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.

9 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

Vigil I don't know that the trail has gone cold with regard to bin Laden. It is a safe bet that he is more likely to be in the mountains of Pakistan than in a subdivision in New Jersey.

Secondly, just finding bin Laden won't stop al Qaeda. He may be the head of the snake but cutting it off won't kill the snake. The symbolic value of his capture however cannot be underestimated, so let's hope he really isn't being held prisoner in the basement of the WH to be trotted out at the Republican convention.

Third there is little evidence other than that penned by some anti-war lefties that the Afghanistan Alliance is falling apart. The world has a stake in the outcome of this war and everything I have read leads me to believe the commitment is strong indeed.

Finally I see you make yet another comparison to the Vietnam war. I don't agree. There is no comparison, either ideologically or geographically to the Vietnam conflict. We actually have an uneasy alliance with Pakistan and can bring some heavy pressure to bear once our country is seen as strong and purpose driven. When Dubya walks out and Obama'/Clinton walk in I think you will be surprised at what you see happening not only in the Middle East but in the world.

Obama\Clinton '08

8/07/2008 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

I actually have no idea if the situation in Afghanistan has moved beyond any fix. More troops and development aid is needed but our biggest enemy in that country has been ourselves and our actions in Iraq. Until we see a Obama/Clark or Obama/Kaine team in office I'm not going to give up yet. In all honesty Afghanistan is the one place we can't afford to lose.

8/07/2008 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger Bob Keller said...

Fascinating. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone....

If vigilante is right (and I think he may well be right) I suggest we elect Obama (but Clark will never be part of that picture).

If we really, really want to "win" in Afghanistan, No matter the cost, we need to elect McCain.

8/07/2008 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

To paraphrase Wesley Clark McCain is not necessarily qualified to be CIC because he was a jet jockey and then a POW 40 years. I find Obama to be far more stable than McBush, and therefore more qualified to, with the help of his advisors, run the war in Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter.

8/08/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

40 years ago that is:-)

8/08/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Utah Savage said...

Vig, this is a fine piece. I say that not just because I agree with you, but because you aren't the only smart informed person saying it. We need to fix our own house.

8/08/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Wizard brings up an important thought:

If we really, really want to "win" in Afghanistan, No matter the cost, we need to elect McCain.

Most strategic thinkers, be they civilian statesmen or military professionals, would agree that there are very few national goals which merit pursuit of victory 'no matter the cost'. Wars for national independence and defense and civil wars are three such situations. Let's keep in mind that the Taliban did not attack us on 9-11. Al Qaeda attacked us. For their hosting of al Qaeda, Mullah Omar and his Taliban fully deserved being severely punished. That has been done. They were knocked out of power. The question for Wizard is, do we have to further punish the Taliban, "no matter what the cost"?

8/09/2008 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Bob Keller said...

vigilante asks "The question for Wizard is, do we have to further punish the Taliban, "no matter what the cost"?"

My answer, probably like yours, is NO

I believe that Obama could and would probably negotiate a reasonable settlement in Afghanistan. And frankly, I'm not sure it's even possible to win.

Remember that I was the lone ranger (in this crowd) that strongly supported the "surge" in Iraq (and I still do). But I just don't think a similar surge is Afghanistan would work, with either Obama or McCain in the Commander's chair.

So I think we might need a real statesman to resolve this situation and Obama is likely to fill that role better than McCain.

8/09/2008 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, is not on board. Zbig says:

I think we're literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy....When we first went into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, we were actually welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Afghans. They did not see us as invaders, as they saw the Soviets.

However, Brzezinski noted that just as the Soviets were able to delude themselves that they had a loyal army of communist-sympathizers who would transform the country, the U.S.-led forces may now be making similar mistakes. He said that the conduct of military operations "with little regard for civilian casualties" may accelerate the negative trend in local public opinion regarding the West's role. "It's just beginning, but it's significant," Brzezinski said.

His own program for improving the state of affairs in Afghanistan -- where U.S. casualties have surpassed those in Iraq for two months now -- revolves around pragmatism. European allies are the biggest stakeholders. He believes Europe should bribe Afghan farmers not to produce poppies used for heroin since "it all ends up in Europe." Moreover, he thinks the tribal warlords can be bought off with bribes, with the endgame being the isolation of Al-Qaeda from a Taliban that is

"not a united force, not a world-oriented terrorist movement, but a real Afghan phenomenon.

Brzezinski, who has endorsed Obama, says,

if McCain is president and if his Secretary of State is Joe Lieberman and his Secretary of Defense is [Rudolph] Giuliani, we will be moving towards the World War IV that they have been both favoring and predicting...

In a potential Obama cabinet, Brzezinski would prefer

Sen. Chuck Hagel... I would like to see a bipartisan cabinet. I think we need one very badly -- and we did well in the Cold War when we had one...


8/09/2008 02:27:00 PM  

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