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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama's Choice In Afghanistan

The presiding general in Afghanistan is delaying his troop request, providing more time for the President to assess the strategy in the light of a stolen election and a lack of legitimacy for the government. The White House official quoted in here is absolutely correct.

Even the best counterinsurgency strategy "cannot work" without a legitimate government in place, one White House official said, underscoring the intense debate within the administration about how to move forward [...]

One U.S. defense official said the fallout from the election was "certainly a complicating factor" in the way of swift consideration of McChrystal's troop recommendations.

Officials said the main question being asked was whether the counterinsurgency strategy could still succeed if Karzai's government was not seen by the Afghan people as legitimate.

"I don't think so," one official said when asked that question. "Will the Afghan people accept the results of the election? We don't even know that yet."

We're seeing McChrystal start to mass his forces in Kabul and other population centers, as if stability in the city means the same thing as stability in Baghdad, which was crucial to Iraq. Or maybe he's just preparing early for the inevitable riots once Karzai is named President. Either way, it's another example of an Iraq-centric strategy for a far different fight.

McChrystal is eventually going to ask for more troops. That's not only what all managers ask for - more resources - but what passes for wisdom in the foreign policy community. You can never withdraw, only escalate, troops are the answer to any question, and the other tropes common to both neocons and the entire foreign policy establishment in Washington, despite the fact that neocons have been proven wrong time and again.

Given this, it's remarkable for Obama to waver even the slightest bit at rubber-stamping the escalation. But he appears to be actually taking a look at reality, for a change.

Senator John McCain gave us a compelling insight into these matters in a foreword that he wrote about Vietnam for David Halberstam’s book, “The Best and the Brightest”:

“War is far too horrible a thing to drag out unnecessarily,” he said. “It was a shameful thing to ask men to suffer and die, to persevere through god-awful afflictions and heartache, to endure the dehumanizing experiences that are unavoidable in combat, for a cause that the country wouldn’t support over time and that our leaders so wrongly believed could be achieved at a smaller cost than our enemy was prepared to make us pay.

“No other national endeavor requires as much unshakable resolve as war. If the nation and the government lack that resolve, it is criminal to expect men in the field to carry it alone.”

The only thing that needs to be updated about Mr. McCain’s comments is that we now regularly send women as well as men off to war.

In the case of Afghanistan, we’re sending them off to fight and possibly die in support of a government that is incompetent and riddled with corruption and narcotics traffickers. We’re putting them in the field with Afghan forces that are ill trained, ill equipped and in all-too-many instances unwilling to fight with the courage and tenacity of the American forces. And we’re sending them off to engage in a mishmash of a mission that alternates incoherently between aggressively fighting insurgents and the admirable but unachievable task of nation-building in a society in which most Americans are clueless about the history, culture, politics and mores.

During the campaign Obama supported a return to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. But that was really about a return to focus on Al Qaeda and their ability to attack the US. Obama has actually done so, getting the Pakistanis to deal with their own internal threat and using intelligence and law enforcement to disrupt core leadership and satellite plots. Adding to that a nation-building effort in a country without a functioning government does not have to be part of the program. And of course, there's the prime fallacy at work, this notion that saving Afghanistan is connected to denying Al Qaeda a "safe haven," which falls apart upon scrutiny:

However that may be, the 'safe haven' argument just doesn't seem to add up. The safe havens or rather the training camps in the safe havens, where so many would-be terrorists apparently did an endless stream of calisthenics on those iconic monkey bars, were neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the 9/11 attacks. They were funded through too loosely guarded global financial networks, planned and organized in cities in Europe and executed right here in the USA. You certainly wouldn't want the Taliban again more or less openly hosting al Qaida or bin Laden and his main associates, which would allow them to operate more openly and presumably more easily communicate with their conspirators. But even if the Taliban again ruled the country, it's difficult to imagine that with our forces in the region and our army of drones, we'd have much problem raining down a ton of ordinance the first time they really put up their head.

This is known popularly as a containment strategy, one that says we can protect the country without a 100,000-odd military troop commitment to a country that is rejecting our presence and has no means to carry out the future we seem to be planning for them.

I don't see why we have to assume that the world remains static. We stepped away from Afghanistan at a crucial point to go fight an unnecessary war in Iraq, yes; but that doesn't mean that we return focus with Afghanistan in the exact same state as before. The Taliban are essentially a popular front insurgency now, not a group of radicalists, and Al Qaeda is not nearly as robust as before. We are not viewed as any kind of liberators in Afghanistan, and the government is despised. We don't have the same opportunities as we did in 2002-2003. Therefore, we can leave, and pursue a containment strategy, and end this fiction of bringing democracy to the Khyber Pass.

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