WASHINGTON - By keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and most likely Gates' team, President-elect Barack Obama may be sliding into a situation similar to one that beleaguered President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy inherited his predecessor's military commitments to South Vietnam and the disastrous and abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
While Obama has tacitly signed onto the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq for three more years of occupation, Obama has specifically called for an "effective strategic partnership" with Pakistan to help fight the Taliban and terrorists in its neighbor Afghanistan.
Referring to Afghanistan, Obama has said, "if we combine effective development, more effective military work as well as more effective diplomacy, then I think that we can stabilize the situation."
Obama has consistently called for shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, and that transfer has already begun, sending troops and resources to a country that has never been conquered by a western military force in all of history. There has never been a formal declaration of war against Afghanistan, where an additional 20,000 American troops will soon be deployed.
The troops are being sent in response to a request from Gen. David McKiernan, American commander in Afghanistan. Among them will be soldiers from the Third Mountain Brigade, who will be sent from Fort Drum, N.Y. There has been no congressional debate over these deployments, which will last at least 18 months.
Bush has used the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks as his justification to punish enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the war in Afghanistan is on automatic.
Obama will be faced with having to pay for this unannounced Afghanistan "surge" while he is trying to refrain from drawing down too quickly the 140,000 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.
Michael Crowley, writing in The New Republic, estimates that it could take as many as 600,000 troops to quell all the tribal tensions in Afghanistan - roughly 10 times the number of soldiers in the multi-national force there now. Even with more troops, sprawling, mountainous Afganistan may not be winnable.
The Greek warlord Alexander couldn't conquer it, nor could Queen Victoria's Imperial forces, nor the Soviet Union in 1979. The upcoming budget for the Defense Department is estimated at $584 billion, not counting the increased commitments for Afghanistan. Reportedly, the U.S. expeditionary forces have enough money to last them through June 2009. But Obama and the Democratic Congress will have to face the consequences of mission creep before then.
-- Douglas Turner