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Why Is a Progressive Think Tank Telling Obama to Escalate the War in Afghanistan?

It is deeply disappointing that the Center for American Progress has issued a call for a 10-year war in Afghanistan.

The Center for American Progress has positioned itself as a "progressive" Washington think tank, especially suited to channel new thinking and expertise into the Obama administration. It therefore is deeply disappointing that CAP has issued a call for a ten-year war in Afghanistan, including an immediate military escalation, just as President Obama prepares to unveil his Afghanistan/Pakistan policies to the American public and NATO this week.

It is likely that Obama will follow most of CAP's strategic advice, assuming the think tank to be the progressive wing of what's possible within the Beltway.

That means a long counter-insurgency war ahead, with everything from massive incarcerations and detention to Predator strikes that amass increasing civilian casualties. CAP begins by calling on the president to meet the request of his commander in Afghanistan for another 15,000 troops in addition to the 17,000 Obama already has committed, which would bring the near-term US total to 70,000. To pay for these additional troops, CAP proposes redirecting $25 billion annually from combat in Iraq to Afghanistan. In addition, CAP favors up to $5 billion annually for diplomatic and economic assistance, also from a redirection of Iraq spending.

Even assuming the economic assistance reaches villages instead of corrupt middlemen, CAP's primary emphasis is a military one, sending larger numbers of American troops on a counterinsurgency mission in southern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as the outskirts of Kabul. Make no mistake, the American mission will be to fight, kill and capture, and, is intended to leave NATO allies in secondary training roles. The CAP proposal seems to flesh out the Obama strategy already described in a New York Times January 28 headline, "Aides Say Obama's Afghan Aims Elevate War Over Development." The CAP report calculates that in FY 2009, "the ration of funding for military forces versus non-military international engagement is 18 to 1."

There is no exit strategy contemplated in the CAP proposal, although the president apparently is been asking for one behind the scenes. Nor is there any projected cap on future escalation The CAP timeline, front-loaded with military force, is as fanciful about Afghanistan/Pakistan as the neo-conservatives were towards Iraq in the Nineties:

  • In the next 18 months, a combat/counterinsurgency push to prevent Afghanistan from being a "safe haven for terrorist and extremist groups with a global reach"; prevent the destabilization of Pakistan by creating "a stable civilian government committed to working toward the elimination of terrorist safe havens" there.
  • In three to five years, create a "viable Afghan economy", curb the poppy trade, promote democracy and human rights, and resolve regional tensions.
  • In ten years, build an Afghan state that can defend itself, and "prepare for full military withdrawal."

As a practical matter, all that is certain is that there will be blood. When the problem is a nail, reach for the hammer. But military occupation, particularly a surge of US troops into the Pashtun region in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the surest way to inflame nationalist resistance and greater support for the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai said last December that "the coalition went around Afghan villages, burst into people's homes and has been committing extraditional killings in our country." A United Nations investigator made the same point in 2008, accusing the CIA and Special Forces "of conducting nighttime raids and killing civilians in Afghanistan with impunity." Pakistan's prime minister said the same years that "if America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed." As a January 2009 report by the Carnegie Endowment concluded, "the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency's momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban."

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