I'M OPPOSED to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
If they were, I'd support such a surge because we have to do whatever it takes to defeat al Qaeda, which seeks to annihilate us.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
In order to be successful in Afghanistan, it's necessary to have a reliable ally in the Afghan government. The evidence demonstrates that President Hamid Kharzai does not have the requisite reliability.
THE LEGITIMACY of his administration is suspect because of vote fraud. There is widespread corruption at the highest levels of his government. His government has tolerated, if not encouraged, drug-trafficking.
President Obama has said, "President Kharzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction." In my judgment, any such "message" amounts to a dubious and belated pledge of reform and deserves to be treated with the greatest skepticism.
For too long, the United States has borne the overwhelming weight of providing troops with only modest NATO contributions. We currently provide 68,000 troops, Britain 9,500 and the other countries just over 36,000. NATO has pledged another 7,000 troops, an inadequate response when you consider the combined populations of NATO countries - excluding the United States - and the threat they face from al Qaeda.
In the context of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, it is understandable that the American people are very skeptical about fighting in Afghanistan. Had we known that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, we would not have gone into Iraq.
Historians have replayed the tragic mistakes in Vietnam. When you add the 851 killed and 4,605 wounded in Afghanistan to the 4,369 killed and 31,575 wounded in Iraq, it is understandable that the American people do not want to continue the overwhelming burden of fighting in Afghanistan with so little assistance from our allies and so little prospects for success.
The cost of the Afghanistan war imposes an additional burden. It costs $1 million a year for each soldier, or $30 billion a year to support 30,000 additional troops. The cost for the total force in Afghanistan of approximately 100,000 soldiers would be more than $100 billion a year.
Pursuing a successful war in Afghanistan would require considerable additional support from Pakistan.
While Pakistan has been more helpful in recent weeks, their long-term commitment remains uncertain. For years, I've urged that the United States should take the lead in brokering a rapprochement with India that would allow Pakistan to redeploy forces from the Indian border to Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in the mountainous regions of the north. If we could cool that tension with India, they could help us fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.
My opposition to the troop surge in no way diminishes my concern over the challenge we face in al Qaeda and the need to confront it wherever it emerges.
But I question whether Afghanistan is the primary front or even the only battlefield when we may face emerging challenges in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan itself. That is where we have the best chance to succeed.
We should concentrate on fighting al Qaeda without limitation on time or resources, but we should not engage in the laborious and problematic task of nation-building, or civil affairs, or the protection of other societies in place of their own security systems.
Arlen Specter, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Pennsylvania.