McGovern: Get Out of Afghanistan

Historians in the News

George McGovern has some advice for President Barack Obama: Get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

“I’m convinced that war is going to turn sour. I’m convinced we’re not going to prevail there,” McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, said Sunday at a Truthdig event in West Los Angeles.

The former U.S. senator from South Dakota noted that “some of the best reporters over there are telling us that the Taliban are getting stronger and we’re getting weaker in the minds of the people, and that you have a corrupt government involved in drugs, involved in just plain old-fashioned stealing and corruption. It’s a lousy government, and it’s very difficult, even for a great country like [the U.S.], to make them look good. So I think we have every reason to withdraw.”

McGovern’s comments came on the heels of a New York Times report that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, on the CIA payroll for nearly eight years, is suspected by many top American officials of being involved in that country’s lucrative and illicit opium trade. President Karzai himself drew criticism after the United Nations declared one-third of his votes in his Aug. 20 re-election to be fraudulent, forcing a runoff with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai’s rival eventually withdrew, saying the runoff would not be any less rigged. The vote was canceled and Karzai was officially declared the winner Monday.

Against this backdrop, and with October the deadliest month yet for U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan with 55 killed, Obama has put off a decision on whether to send thousands more troops to that country as requested by the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

McGovern said Sunday he did not want to see Obama head down the path of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, for whom another quagmire, the Vietnam War, spelled the end to his presidency. McGovern, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during World War II, noted he was the first member to oppose the Vietnam War on the floor of the Senate.

A historian, McGovern said he would remind Obama that foreign powers have been trying unsuccessfully to prevail in Afghanistan “ever since Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan even made a shot at it. The British throughout the 19th century were in there several times trying to pacify the [country] and finally gave up. The Russians were there for 11 years, 1979 until 1990, they put in 100,000 crack soldiers, 25,000 of them killed ... in Afghanistan, another 25,000 crippled or injured. And the Russian treasury went broke, and some of our best Soviet experts believe that’s what really led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.”...
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