As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Afghanistan: Escalation And Narrowness Of Thought

Today, several bloggers are engaging in a day of discussion and debate about Administration policy in Afghanistan. Now that the President has announced his Afghanistan strategy and shared it with the world, we can begin to assess the policy. Europe has reacted to a call for more involvement with a show of support but few troops to offer to the effort, most of them temporary for security around the Afghan elections. And US commanders are already calling for 10,000 more additional US troops on top of the 17,000 combat forces and 4,000 trainers already pledged. Increasingly, this is becoming an American war.

Petraeus acknowledged that the ratio of coalition and Afghan security forces to the population is projected through 2011 to be significantly lower than the 20 troops per 1,000 people prescribed by the Army counterinsurgency manual he helped write.

"If you assume there is an insurgency throughout the country . . . you need more forces," Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the Pentagon has not yet forwarded the troop request to the White House.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, testified that the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is based on a plan to concentrate forces in "the insurgency belt in the south and east," rather than throughout Afghanistan.

Obama "doesn't have to make a decision until the fall, so the troops would arrive, as planned, in 2010," she said.

The U.S. military has 38,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the number is projected to rise to 68,000 with deployments scheduled for this year. Those deployments include a 4,000-strong contingent of trainers from the 4th brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, 17,000 other combat troops, a 2,800-strong combat aviation brigade and thousands of support forces whose placement was not publicly announced, the Pentagon said.

Yes, the Administration snuck another 9,000 troops into the country when our heads were turned.

Clearly our commitment to the region in physical troops and treasure is escalating, and I fail to see how it could be de-escalated without the key goals being met. In other words, Plans A, B and C involve more and more troops to a part of the world that has not known peace in more than a generation, to carry out a policy that entrenches us in the region and with the governments there while publicly stating a desire to limit its focus.

If the Obama Administration sticks to these goals, of dismantling and disrupting Al Qaeda safe havens, I would be fine with it. But most of them don't even exist inside Afghanistan but in Pakistan, where we are engaged in the same kind of "war at 30,000 feet" through unmanned drone strikes that failed to work in Afghanistan and necessitated the call for additional troops. In Pakistan, estimates of one million people have been displaced due to these airstrikes, and they have inflamed the local Taliban, who specifically cited the bombings as responsible for their run of suicide attacks deep inside their own country. We have succeeded in turning a national problem into a regional one, without the ability to mount a ground offensive inside Pakistan where the threat originates. In this sense, it can be said that the Taliban's strength is directly proportional to US involvement.

As for Afghanistan, I basically agree with Juan Cole. Obama expresses a latter-day domino theory to justify occupation in Afghanistan, yet while a failed state would certainly have consequences for Al Qaeda, the threat of that failure has been largely overstated (in both Afghanistan and Pakistan), and there are certainly means to contain a terrorist threat without the need for military occupation. And, "when a policymaker gets the rationale for action wrong, he is at particular risk of falling into mission creep and stubborn commitment to a doomed and unnecessary enterprise."

In a later piece, Cole details how Afghanistan is turning into Iraq, with its large military bases, use of private military contractors, unrealistic talk of an imminent decision point, and worst, the rise of a fundamentalist cental government:

The US has actually only managed to install a fundamentalist government in Afghanistan, which is rolling back rights of women and prosecuting blasphemy cases. In a play for the Shiite vote (22% or so of the population), President Hamid Karzai put through civilly legislated Shiite personal status law, which affects Shiite women in that country. The wife will need the husband's permission to go out of the house, and can't refuse a demand for sex. (Since the 1990s there has been a movement in 50 or more countries to abandon the idea that spouses cannot rape one another, though admittedly this idea is new and was rejected in US law until recently).

No one seems to have noted that the Shiite regime in Baghdad is more or less doing the same thing. In Iraq, the US switched out the secular Baath Party for Shiite fundamentalist parties. Everyone keeps saying the US improved the status of women in both countries. Actually, in Iraq the US invasion set women back about 30 years. In Afghanistan, the socialist government of the 1980s, for all its brutality in other spheres, did implement policies substantially improving women's rights, including aiming at universal education, making a place for them in the professions, and so forth. There were socialist Afghan women soldiers fighting the Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas that Reagan called "freedom fighters" and to whom he gave billions to turn the country into a conservative theocracy. I can never get American audiences to concede that Afghan women had it way better in the 1980s, and that it has been downhill ever since, mainly because of US favoritism toward patriarchal and anti-progressive forces.

After criticism, Hamid Karzai has vowed to review the spousal rape law, and elsewhere the Taliban has actually relaxed their policies on burqas and beards in their negotiations with the Afghan government. Yes negotiations:

...preliminary talks between President Hamid Karzai's government and Taliban insurgents are already under way, and appear to have yielded a significant shift away from the Taliban's past obsession with repressive rules and punishments governing personal behaviour. The Taliban are now prepared to commit themselves to refraining from banning girls' education, beating up taxi drivers for listening to Bollywood music, or measuring the length of mens' beards, according to representatives of the Islamist movement. Burqas worn by women in public would be "strongly recommended" but not compulsory. The undertakings have been confirmed by Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, who was the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan in the late 1990s, and who has been part of a Saudi-sponsored peace initiative.

According to Christoph Hörstel, a German analyst of Afghan affairs, Mullah Zaeef has confirmed that the Taliban are no longer insisting that their members should form the government. Instead, they would agree to rule by religious scholars and technocrats who meet with their approval following a national loya jirga, or community meeting, attended by public figures. The demand for a loya jirga could be met as early as next month if President Karzai convenes a meeting of elders to determine who should rule when his term officially ends on 21 May.

I sincerely believe the Administration would rather have the governments inside Pakistan and Afghanistan settle this danger themselves. That's what's behind the economic development and improving intergovernmental communication lines at the heart of the strategy. But the focus on "safe havens" betrays a rather antiquated thinking about where militant extremists can communicate and coordinate, namely anywhere. And the ability of Pakistan's government to help the United States through destroying their homegrown threat, or even to govern themselves, must be in serious question at this point.

Neoconservatives have thus far been quite supportive of the Administration's escalation policy in Afghanistan, and I agree that they pretty much pick their piece of imperialist policy that practically every President supports and latch themselves to it to maintain a certain legitimacy. In this case, I don't view it as neocons clinging to a Democratic President's policy, but the other way around, as they adhere to worn-out arguments to intensify a failed policy based on the continued fear of not wanting to lose a war.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,