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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Metrics Toward Ending The War In Afghanistan, Or To Justify It?

The commanding general in Afghanistan basically said yesterday that our strategy in the country is failing.

A top US general in Afghanistan has called for a revised military strategy, suggesting the current one is failing.

In a strategic assessment, Gen Stanley McChrystal said that, while the Afghan situation was serious, success was still achievable.

The report has not yet been published, but sources say Gen McChrystal sees protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban as the top priority.

The report does not carry a direct call for increasing troop numbers.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," Gen McChrystal said in the assessment.

McChrystal is engaging in some sleight of hand here. The top priority for the Obama Administration, at least in the President's public statements, has never been "protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban." We've heard about dismantling Taliban safe havens, but not that our military should be used as an internal security force. We should at least have that debate if it's the new goal.

I'm more concerned that the Administration feels it has to race to show progress, basing their continued presence in Afghanistan not on any security objective, but simply meaning to justify the presence through demonstrable benchmarks. If the benchmarks, or "metrics" in the new parlance, are not tethered to a fundamental mission or strategy, how can we possibly define success? In recent years, the success or failure in achieving benchmarks or metrics have had no impact on the larger decisions of escalation or drawdown. A benchmark strategy just looks like a justification strategy rather than any kind of real assessment.

This is why we need a timetable to bring our troops home. We do not have a clear reason for remaining in the country - Al Qaeda has departed, we cannot expect to eradicate every safe haven everywhere in the world, nor can we expect to radically transform centuries of political and social reality in that part of the world through nation-building. As Bill Moyers said in his excellent interview with Bill Maher:

MOYERS: I’d think it would be a tragedy beyond description for this young, bright, exciting President to be drawn into an endless war in the same way that the last young, bright, exciting President was drawn into – intervened in Vietnam. I was there when Kennedy chose to send advisers to Vietnam – and was there when LBJ escalated – they both acted from noble intentions – actually they did – they wanted to stop Communism in Asia and spread democracy – but the advisers soon became bombers and the bombers became grounds troops and pretty soon, it became a regional crusade – and 12 years later, billions of dollars, and millions of lives later, including 60,000 American troops – we lost – because the U.S. is not good at that sort of thing.

Here Obama has 68,000 troops over there and the Generals are asking for another 20,000 -- maybe 30,000 more troops -- saying it’s not enough. The military and the hawks will always say "not enough." Obama has to say "enough" -- or he’s going to be drawn into it.

Now they’ve shifted the mission of troops: to protect the villages of Afghanistan. 100,000 Americans can’t protect the villages of Afghanistan – and now they say we’re going to be there to build a nation – we’re not good at building other nations – we’re hardly good at building our nation. If you're an Afghani and look up and see Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature coming to build your nation, you’re going to run – you’re going to put up a No Trespassing sign. We need to come home.

We have this two-track problem, as Moyers expertly pointed out. We have a President, or more to the point a political system, captive to corporate special interests. And we have a promising foreign policy in other respect on the verge of being snuffed out by an obstinate focus on a nation-building experiment halfway across the world which we cannot even really hope to affect. We can defend our national security with law enforcement and intelligence and local information sharing. We do not need a war.

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