the Viet Cong never did, we should be all in, according to Obama’s logic. So why aren’t we? The answer is not merely that Afghans don’t want us as occupiers. It’s that such a mission would require a commensurate national sacrifice. One big difference between the war in Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan that the president conspicuously left unmentioned on Tuesday is the draft. Given that conscription is not about to be revived, we’d have to spend money, lots more money, to recruit the troops needed for the full effort Obama’s own argument calls for.
Some Americans may be surprised to learn that we do not have half a million more troops to spare. As Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent:
If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available U.S. Army brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat deployments since 2002.
We’re not experts by any means, but we doubt that deploying all of your troops to war is the best way to manage the military.
The President should be thanked for not injecting the tired Bush/Cheney jingoism that we are used to at these speeches of military escalation. But he has continued the practice of avoiding the mention of a shared sacrifice of even a single tax increase to pay for the perpetual war in Southern Asia (unlike the war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s which required major sacrifice at home).
In this, he’s like most of the war’s supporters, regardless of party. On Fox News last Sunday, two senators, the Republican Jon Kyl and the Democrat Evan Bayh, found rare common ground in agreeing that an expanded Afghanistan effort should never require new taxes. It’s this bipartisan mantra that more war must be fought without more sacrifice — rather than Obama’s tentative withdrawal timeline — that most loudly signals to the world the shallowness of the American public’s support for any Afghanistan escalation. This helps explain why, as Fred Kaplan pointed out in Slate, the American share of allied troops in Afghanistan is rising (to 70 percent from under 50 percent at the time George Bush left office) despite Obama’s boast of an enthusiastic new coalition of the willing.