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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Obama’s troop surge triggers debate

On Dec. 1, President Obama announced that the United States will increase troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 starting in 2010. The goal of the surge is to help transition power and responsibility of Afghanistan from the United States to the Afghan people. Pundits from across the political spectrum are criticizing Obama’s plan. Republicans criticize Obama for using a deadline for leaving Afghanistan. Democrats criticize Obama for even continuing the war in Afghanistan in the first place.

According to Max Carter, director of the Friends Center and campus ministry coordinator, a troop surge in Afghanistan will continue to alienate the Afghan population and Muslim population. Furthermore, Carter stated that the troop surge would erode support for the United States both internationally and domestically.

“I don’t think a troop surge will be effective,” said Carter. “The leaders in the areas of the country that matter don’t want military increases. They want development assistance, education, and a long-term strategy of actually addressing the conditions that will make for long-term stability.”

However, Ken Gilmore, associate professor of political science, disagreed with the proposition that the surge will decrease support for the United States. In fact, Gilmore argues that the United States’ standing with Europe is fantastic right now.

“NATO pledged 7,000 troops to go into Afghanistan,” said Gilmore. “We thought we’d only get 300. The fact that Europe is committing so many troops shows we have their support.”

Gilmore also argued that Obama’s announcement to increase troops balanced the United States’ need to address the issues in Afghanistan by giving Americans a sense that the war is winding down.

“If you pay attention to Obama’s speech, Obama said troops will be withdrawn in July 2011 if conditions permit,.” said Gilmore. “So, what has he promised? The deadline also gives a threat to President Karzai of Afghanistan to clean up his act because we’re leaving soon.”

On the other hand Eric Mortensen, assistant professor of religious studies, stated that insurgency groups are notorious for their ability to bide their time. The Taliban, said Mortensen, will just “fade away” until the deadline has passed. In addition, Mortensen said deadlines would not work in pressuring Karzai into cleaning up the corruption in Afghanistan.

“You cannot combat corruption if the people responsible for cleaning up corruption are corrupt,” said Mortensen.

Mortensen said that a major factor in the United State’s failure in Afghanistan comes from a complete misunderstanding of how Afghanistan operates. He said America assumes the Afghans want and think just like America, when in truth, Afghans have their own values, which are different from Americans.

“Having a central authority is not a priority for Afghans,” said Mortensen. “Their loyalties lie first with their clan, then with their ethnic identities, and finally with their government.”

The real people we should be working with, according to Mortensen, are not Karzai, but all the local clan chieftains. Success lies in strong international support for giving services to Afghanistan and restructuring the Afghan government as a legitimate entity.

“An insurgency comes from the natives within the country,” said Mortensen. “Until the Afghans accept us over the Taliban, we cannot succeed in Afghanistan.”

But how much is it going to cost to win the war in Afghanistan? How is this troop surge going to affect the U.S. economy?

According to Voehringer Professor of Economics Robert Williams, increasing the war effort in Afghanistan will only worsen the economy back home. By our dumping billions of dollars outside the country, other countries will lose confidence in the dollar and sell their U.S. treasury bonds. In turn, Williams said this would cause U.S. interest rates to increase, triggering a decline in jobs.

“The idea that war is good for the economy is a flawed one,” said Williams. “When you trace the economic effects on an international level, it doesn’t hold up.”

Thus, the question arises: Is intervening in Afghanistan worth the damage it will do to our economy?

Both Williams and Gilmore agreed that it is debatable. The war against extremists is not confined to Afghanistan; Al Qaeda is a global movement. Perhaps, they argued, the United States would be better off setting up a world police force to track and contain Al Qaeda rather than focusing solely on Afghanistan.

However, Mortensen argued there was a moral reason for being in Afghanistan in addition to a practical one.

“To those who are anti-war,” said Mortensen. “They need to ask themselves: Would the Afghans be better off with the Taliban in power than with the United States occupying the country? If the answer is no, we need to help rebuild the country.

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