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

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

And They've Lost George Will

I admit to being surprised by yesterday's George Will column, though given his status as a paleocon I probably should not have been.

U.S. strategy -- protecting the population -- is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state [...]

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

Will is basically laying out a containment strategy, consisting of buying out the local interests, shoring up the government through supporting the non-corrupt local leaders, and using law enforcement and intelligence to thwart Al Qaeda globally instead of assuming that denying them safe havens in Afghanistan would prevent them from popping up anywhere else in the world. I disagree with Will on the invisible destructors like drones and airstrikes, which tend to radicalize populations, even if they have succeeded at taking out more terrorists than under Bush. But in general, we can use human intelligence and global cooperation to a much higher degree of success than pursuing a war in Afghanistan without defined goals.

The elections were clearly rigged, and the fallout could be tremendous to an already crippled central government. And yet, we will not act because a Pashto President makes more sense to our COIN strategy than a Tajik. As a result, the countryside will lose more faith in America's ability to deliver on its promises, and the expanded footprint will be even harder to maintain. And despite a decrease in opium prices and a slashed crop, no alternatives for poor farmers have arisen, and cartels still control the trade and funnel money to the insurgency.

What's more, we're using the same Bush-era gimmicks to add more troops into the field without displaying the costs to the public. This stealth troop increase by replacing support personnel with "trigger-pullers," while vastly expanding the use of unaccountable private military contractors is exactly how Bush keep the troop numbers artificially low in Iraq.

Obama really only has the warbloggers with him in this strategy, idiots who call for "spirited realists" when a realist would assess the situation in Afghanistan and determine that escalation has no material national security benefit. And yet the Pentagon still fears that Obama will not agree to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's escalation demands. I hope the Pentagon is right.

...this will make us look fantastic to the local population, I'm sure:

Private security contractors who guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have engaged in lewd behavior and hazed subordinates, demoralizing the undermanned force and posing a "significant threat" to security at a time when the Taliban is intensifying attacks in the Afghan capital, according to an investigation released Tuesday by an independent watchdog group.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) launched the probe after more than a dozen security guards contacted the group to report misconduct and morale problems within the force of 450 guards who live at Camp Sullivan, a few miles from the embassy compound.

The report highlighted occasions when guards brought women believed to be prostitutes into Camp Sullivan and videotaped themselves drinking and partially undressed. It also outlined communications problems among the guards, many of whom don't speak English and have trouble understanding orders from their U.S. supervisors.

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