For the past several years, a vast portion of Suffolk County has been fortunate enough to have Tim Bishop as their Representative in the United States Congress. In addition to the tremendous amount of legislation that Congressman Bishop has sponsored — and successfully passed — for local causes on Long Island, our Democratic leader has rightly decided to include himself in some of the country’s most important foreign-policy debates. Of course, what I am so blatantly referring to is the long and frustrating U.S. role in Afghanistan.
Nine years after September 11, 2001, the United States remains bogged down in a conflict that seems unwinnable to many Americans. Bishop seems to engage in this same type of pessimistic rhetoric, calling on the President to outline his plan for a full and unilateral troop withdrawal from the treacherous terrain that is Afghanistan. In fact, Mr. Bishop’s vehement opposition to the war in general reached an unprecedented height this past year, when he introduced an amendment to a U.S. Military spending bill requiring the White House to sign on to an Afghan exit strategy.
Granted, Mr. Bishop is an extraordinarily talented politician. Democrats and Republicans alike view him as an important figure in the U.S. House of Representatives, admiring both his professionalism and his “normal Joe” attitude. In fact, my personal interaction with the congressmen in his Washington office only further confirmed this (although I was a young high-school student at the time). Yet, by taking Mr. Bishop’s voting record into consideration — not to mention his misjudgment on the Iraq War — one has to question whether he truly understands the unique characteristics and history of Afghanistan as a whole.
First and foremost, I would like to say I am indeed a supporter of an enhanced U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. I firmly believe, like many others, than an American defeat in Afghanistan would be severely detrimental to U.S. national security…not because the Taliban would threaten the United States with direct force, but because of the symbolic effect a U.S. defeat would have for Islamic jihadists throughout the globe. Whether or not Al’Qaeda is a major problem for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is the fact that Al’Qaeda militants will certainly exploit a Taliban victory to their advantage.
Citing yet another defeat of a superpower in Afghanistan (Great Britain in the 19th Century and the Soviet Union in the 20th) would only increase the recruitment ability of Islamic radicals who are intent on limiting American prevalence throughout the globe…regardless of ideological affiliation. We must remember that weakened resolve will not only translate into benefits for Al’Qaeda; it will also give a much-needed boost to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Palestinian rejectionists in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Interestingly enough, President Obama’s decision to weigh all options — while necessary and understandable — may have a similar effect. Floundering for the next few weeks may very well give the United States a weak image internationally…a development that may not be so terrible if terrorist organizations were not spreading at unprecedented speed. Yet, as reality dictates, this could not be further from the truth. At the same time U.S. soldiers are engaged in Afghanistan, Al’Qaeda proxies are gaining strength in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and (of course) Pakistan. Taking into account all of these circumstances, one has to question whether waiting is really the best option for the United States.
There is one more point I would like to raise. It appears that Civil-Military relations have hit a significant roadblock, with National Security Advisor James Jones virtually telling General McChrystal to shut-up and keep his opinions to himself. Of course, discussing the war-effort and contradicting the President in public should be frowned upon, especially during a period of contention. Yet, at the same time, the U.S. Military is not entirely at fault. The White House response could have been much more constructive than the harsh rhetoric which was emanated recently.
Again, I cannot help but wonder if this strained Civil-Military relationship will result in devastating consequences for American interests in the immediate future. What White House officials see as a minor rut, terrorists and Islamic militants view as a divided U.S. Government unable to unite in the face of a common threat. I can only imagine what the Taliban-Al’Qaeda alliance would think if the United States enacted Congressman Bishop’s plan of premature withdrawal.
Note: This post was originally published on March Lynch’s blog at foreignpolicy.com
-Daniel R. DePetris is a student and political blogger at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. He can be reached at http://depetris.wordpress.com