The latest Tom Friedman op-ed points out an interesting fact. Both Republicans and Democrats are fixated on two primary, though different, issues. The Republicans are fixated on offshore oil-drilling and the Democrats are fixated on the war in Afghanistan. For the Republicans, and for President Bush, the only solution they can come up with for the current energy crisis is the idea that we need to open up the nation’s shorelines to the oil companies for exploration and development. Never mind the fact that it would take years for any new field discovered to be developed to the point that the oil extracted would be available at the pump. Never mind the fact that this could potentially lead to an environmental disaster. Never mind the fact that the oil that would be found would be sold on the open market for the going market rate. No…those are merely minor issues. The Republican motto seems to be — “When in doubt…drill offshore!”

But wait, the Democrats, while not supporting the idea of offshore oil drilling, have their own issue that they’re fixated on. Troop levels in Afghanistan. See the Republicans have managed to shape the view of Democrats, and Senator McCain is trying extremely hard to make this view stick to Senator Obama, as being soft on defense and on terrorism. So, in knee jerk fashion, the Democrats feel that they must focus on sending more troops to Afghanistan since, as Tom Friedman remarks, it’s considered “‘the good war’, as opposed to Iraq.” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

The problem that the Democrats need to ask themselves (and especially Mr. Obama) “Can we really win the war on terrorism by sending more troops to Afghanistan or am I (or we) doing it just to make ourselves look tough enough?” As Friedman points out sending more troops to Afghanistan is not going to really do anything as the problem is not the terrorists — they’re the symptom — the problem is the failure of the Arab-Muslim world to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. The Arabs still have this vision of a global (or regional) caliphate where Islam is the dominant religion and all others are either ejected, eliminated, or reduced to “dhwimmi” status (basically less than second-class citizens). The fact is that the Arab regimes use authoritarian rule, religion and a shift of blame to the “West” for all of the ills of their population as a way to maintain control. Until there is serious and concerted political reform in the Arab world that takes these factors off the table we will always have a serious problem with Arab-Muslim terrorism. The only way to do that is to ensure, as Tom Friedman notes, that there is “decent and consensual government in Baghdad or Kabul or Islamabad” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 ).

However, we are faced with a quandry here. We need to help stabilize these governments and that takes a military presence for now. But by having a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan we inflame the indiginous population. In Iraq, the Iraqis have gotten the message and are willing to stand up and fight for their new government; in Afghanistan — well, we’re not doing so well there. Our presence inflames the Afghans and is used for political reasons by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Tom Friedman, in his opinion piece “Drilling in Afghanistan” quotes Thomas Schweich, a former Bush administration counternarcotics official focused on Afghanistan, and his article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine:

Karzai was playing us like a fiddle: The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends could get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009, he would be elected to a new term.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

In addition Friedman quotes Afghan expert Rory Stewart’s July 17 Time magazine cover story from Kabul:

A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge, and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining … The more responsibility we take in Afghanistan, the more we undermine the credibility and responsibility of the Afghan government and encourage it to act irresponsibly. Our claims that Afghanistan is the ‘front line in the war on terror’ and that ‘failure is not an option’ have convinced the Afghan government that we need it more than it needs us. The worse things become, the more assistance it seems to receive. This is not an incentive to reform.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

Before the Democrats and Mr. Obama go off and commit more troops to Afghanistan, they need to determine whether this is really going to be beneficial in the overall picture. The Democrats need to find a more comprehensive picture to winning the war on terrorism — they need to be more inventive than the Republicans. Commiting more troops to Afghanistan has become a political ploy to counter the Republican assertion that the Democrats are “soft on terrorism and defense.”

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