Thursday, August 07, 2008

Re-Thinking Afghanistan

"He who would defend everything ends up defending nothing."
(Advice to his generals
by Frederick the Great,
the 18th-century Prussian monarch who transformed his kingdom
into the modern German state)
I was once all-aboard with George W. Bush and his vendetta against "terrorists of global reach". When he gave that 20-September 2001 speech I was with him. I believed that if there were to be a silver lining in the clouds of smoke over New York City, it was going to be a revolution in American foreign policy.

In my hope, I was audacious enough to believe that American foreign policy was poised on the precipice of change in the direction of 'an even handedness' with respect to Israel and Palestine. Naively, I believed 'global reach' meant reaching to our shores, not to each and every shore. Palestine only had to do with terrorists of local or even of only regional reach. The PLA and Hamas, were locked into the non-global goals of liberating the West Bank and Gaza. Even Hezbollah's goals were limited to Lebanonese politics and to liberating Lebanon's turf occupied by Israel. Motivated by the overriding sense of crisis, it appeared to me that George Bush was going to lean on the Israelis to stop their ethnic cleansing of Palestinian lands and even coerce a two-state solution, which could be the beginning of a regional thaw and détente in this tinderbox. If there were to be a road to Baghdad, it was going to have to run through Jerusalem, because without making friends and allies in the neighborhood, it wasn't going to be easy to make progress on changing out Saddam Hussein's regime.

But Afghanistan was different. Afghanistan was on the front burner. Osama admitted to having attacked us. His base, al Qaeda, had trained and organized the 911 strike force. The Taliban government gave aid, protection, and comfort to al Qaeda. Thus , to my vindictive and nationalistic mind, if all of Afghanistan did not become instantly paved, our GOP leaders in Washington weren't doing their jobs. The attack on the World Trade Center was our second Pearl Harbor: retaliation, revenge, and retribution were mandated from a great power - especially massive retaliation and a determined and sustained pursuit of Osama. I still feel that way.


However, after Bush's six-year detour into Iraq, Osama bin Laden's trail has grown cold. Bush promised us he would get Osama 'dead or alive'. He promised us Osama 'could run but he could not hide'. Some where along the line, Bush admitted to all of us that he "didn't think too much about Osama anymore". By now, it's not known if Osama is running or hiding or not. It's not clear to us that he hasn't died a peaceful and natural death with a smile of satisfaction on his lips. Maybe somewhere in Pakistan.

Early on, our NATO allies were sympathetic and united with us. Article IV (An attack on one is an attack on all) kicked in. But Bush's senseless and unprovoked invasion and interminable occupation of Iraq has poisoned the well of Allied unity. Today, there is wide spread resentment in Europe and Canada about the Afghanistan mission, predictably because our government hasn't cared enough about it to send its very best. Instead it has squandered our limited resources of blood and treasure in the deserts of Mesopotamia. That's why Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon say, Of Course Iraq Made It Worse:
No doubt the United States would have had a serious struggle against radical Islam after Sept. 11 under any circumstances. But the occupation of Iraq, by appearing to confirm bin Laden’s arguments about America’s antipathy toward the Muslim world, has had an incendiary effect and made matters dramatically worse.

The invasion of Iraq was the wrong answer to the terrorist challenge, for which we will pay a high price for years to come. The continued need to defend that move by the administration and its partisans is preventing the nation from crafting the necessary strategy to meet the terrorist challenge and make Americans safer. The evidence is at hand.
Barack Obama has been consistently right in maintaining that since 911, Afghanistan has always been the central front on terrorism. However, after seven years of desultory and half-hearted effort by the Busheney presidency, the Afghanistan theatre has morphed from its original concept of the pursuit of bin Laden and his merry band of outlaws. Mission creep has acquired the goals of re-defeating the Taliban and destroying the opium poppy industry.

I am thinking it's too late in the day to think about surging in Afghanistan. According to U.S. counter insurgency doctrine, however, Afghanistan would require at least 400,000 troops to even have a chance of "winning" the war. Adding another 10,000 U.S. troops will have virtually no effect.

I hate to see Barack Obama making campaign promises he can't keep as President. Expanding the war into Pakistan seems like a repeat of the attempt to rescue the Vietnamese war with invasions/bombings of Laos and Cambodia. Remember the deeper disasters those desperate gambits produced?

As Frederick the Great says, we can't defend everything. Our window of opportunity to fix Afghanistan has passed. There are simply not enough dollars and boots left to put on the ground. My concern is that Obama not be blamed in 2012 for the inevitable negotiated conclusion with the Taliban.

The Obama-Clark administration should make it clear to all Americans from the start that the Busheney era has been the Humpty-Dumpty Presidency:

Busheney sat on the wall,
Busheney had a great fall.
All of NATO's horses

All of NATO's men
Couldn't put Busheney's mess
Back together again.