Gibson: Obama promises troop surge, conditionally

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his future plans for the war in Afghanistan, which include the escalation of an additional 30,000 troops and to begin withdrawing forces by mid-2011.

As is consistent with the current political atmosphere in America, the president has come under fire from both the left and the right. The left wing is opposed to escalation, and the right wing believes that this proposal is insufficient.

To understand the ramifications of this proposal, it is important to understand the current situation in Afghanistan properly. The terrorist group known as Al Qaeda organized the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and killed over 3,000 Americans. The government in power in Afghanistan at the time was the Taliban, who refused to surrender the Al Qaeda members behind the attack. When the Taliban proved to be uncooperative, American forces entered the country to attempt to secure the members of Al Qaeda.

Despite the oppressive nature of the Taliban, they were able to stabilize the region. Opium production was all but eradicated, and the tribal warlords were kept in check. Following the U.S. invasion, the Taliban was quickly eliminated and Afghanistan collapsed back into disorder.

The capital, Kabul, operates as a city-state, and has a government and police force, although its rule does not extend beyond the limits of the city. Furthermore, the current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as the Durand Line, is an essentially meaningless border. It was created in the late 19th century by a British treaty written only in English. The border was not much of an issue until the insurgency in Afghanistan began operating around and across it. It was largely unregulated by the Pakistani army as, even now, 22 of its 24 army divisions are on Pakistan's heavily militarized border with India.

That is what we are facing in Afghanistan. So what will this troop surge accomplish? Obama has acknowledged that a western, Jeffersonian-style democracy is impossible to establish in Afghanistan. This escalation has the aim to significantly reduce the levels of insurgency, and provide better training and support for the Afghani army.

Skeptics have raised complaints on both sides of the issue. Anti-war Democrats call for immediate troop withdrawal, claiming that no further good can come from American involvement in the region. Pro-war Republicans claim that the withdrawal date of 2011 is far too early, and nothing significant will be accomplished by such a short troop escalation.

The House Appropriations Committee Chairman, David Obey, has threatened a "war surtax" if the war in Afghanistan is escalated. Obey has proposed a 5 percent tax increase on the top tax bracket in America. Anti-war Democrats are determined to ensure that this war is paid for.

Now that a realistic goal and withdrawal has been set for Afghanistan, a strategic force increase may actually stabilize the region. It is important, however, that the president withdraw American forces from Afghanistan before he leaves office, as it may be difficult to end the war in Afghanistan if American troops stay there much longer, or if a pro-war American president is elected.