An Arrogant American Attitude

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 04, 2009

Last week Thomas Friedman, the respected New York Times columnist and author of The Earth Is Flat, lent his voice in opposition to sending 40,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.

Friedman wrote in the Oct. 28 Times: “We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals (in Afghanistan) in a responsible way, not dig in deeper.

“We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and pro-longed nation-building effort in Afghanistan.”


Friedman went on to state that the predicted 20-year American involvement required to defeat the Taliban was beyond the country’s means: “We can’t afford it. We simply don’t have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 - and we desperately need nation building at home.”

On his return from an early October trip to Afghanistan, Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also warned of the costs of growing the American presence in Afghanistan: “... each 1,000 troops means an additional $1 billion in taxpayer money at a time of global financial crisis.”

Despite those costs, Inouye came home a supporter of an increase in troops. “At this time I believe Gen. (Stanley) McChrystal’s assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan ...

“You can spend all the money in the world, but if the people aren’t with you, then you’re out of business.”

To be sure, but in order to stay in business in Afghanistan the American people have to be with you as well. Recent polls indicate, however, that their enthusiasm for the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan is waning. An Oct. 8 Gallup poll showed 48 percent of the respondents favored sending more troops, 45 percent opposed - including 50 percent of those who identified themselves as Democrats.

An Oct. 26 CNN poll had 52 percent of respondents agreeing that the war in Afghanistan was “turning into another Vietnam.”

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, nor do I claim much knowledge of foreign policy. And I certainly respect the opinions of Medal of Honor winner Inouye when it comes to waging war and foreign policy expert Friedman when it comes to the ways of the volatile Middle East.

But the two men disagree, so allow this humble scribbler and historian a voice.

I am bothered by one of the reasons Friedman gives for why the United States must ratchet down the war. “We are the world,” he writes. “A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan.”

“We are the world”? America “holds the world together and on a decent path”? This sounds disturbingly like Woodrow Wilson arguing that the nation had to enter World War I “in order to make the world safe for democracy” or the messianic oratory of John F. Kennedy as he declared America’s willingness to “pay any price” to advance the cause of liberty around the world.

Forty years ago, amidst the quagmire of Vietnam, Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee held televised hearings on how the United States stumbled into a land war in a Southeast Asian nation in which we had no historic or vital interest. Out of those hearings came, among other things, a book by Fulbright titled The Arrogance of Power.

In it, Fulbright warned of the trap the powerful set for themselves - that they can force other nations and other cultures to accept their will. We learned in Vietnam, just as the French had, that we can’t always do that.

Or I thought we learned. But in Afghanistan we are attempting to do what neither the Russians nor the British could do. Why do we think we can? Because we’re more powerful, more decent - that we are the very glue that holds the world together.

Talk about arrogance.

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