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Nothing But Bad Policy Options for Obama in Afghanistan

Can we avoid an approach to Afghanistan where impending disaster is seen as an invitation to make things even worse?

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Let's say that he makes the Kerry choice -- "just" perhaps 15,000 troops. That means at least $15 billion for starters. And there's no reason to believe that we're only talking a year here. The counterinsurgency types are talking 5-10 years to "turn the tide" of the insurgency. Those who are actually training the Afghan military and police, when quoted, don't believe they will be capable of taking what's called "responsibility" in a major way for years to come, if ever.

Throw in domestic politics where a Democratic president invariably feels safer kicking the can down the road via escalation than being called "weak" -- though Obama is already being blasted by the right for "dithering" -- and you have about as toxic a brew as can be imagined.

If the Afghan War is already too big to fail, what in the world will it be after the escalations to come? As with Vietnam, so now with Afghanistan, the thick layers of mythology and fervent prediction and projection that pass for realism in Washington make clear thinking on the war impossible. They prevent the serious consideration of any options labeled "less" or "none." They inflate projections of disaster based on withdrawal, even though similar lurid predictions during the Vietnam era proved hopelessly off-base.

The United States lived through all the phases of escalation, withdrawal, and defeat in Vietnam without suffering great post-war losses of any sort. This time we may not be so lucky. The United States is itself no longer too big to fail -- and if we should do so, remind me: Who exactly will bail us out?

Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture .

 
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