President Obama & General McChrystal

*Sometimes (perhaps often) there are developments in the news which generate a lot of heat and controversy. But upon close inspection, you will frequently discover that resolution of the superficial controversy (the headline grabber) has virtually nothing to do with the underlying, fundamental which is actually driving the controversy.

Such was the case last week when President Obama decided to fire General Stanley McChrystal – top commander of America’s military operation in Afghanistan. McChrystal had demonstrated clear disrespect and insubordination for Obama and his top aides in an interview he gave to Rolling Stone magazine. He suggested that he and other top military leaders intimidated Obama; that Obama’s national security adviser James Jones was a “clown,” and that Vice President Joe Biden was stupid or un-American for opposing an expansion of the Afghanistan war.

However, the controversy surrounding McChrystal’s comments and his firing obfuscate the more fundamental issue: Is America actually fighting an unwinnable war in a country which is of no major international consequence. The general’s “disappointment” and anger with the president result primarily from a difference of opinion about how the war is to be prosecuted. Vice President Biden wants America to gradually phase out its war in Afghanistan while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported McChrystal’s call for more troops and a expanded military effort.

President Obama fell somewhere in the middle of those two options by adding less than half the troops McChrystal had requested and by setting a July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from the country..

Regardless, the core issue is that America and its allies are stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan. With all their sophisticated weapons and over 90,000 troops, they are not winning the war and it has just about everyone frustrated and doing a lot of second-guessing.

For the average American citizen, the situation is Afghanistan prompts the following questions: What are we doing there and how long are we prepared to do it? Already, it is the longest war in American history having gone on longer than World War II and the war in Vietnam. When will we learn that it is nearly impossible to defeat an ideologically or religiously motivated group of guerrilla fighters in “their” own country? Did not Vietnam teach us anything?

Can we win in Afghanistan? Possibly! But it would take a 30-year military occupation, trillions of tax dollars and the loss of tens of thousands of lives. And if we “won” in Afghanistan, what would we have? But let us not fantasize. The Taliban and their supporters in Afghanistan are religious extremists who deeply believe in their cause and are willing to fight and die to drive foreigners from their country.

They are not going anywhere. They can win without winning. All they have to do is keep us from winning. Both Obama and McChrystal fail to get this fundamental point. There is no-win in Afghanistan. An argument over how to pursue the war is futile. The president can fire all the generals he desires but we are looking in the face of another Vietnam – a no-win war against a lesser but determined opponent who will never leave their country, especially when they know that if they just wear us down we will leave.

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