As Published Tuesday, December 8, 2009
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By Merrick Alpert – Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate
I recently walked across Connecticut — from Stonington to Greenwich along Route 1 — to express my opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Carrying a U.S. flag, I began on the Rhode Island border and trekked for five days until I reached New York.
Having served as a U.S. military peacekeeper in the Muslim nation of Bosnia, I know from firsthand experience about both the power and limits of military force.
As a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Christopher Dodd, I wanted to make clear my opposition to the war.
Eight years ago, following the 9/11 attacks, we appropriately used military force to overthrow Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, a regime that had hosted and aided al-Qaida’s 9/11 plotters.
Phase I was a textbook example of how to wage modern warfare using “hard power.” American forces consisted of less than 500 Special Operations members on the ground and overwhelming U.S. airpower. They worked collaboratively with 15,000 members of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance. The indigenous ground component was crucial in ensuring the operation had an Afghan and — more importantly — Muslim face. And it limited American casualties.
Then, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans — aided by sycophantic Democrats and an enabling media — ignored a century’s worth of lessons in counterinsurgency warfare.
The opportunity to launch a successful Phase II “soft power” operation, where civil affairs forces and multinational peacekeepers were deployed to build a democratic Afghanistan, was squandered.
Instead, the Bush-Cheney faction commenced the Iraq fiasco. The focus was taken off Afghanistan. The Taliban gained strength. Pakistan became safe haven for terrorists. International support evaporated.
Now, the Obama administration is embarking on a similar ill-fated effort. The president, having recently authorized 20,000 additional troops, this week authorized some 30,000 more. The U.S. troop count will soon stand at more than 100,000, just as our allies are abandoning the field.
Against this backdrop I began my 117-mile walk across the state. As dawn broke on Nov. 10, I stood at the war memorial on the Rhode Island side of the bridge over the Pawcatuck River. I reflected on the facts that inspired my march. One thousand of our troops had already perished. Our real enemy — al-Qaida — numbered less than 100 in Afghanistan. We had become so desperate for a partner that we were propping up the ineffectual Karzai government that had just rigged an election at U.S. taxpayer expense. And, there was no end in sight.
Yet as I began the march across Connecticut, I became convinced that the essential problem with the Afghan war was not just military: It was also economic.
I slogged past hundreds of boarded-up businesses that would never open again. Many were so recently closed that the wood over the windows didn’t show any weathering. As I pushed west across the Thames and Connecticut rivers my talk of effective counterinsurgency fell silent to scenes of schools in disrepair. As I trudged through East Haven and crested the hill to look out over New Haven harbor, I saw poverty and despair. I saw a city where half the minority students never graduate from high school. Drawn west into the darkness, I walked over roads and bridges that were crumbling. And as I stopped to talk with people along the way they would repeatedly tell me that they were “forgotten.” Forgotten became the word I heard the most.
Those who have voted to support the war in Afghanistan, like Dodd, have gotten it backward. Why are we sacrificing Connecticut’s prosperity for a war the goal of which cannot be explained? Why are we forsaking the schoolteacher in Groton, the storeowner in East Haven, and the unemployed African-American in Bridgeport for a corrupt regime in Afghanistan?
I am more interested in rebuilding Connecticut than Kabul. My vision is for a Connecticut where we invest in job creation, educational opportunity, and health care. Those that have spent the last 40 years in Washington creating the problems we face today are incapable of solving them. It is time for career politicians with “seniority” to walk across the state and assess the carnage their war and misguided priorities have inflicted.
Career politicians, like Dodd, are too distant from our suffering to understand it.
And now it is time for them to take a hike.
The writer, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, lives in Mystic with his wife and three children.