Archive for Thursday, December 3, 2009

Afghanistan plan unlikely to succeed

December 3, 2009


A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.” Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan.

But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. And Obama’s second new Afghanistan policy in less than nine months strikingly resembles his predecessor’s plan for Iraq, which was: As Iraq’s security forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.

Having vowed to “finish the job,” Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy.

Obama’s surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” banner will be unfurled 19 months from now — when Afghanistan’s security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen.

In a spate of mid-November interviews — while participating in the president’s protracted rethinking of policy — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described America’s Afghanistan goal(s) somewhat differently. They are “to defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies” because “al-Qaida and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaida still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper and director of a lot of what goes on.” And: “We want to do everything we can to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida.” And: “We want to get the people who attacked us.” And: “We want to get al-Qaida.” And: “We are in Afghanistan because we cannot permit the return of a staging platform for terrorists.”

But al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan do not number in the tens of thousands, or even thousands. Or perhaps even hundreds. Although “the people who attacked us” were al-Qaida, the threat that justifies today’s escalation is, Clinton says, a “syndicate of terror” of which al-Qaida is just an important part. But is Afghanistan central to the syndicate?

George W. Bush waged preventive war in Iraq regarding (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Obama is waging preventive war in Afghanistan to prevent it from again becoming “a staging platform for terrorists,” which Somalia, Yemen or other sovereignty near-vacuums also could become. To prevent the “staging platform” scenario, U.S. forces might have to be engaged in Afghanistan for decades before its government can prevent that by itself.

Before Tuesday, the administration had said (through White House spokesman Robert Gibbs) that U.S. forces will not be there “another eight or nine years.” Tuesday the Taliban heard a distant U.S. trumpet sounding withdrawal beginning in 19 months. Also hearing it were Afghans who must decide whether to bet their lives on the Americans, who will begin striking their tents in July 2011, or on the Taliban, who are not going home, because they are at home.

Many Democrats, who think the $787 billion stimulus was too small and want another one (but by another name), are flinching from the $30 billion one-year cost of the Afghan surge. Considering that the GM and GMAC bailouts ($63 billion) are five times bigger than Afghanistan’s GDP ($12 billion), Democrats seem to be selective worriers about deficits. Of course, their real worry is how to wriggle out of their endorsement of the “necessary” war in Afghanistan, which was a merely tactical endorsement intended to disparage the “war of choice” in Iraq.

The president’s party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans’ patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan’s limitless demands for it. This will not end well.

A case can be made for a serious, meaning larger and more protracted, surge. A better case can be made for a radically reduced investment of resources and prestige in that forlorn country. Obama has not made a convincing case for his tentative surgelet.

George Orwell said the quickest way to end a war is to lose it. But Obama’s halfhearted embrace of a half-baked nonstrategy — briefly feinting toward the Taliban (or al-Qaida, or a “syndicate of terror”) while lunging for the exit ramp — makes a protracted loss probable.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 4 months ago

Some points and discussion that some may have missed that did play on morning radio news:

War Escalation

  • More War: Obama Unveils Plan to Send 30,000 More Troops to Afghanistan President Obama announced Tuesday night that he would send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan in the coming months, bringing the total number of American troops occupying Afghanistan to nearly 100,000. Describing the war as “not just America’s war,” Obama vowed to start bringing the troops back home by the middle of 2011.[includes rush transcript]

  • Rep. Kucinich on Afghanistan War: "We're Acting Like a Latter Day Version of the Roman Empire" As President Obama unveils his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, we speak with Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich. “The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt,” says Kucinich. “We have money for Wall Street and money for war but we don’t have money for work…for healthcare. We have to start asking ourselves, ‘Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?’”[includes rush transcript]

Vietnam Vet, Scholar Andrew Bacevich on Obama War Plan: "The President Has Drawn the Wrong Lessons From His Understanding of the History of War" Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and a Vietnam war veteran who spent twenty-three years in the US Army, responds to Presidnt Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and the author of “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Nir Rosen: "We Managed to Make the Taliban Look Good" Nir Rosen, independent journalist and fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security, responds to President Obama decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Rosen has covered both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. His latest articles cover the current state of the US occupations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.[includes rush transcript]

notajayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

“Ashraf Haidari, political counselor and acting defense attaché at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, on Wednesday said flatly that 18 months is “not enough” time to adequately train the Afghan security forces, which he said are mostly illiterate and lack vital experience and equipment.”

“Yet, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who last month warned lawmakers against a quick, catch-all solution for Afghanistan, said that even with more trainers and funding, the Afghan National Army is limited in how fast it can grow. Logistics, equipment and intelligence capabilities take years to develop, even under ideal circumstances, he noted.”

“Kimberly Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, who was a member of a team of advisers to McChrystal last summer, said expecting the surge to lead to immediate improvements may be overly optimistic.”

“The president’s plans call for the 30,000 additional U.S. troops to be in place in Afghanistan by next summer, although administration officials concede that may be an ambitious target. But Kagan said she doubts the flow of new troops into Afghanistan would be as swift as the surge of extra troops into Iraq two years ago, and therefore “decisive” operations against insurgents would not come as quickly.”

Want more?

beawolf 8 years, 4 months ago

"It's pretty obvious that the corrupt liberal media, the looney environmentalists and this administration are all cahoots with each other."....

Tom, Seriously, seek help. You really don't have to live in paranoia all the time. Although I did see black helicopters in your neighborhood last week.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

"Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy."

On the contrary-- it's a very "serious" policy-- Obama's just taking a very up-is-down approach to implementing it. And it'll remain that way until he fires Gates, McChrystal and Petraeus.

ksdivakat 8 years, 4 months ago

I knew this story was gonna be hot.....

canyon_wren 8 years, 4 months ago

I am no Dove, but all this "surgelet" (as Will describes it--a good word!) means is that some more American troops will be killed unnecessarily in the next 18 months just because Obama doesn't know what he is doing.

Joe Hyde 8 years, 4 months ago

Probably we would not be in Afghanistan today if (see documentary "Bush's War") former defense secretary Rumsfeld had not interfered with the CIA's planned attack on al Queda's forces as they were retreating on foot into Tora Bora. The CIA literally had Osama bin Laden and hundreds of al Queda fighters on target lock, and then Rumsfeld butted in and screwed up the whole thing.

As a result of that botched prosecution of an international criminal operation, ever since we've been unable to find bin Laden and kill him, and as a consequence of that failure America's military/industrial complex has profited to a bewildering degree. Surprise, surprise -- a Forever War with an un-findable enemy makes certain Americans filthy rich.

President Obama's simultaneous increase in troop strength combined with an announced exit date can be taken as the equivalent of a bar owner at 1 a.m. yelling out, "Last call for alcohol!" He's letting the fight continue, but the party's almost over and the doors will be closed.

If Obama can pull this off, come 2012 we can all wake up groggy and go puke our guts out in the commode. And then start to ask ourselves why we drank so damn much after 9/11? And how the hell did we let a bunch of radical Arab and American chickenhawks sucker us into this bloody, ferociously costly, god-awful mess?

Catbacker 8 years, 4 months ago

Riverrat - Do not forget that the CIA also had Bin Laden in the crosshairs during a hunting party with a Saudi Prince, but Clinton refused to authorize the kill, fearing the Saudi's would pout.

Satirical 8 years, 4 months ago

While I don't totally agree with George, he presents a very compelling argument. Well written and well reasoned.

Chris Golledge 8 years, 4 months ago

It doesn't matter. If the Taliban has unwavering popular support, we will never defeat them in Afghanistan; anytime is as good as another for leaving. Sooner would be better than later.

If they don't, or if there is any chance that their opponents in Afghanistan can get their act together and gain the popular support, then the sooner the opponents realize they need to quit their infighting and make the Taliban their priority instead of leaving that to the US the better off we will be.

Obama's move seems to be a message to the current government that we will clean the house, one last time, and when we are done, you'd better have your poop in a group.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 4 months ago

Dear Leader's done his own bowing & scraping to the Saudis, hasn't he?

MyName 8 years, 4 months ago

I don't think this is a bad option as it gives the military one last chance to go knock down a few more terrorists before they get out of town. An open ended escalation wasn't going to happen, and a lengthy occupation isn't going to work without more troops.

At least he's giving the idea of leaving some kind of lip service, which is an improvement.

Yawnmower 8 years, 4 months ago

The simplest explanation for the continued war is that the pres received some highly classified info upon taking office. He needs to come out with full disclosure for his reasoning on continuing the efforts.

notajayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

riverat (Joe Hyde) says…

"President Obama's simultaneous increase in troop strength combined with an announced exit date can be taken as the equivalent of a bar owner at 1 a.m. yelling out, “Last call for alcohol!” He's letting the fight continue, but the party's almost over and the doors will be closed."

As anyone who has ever been in the bar business can tell you, making 'last call' is not a strategy for clearing the bar. The fastest way to do that is to pull out the bartenders, turn off the music, and turn on the lights. Yelling 'last call' just means everyone has at least one full drink in their hands to finish when you do that.

deathpenaltyliberal (Anonymous) says…

"The moral relativism of the wingnut right is astounding."

Almost as as*tounding as your own.

While you're talking about "chickenhawks" who "didn't finish the job", dpl, funny you omitted Clinton's Desert Fox, when he tried to get Saddam Hussein with bomb attacks, missed, and walked away. Then again, the major purpose of the exercise was to get his impeachment proceddings off the front page, so who cared?

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