As the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan creeps upward, and the country continues to be ravaged by violence and poverty, an increasing number of voices are warning that, as peace advocate and former California state Sen. Tom Hayden put it, "quagmire is more likely than success in the predictable future."
President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, acknowledged the declining support for the war in Afghanistan, saying recently, "We feel the impatience of the public and the Congress."
It is increasingly unclear what the U.S. military venture really expects to accomplish, and demands are growing for a clear exit strategy.
"I don't use the word 'victory', but 'success' instead," Holbrooke said. You cannot define success, he said, "but we'll know it when we see it."
Hayden warns, "Like success, a quagmire will be known when the public sees it." Noting the increase in U.S. casualties, he says, "For every one of those dead American soldiers, not to mention the uncounted dead Afghan and Pakistan civilians, the quagmire already has begun."
Ninety-five House members, including seven Republicans, have cosponsored a bill, HR 2404, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., that would require the Defense Secretary to present an exit strategy for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Polls show Americans are ambivalent, at best, on Afghanistan. One recent poll showed 54 percent oppose the U.S. war there. While a majority still support President Obama's handling of it, those numbers are slipping. And, underscoring Hayden's point, a majority now say the war was not worth fighting, and only 24 percent favor sending more troops.
As some commentators are noting, bogging the U.S. down in an Afghanistan quagmire could endanger the progressive domestic and international agenda that Obama has called for and that he was elected to carry out. And if that agenda fails, and the ultra-right rides that failure back to power, the American people, and the people of the world, will suffer.
A wide range of experts warns that there is no military solution to the threat of terrorism and to the problems in Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan. A comprehensive exit strategy is needed to end the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. It will need to emphasize regional diplomacy and peacemaking, and collaborative international efforts for economic and social development.