President Obama has put America on the disastrous path toward another Vietnam. This is the real meaning of his recent trip to Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama delivered a nationally televised address from Kabul. The speech was filled with symbolism. The president spoke on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Mr. Obama announced that the war is close to ending. The surge forces are being withdrawn. More troops will be pulled back in the future. The administration, along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is determined to negotiate with the Taliban. According to Mr. Obama, the conflict is winding down. The “war on terror” supposedly is over.
The speech was a cheap publicity stunt - political theater masquerading as statesmanship. Mr. Obama was not there to mark America’s victory in Afghanistan or to boost the morale of our soldiers. Rather, his message was aimed at the electorate back home. Opinion polls show that nearly 75 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan. His aim is to convince them he is a successful commander in chief - that under his leadership, the Taliban have been routed, al Qaeda has been smashed and our troops are (eventually) coming home.
There is one problem with Mr. Obama’s narrative: It is a lie. Shortly after his visit, the Taliban responded to Mr. Obama’s peace offer. They launched an attack, which killed seven and wounded at least 17. They have no intention of laying down their arms. Why should they? The Taliban are bleeding America to death. They have not been defeated. Instead, they are resurgent. With a safe haven in Pakistan, Taliban guerrillas are able to cross the Afghan border with impunity. The native Afghan population is turning on allied forces, increasingly viewing them as foreign occupiers.
Moreover, al Qaeda has become entrenched in neighboring Pakistan. Contrary to Mr. Obama’s spin, the terror network has grown stronger under his watch. Al Qaeda may be reeling in Afghanistan, but it has metastasized into Yemen, Somalia and Libya - the latter mainly because of Mr. Obama’s reckless campaign to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Islamic radicalism is spreading, not contracting. Jihadists have new sanctuaries from which to attack Western targets. They are winning; we are losing.
Mr. Obama, however, refuses to cut our losses. While pledging U.S. withdrawal, he has done the unthinkable: committed American blood and treasure to be squandered for another decade in futile nation-building. The president signed a Security Partnership Agreement with Mr. Karzai. It pledges that U.S. forces will remain after 2014, until at least 2024, helping the Afghan army provide stability and security. The agreement also ensures that Washington will continue to send billions in foreign aid to prop up the corrupt Karzai government. The total amount of funding and number of U.S. troops still need to be negotiated. But the message is clear: Uncle Sam is not leaving anytime soon.
This is imperial folly. So far, the war in Afghanistan has cost more than a half-trillion dollars. Nearly 2,000 U.S. warriors have been killed. Thousands more have been maimed or crippled. Our troops are forced to fight with strict rules of engagement that make victory impossible. It is the longest war in American history. The Afghan environment - its primitive population, vast network of caves and mountains - is perfectly suited for guerrilla warfare. The country is frozen in the seventh century, fractured along tribal and ethnic lines. Militant Islam is rampant. Shariah law pervades Afghan society. The dominant ethnic Pashtuns want America - and all Western powers - out. It is arrogant, bordering on megalomaniacal, to think the United States can transform Afghanistan into a functional, liberal democracy. In fact, it is a recipe for a protracted quagmire - one that will lead to inevitable military defeat and national humiliation. Mr. Obama’s decision to keep us there until 2024 represents the height of irresponsible hubris.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Mr. Obama is not some McGovernite peacenik, but a liberal imperialist bent on consolidating a NATO world empire. His foreign policy is eerily similar to that of another socialist superpower leader: the late Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev. In 1968, Brezhnev ordered the Red Army to crush the Prague Spring. He later announced what came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine: Once a country was part of the Soviet Union’s orbit, it could never leave the “community of socialist states.”
Mr. Obama has created his own version of the Brezhnev Doctrine. He wants to impose U.S.-led hegemony upon foreign lands - especially Muslim states - in the service of multicultural nation-building. It is a form of leftist utopian social engineering: Use American power to advance economic development, human rights and democratic government in the Third World. It is neo-Wilsonian globalism on steroids. The fact that Islamic civilization has proved to be incompatible with - even hostile to - Western-style liberty is irrelevant to Mr. Obama. He is an ideologue who cannot allow fundamental realities - the enduring importance of faith, tribe and nation - to get in the way of progressive supranationalism. If he can remake America at home, why stop at our shores? It is the inevitable logic of the expansionist leftist super state.
This is why Mr. Obama has waged a war in Libya, supported the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, left behind 16,000 U.S. “advisers” in Iraq and is cementing America’s semipermanent presence in Afghanistan. He believes in a liberal empire marked by a bureaucratic ruling class, lavish foreign aid and sympathy for Third World anti-Americanism. It is the postmodern version of the “white man’s burden.” Imperial overstretch destroyed ancient Rome, the great European powers and Soviet Russia. Without a policy U-turn, we are destined to suffer the same fate.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.