“If he [Obama] is such a student of history, has he not understood the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Everyone who has tried over a thousand years has failed and there are reasons for that.” In restating this obvious historical fact, Republican Chairman Michael Steele has roused a chorus of neocon critics calling for his resignation.
Instead, they should heed the words of Douglas MacArthur, who warned another young president—John F. Kennedy—in 1961: “Anyone wanting to commit American ground forces to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined”.
Those who take issue with Steele should state why he—and MacArthur—are wrong. And we Republicans who believe they should be heeded should speak up. I am one of them. There are others who question an open-ended commitment of blood and treasure to prop up Hamid Karzai and his illusory government.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul has issued a statement in support of our embattled party chief. Conservative commentators like George Will, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan and the late Bob Novak long expressed similar concerns about open-ended nation-building experiments.
Afghanistan has never been a nation in the conventional sense. It has had neither effective central government nor the civil and cultural institutions that can support one. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect our military to create such a nation. There are an estimated 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. There are better, more focused ways to suppress them without fighting a conventional ground war.
It is Obama who decided to send an additional 30,000 ground troops. Why should Republicans blindly support this vague and open-ended commitment? Would Reagan have done so? He wisely decided against a similar quagmire in Lebanon, which is far smaller than Afghanistan. Bush Sr. was equally prudent in his use of ground forces only for clear and achievable objectives.
I visited Afghanistan once in 1973, a relatively placid year. Still, there was little civil authority outside a few major cities. I traveled on the one national highway by daylight. Governing is conducted by a medieval mix of clan loyalties with informal village councils tempering endless family and regional feuds. Language differences made communication difficult and male civilians are heavily and openly armed. Loyalty is to family and clan, not to a nation. Afghanistan has never had a top-down government and has fiercely resisted all attempts to impose one.
Steele many not survive as GOP Chair. But our party leaders need a better answer to Obama’s confused Afghanistan policy. Republicans should be skeptical of massive costly federal undertakings such as foreign nation-building. Our troops, our budget and our national security deserve another approach.