January 8, 2009 Letter to the Editor: ‘The Afghan Conundrum’: Some Thoughts
Regarding Thomas Mikulski’s commentary about the war that we (and a handful of allies, including Poland) are fighting in Afghanistan (“The Afghan Conundrum,” Dec. 2-9): It’s good to see this paper explore issues that concern all Americans, not merely Polish Americans. To that end, I’d like to expand on Mr. Mikulski’s comments.
First, our operations in Afghanistan must be seen as part of a larger effort that encompasses our operations in Iraq and (if less obviously) our relations with countries such as Pakistan and Iran. In that context, what we do in Afghanistan will affect what happens in many other places.
Second, President Obama’s recent decision to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan represents, in my opinion, an unfortunate compromise driven by political expediency. Worse, in terms of strategy, the increase is unlikely to help us “win” the war. According to the military’s own counterinsurgency doctrine, defeating the insurgents in Afghanistan would require at least 500,000 troops. That suggests the U. S. should deploy roughly 120,000 additional troops (even taking into account available Afghan and allied forces). Assuming we did that, we would probably have to sustain the effort for many years, at a huge cost in lives and dollars—and with no certainty of eventual “success.” I don’t think America is willing, or able, to undertake such a long and costly commitment.
In my view, we should only deploy sufficient additional forces to provide temporary local stability while the Pentagon’s and State Department’s “wonks” develop a plan to disengage and leave Afghanistan. Finally, setting aside strategic arguments, there is the matter of the “home front.” Our leaders, beginning with George Bush, have claimed that America is “a nation at war,” yet we hardly look or act like a nation at war. The burden of fighting, including the risks and casualties, is borne by about one-half of one percent of the American citizenry. Even if we consider the soldiers’ immediate families, only two or three percent of all Americans, by my estimate, are engaged in the war in any meaningful sense.
That’s not a nation at war; that’s just a nation with a small foreign expeditionary force that is paid (not enough, in my view) to fight for us. In the meantime, the rest of us contribute little to the cause, going on with our merry lives just as we did when America was “at peace.” If America is really at war—if, as politicians tell us, the nation and the free world are locked in an existential battle against global evil—then why are 98 percent of Americans just blithely drifting along without making any collective, much less individual, sacrifice?
Yes, we’re all paying for the war through taxes, but let’s be honest: Even for those of us who feel overtaxed, those are hardly the kinds of personally uncomfortable and meaningful “sacrifices” that nations truly at war—including ours—have borne in the past.
When the president addressed America a few weeks ago about his decision to expand our presence in Afghanistan, he missed (probably due to political considerations) a crucial opportunity for calling America to action. He failed to ask the American people to finally make some real and meaningful sacrifices in support of our soldiers. In short, Obama failed (just as Bush failed) to enlist the whole nation in this purportedly serious “war” against our enemies.
It’s not for simple citizens like me to decide what forms such sacrifices should take, but two possibilities, both appropriate for a nation really at war occur to me—especially if we are to remain at war for the foreseeable future:
One: a “war tax,” which would let most Americans share directly in the financial (if not the physical and emotional) costs of the war.
Two: a military draft for the duration of the war. Such a draft (with women as well as men eligible) would relieve the strain on the active-duty military and reduce the disruptions resulting when entire National Guard and Reserve units are pulled away, sometimes repeatedly, from their families, communities and employers.
I suspect most of my fellow Americans, including those in Polonia, won’t like those ideas. But if not those, then what other sacrifices are we, as a nation at war, willing to make?