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Afghanistan – It Is Decision Time (update)

It is decision time for our involvement in that country – i.e. whether we continue or whether we pull the bulk of our troops out.

As I said in another post, fish or cut bait. Or, in Texas Hold ‘em parlance, go all in or fold.

Some look at those two very stark options and point out that there are many other options in between. True. But, given how this war has gone, I think those are the only two viable ones. What we’re doing now, which falls squarely between them, isn’t working. And variations on that aren’t going to work any better.

It seems to me we have to either make a concerted and focused effort to again nation build (and all that entails with time, blood and treasure), or we have to decide to leave that up to the Afghan people and concentrate on al Qaeda hunting on a much smaller scale. That, of course, would be the “fold” option.

President Obama is rethinking the Afghanistan strategy he announced a mere 6 months ago in the wake of the recent Afghan election. The allegations of reported fraud have made the administration much less inclined to support the current Afghan government without dramatic changes. I have no problem with that reassessment if it is done with an eye on settling, soon, on one of the two options above. If you read what the Taliban are saying, the Karzai government is one of their best recruiting assets. The corruption and cronyism have isolated that government from the people. Of course, in counter-insurgency doctrine (COIN), the link between the people and their government is critical to success, and that link is only viable if the people support said government. That is increasingly not the case in Afghanistan.

That presents the type of problem that does indeed require reassessment of strategy. We can flood Afghanistan with troops, have them at a one-to-one ratio with the population and provide the security COIN requires. But if that population has no confidence in the viability of its own government, doesn’t support it and doesn’t consider those trying to topple it “the enemy”, the entire effort is doomed.

So essentially the choice facing the administration now is to nation build or withdraw.  Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily mean we quit the fight against al Qaeda.  But for the most part, it would mean quitting the fight against the Taliban.  And I think we all know how that would end.

It is quite a moral dilemma and it is also not an easy decision.  While going “all in” would be the politically unpopular decision here, it would most likely spare the world the spectacle of a Taliban takeover and the resulting barbaric vengeance they would inflict on the population.  There is only one nation which will bear the blame in the eyes of the rest of the world even if most of the administration’s political base would support the decision.  The US would again be charged with not finishing something it started.  And that, as we’ve learned in the past, is something that other rogue leaders see as a weakness they can exploit.  As usual it will be seen not as a weakness of our military, but, if they wait long enough, the eventual weakening of our political will.

Whatever decision the administration makes, it must avoid the status quo.  That’s not working now and it won’t work in the future.  Just as Iraq required a dramatic change in strategy to succeed, so does Afghanistan.  If the decision is to continue with the current troop levels and a few cosmetic changes here and there, then the administration will be committing us to a strategy of failure. We owe it to our brave men and women there not to play political games with their lives.  Whatever decision is made it must be made very soon, within the next month or so, and must be devoid of politics.  Delays in making such a decision are not acceptable.

It is time for this administration to step up, make a decision and let the political chips fall where they may.  Don’t put it on the back burner.  The time is now to decide whether we’re going all in or we’re going to fold in Afghanistan.  At a minimum, we owe our military that.

UPDATE: Well this is encouraging.  The CINC hasn’t talked to his commander in Afghanistan in 70 days because, I guess, he’s been so busy. But, as it turns out, he has the time to fly off to Copenhagen and shill for the Chicago Olympics.  And they still wonder why Democrats have such a great reputation when it comes to matters of national security.

~McQ

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35 Responses to Afghanistan – It Is Decision Time (update)

  • The many other options between fish or cut bait would put us in a Vietnam situation. Yes, we did put upwards of 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam but still the politicans would not take the war to North Vietnam. The result was a lessening of the American political will. The rest is history.

  • You think with this important decision to make, President Obama would have talked to General McChrystal more then once.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2009/09/28/once/

  • For Obama, this is a hard decision, so I expect he will make a few more appearances on Leno and Letterman.

  • Obama will cut & run to appease his Marxist base.

  • The only responsible thing that Obama can do in Afghanistan is to go with what Petraeus and McChrystal recommend.

    Now, that might sound like I’m sacrificing the civilian control of the military to strictly military judgments by the military.

    What I’m really saying there is that Obama isn’t competent to make even a wrong judgment. Petraeus and McChrystal could be wrong, but they will be wrong based on their best analysis of the situation in Afghanistan. That analysis, right or wrong, will be the best one available.

    As for Robert Gates, he’s in the uncomfortable position of being a bureaucrat in a policy job, as he stands between an incompetent commander-in-chief and expert, highly-motivated military leaders in the field.

    The upside for Obama in this will be that the chances are good that Afghanistan would be properly handled. The downside is that the Leftist “antiwar” lie machine that he used to leverage the Democratic nomination for himself will turn on him and attack him if he can’t manage to invoke the “no enemies to the Left” rule to forestall them.

  • Bruce, what happens if we ‘fold’.

    • As I said in the post:

      While going “all in” would be the politically unpopular decision here, it would most likely spare the world the spectacle of a Taliban takeover and the resulting barbaric vengeance they would inflict on the population. There is only one nation which will bear the blame in the eyes of the rest of the world even if most of the administration’s political base would support the decision. The US would again be charged with not finishing something it started. And that, as we’ve learned in the past, is something that other rogue leaders see as a weakness they can exploit. As usual it will be seen not as a weakness of our military, but, if they wait long enough, the eventual weakening of our political will.

    • The Democrats will never again be able to look the American people in the eye on matters of national security, as that refrain from the past will be updated to say ..

      The Democrats lost VietNam and Afghanistan

  • Obama has said on several occasions “he’s not interested in victory”

    Much like the urgency to get Bin Laden is gone, so will be any interest in winning the “good war”

  • Just as Truman didn’t listen to MacArthur, Obama doesn’t need to do what a particular General requests.

    But are there only two options? What about recognizing the utter impossibility of “nation building” in Afghanistan, and the immense cost with unlikely results, but at the same time realizing a need to focus on counter-terrorism and al qaeda? Also, what about Pakistan? If we focus on nation-building, will we have the resources to really handle challenges coming from Pakistan? How about a focus solely on al qaeda and counter-terrorism in the Afghan-Pakistani region and not worrying so much about the Taliban or Afghanistan’s internal politics? Given limited resources and limited American public support, an emphasis on counter-terrorism (meaning some troops will remain in Afghanistan, but with a vastly changed and curtailed mission)might be a viable third way.

    • From the Erb:
      “How about a focus solely on al qaeda and counter-terrorism in the Afghan-Pakistani region and not worrying so much about the Taliban or Afghanistan’s internal politics”

      Tried time and time again in Vietnam and other places. So how did Vietnam work out? … Oh yeah, ….

      What does focusing on AQ and counter terrorism mean to you? Do you actually know or is that based on some article out of Foreign Affairs?

    • “Just as Truman didn’t listen to MacArthur,”

      Actually he did, which is why we ended up going for the Yalu and why the Chinese came in.

    • “Just as Truman didn’t listen to MacArthur, Obama doesn’t need to do what a particular General requests.”

      Certainly MacArthur had to go, but then Truman should have done very nearly all that MacArthur wanted to do–Truman’s failure is seen in the grotesquery of Pyongyang.

      Thanks, Harry

  • “There is only one nation which will bear the blame in the eyes of the rest of the world even if most of the administration’s political base would support the decision. The US would again be charged with not finishing something it started. ”

    Obama’s already done this.

    Maybe Poland and Checkoslovakia aren’t on the nation’s forethoughts, but in the perspective of the world of former Soviet Block nations, what we did last week was just as bad.

    Who would be easier to put down at a later date. An emboldened Taliban or emboldened Russia?

  • Actually I’m pretty sure Truman did listen to MacArthur, and then discarded his advice.

    From all indications, Obama isn’t even listening to his generals to hear what they have to say.

    • That is a bit over the top. You have no indications to support that claim, and in fact every indication is that top levels of the State and Defense department are going over numerous details and reports from the field to develop recommendations. The idea that they aren’t being listened to is preposterous.

      Now if you want to look at a Pentagon that ignored its Generals, and pushed ones out who disagreed with what the civilian leadership wanted, you have to look at Bush and Rumsfeld. Obama is the opposite, he’s shown he takes military advice very seriously — I have no idea why you’d make that kind of outlandish statement.

      • What a joke. Obama is putting more effort in getting the Olympics for Chicago than he is working with his generals in A’stan.

      • Now if you want to look at a Pentagon that ignored its Generals, and pushed ones out who disagreed with what the civilian leadership wanted,

        Oh, you mean like Lincoln did…

        If your Generals don’t support your goals, then they do need to be moved out.

        If McChrystal doesn’t support whatever Obama’s non-existent plan turns out to be, then he should resign his command.

        You have no indications to support that claim

        Other then the fact that McChrystal has stated he’s only talked to Obama ONCE!!

        Then there’s the ever changing value of the Afghanistan discussion. He’s managed to put it on the back burner and vote ‘present’ since he was elected. His actions are just not living up to his campaign rhetoric (I know, surprise, surprise)

  • >>>From all indications, Obama isn’t even listening to his generals to hear what they have to say.

    Well he only talked to him once and that was in a con call.

    • And Clintoon only talked to his CIA Director twice (?) in his entire eight years.

      With the Dem’s, Security ALWAYS takes a backseat to redistributing income.

  • It has been how many years already? Even if Obama goes all in the American people may not wish to wage war in Astan for the next couple of decades. The Afghan ruling class may be quite reluctant to give up what they see as the only way to maintain their standard of living. Sending in more troops is the easy part, and there is no guarantee of success even if we do.

    • I’m not arguing for one or the other, timactual. I’m arguing those are the only viable choices at the moment and he needs to settle on one quickly. And you may very well be right and those concerns may see him decide to leave. Either way, with whichever decision he makes, there will be some pretty significant consequences. He and the country must be prepared to live with them (if he goes all in, he has to be willing to stay “all in” for the duration of his presidency). But what should be clear to everyone one is that kicking the can down the road -i.e. maintaining the status quo – is unacceptable as a decision.

      • In other words, a vote of “PRESENT” is not an option. And to be perfectly clear for this President, should not be an option.

      • I know you are not arguing for one or the other. I am just saying that the results may be the same whichever way he goes, maybe just postponed a couple of years if he decides to go all in. We grabbed the tar baby and there ain’t no way to get rid of it without losing some skin.

  • I agree to timactual that even if Obama goes all in the American people may not wish to wage war in Astan for the next couple of decades and sending in more troops is the easy part and no guarantee of success. So Obama is really having a hard time in this war problem… tsk.. tsk..

  • I believe there are viable third options.

    One of them might be to relax the ROE currently in place but that requires acceptance of the probable increase in collateral civilian deaths. Personally, I think if the fighters are living amongst or fighting from amongst civilians, then they are acceptable collateral damage.

    A second option might be to turn the AF loose. Change the Taliban’s supply routes from rocky roads to dusty bomb craters.

    A third option, and my personal fave, would be to fire McChrystal. He is the one pussy-footing around. He restricted the
    ROE and the CAS. He politicized (or allowed to be politicized) the request for additional troops.

  • Possibly, the reason it’s decision time, as you call it, is that Obama has never taken Afghanistan seriously. When he started during the campaign to try to project Afghanistan and Iraq, which are in fact to different fronts of the same war as different wars , one good, one bad, I called him a liar. And a dangerous one, at that.

    It was, in fact, nothing more than a political ploy for domestic consumption. The left, has already started admitting this.

    What we’re seeing now, is the consequences of taking Afghanistan as lightly as they have Iraq. In short, Obama lied. Gee, big surprise.

  • The problem is NOT military! The problem is nation-building. The problem is that you can’t simply impose a democracy on a country whose people don’t want it (especially the elites) and which lacks a political culture to make it work. The Taliban will just play the same old games. We can win any short term military objective in Afghanistan, we can win every battle. But politically, we can’t achieve the objective of a stable democratic result.

    Staying to focus solely on al qaeda is nothing at all like Vietnam, whoever said that. It would also allow more focus to be put on Pakistan.

    Afghanistan will be a failure if we make nation-building or long term stability within the country the goal. By the way, it was clear that Afghanistan was going this way back in 2005, and President Bush ignored his generals and the warnings. For all the criticisms of Obama, at least he seems more engaged and effective than his predecessor.

  • Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

    I have to agree with that last part .. it should have been done in March.

  • Devil’s advocate argument for a withdrawl, but probably not fast enough for Obama.

    Assume that the corrupt leaders of Aghanistan would like to continue in power. Assume that some of the Taliban are only fighting because its “jihad” against westerners. Assume that some of the Taliban could make a deal with Kabul elites.

    I’d say do whatever it takes and spend enough time to build up enough Afghan forces – then when we leave, I would guess some Taliban would put down their weapons, some would strike deals, and the remaining problem might not be so big as to cause the fall of Afghanistan.

    and a note on corruption….anybody think Pakistan is not corrupt? How about Turkmenistan? I am not sure that’s a real deal killer for the populace of Afghanistan. Its probably the natural order for that country to be corrupt. Sure the Taliban are supposed to be pure as the driven snow, but I would guess they are not really either.

    • The Taliban aren’t as pure as the driven snow by my guess is it isn’t so much that corruption exists, like you say it is probably an accepted part of life there, I’d suggest it maybe the level and type of corruption (linked with cronyism) to which they object.

      • “corruption linked with cronyism” – in an Asian country? I am SHOCKED.

        Also, how about what happens when we leave? Who will be taking our place in the vacuum? Iran in Herat, and Pakistan everywhere else? The ISI would love to get back their “strategic depth” in Pashtun country.

        And weren’t some people in the comments saying Iraq was essentially handed over to the Iranians? But when Obama does it, its brilliant.

  • taying to focus solely on al qaeda is nothing at all like Vietnam, whoever said that

    It is EXACTLY like that, Erb.

    Like it or not until we showed up al qaeda was the defacto government, and still acts as such in some regions as were the VC back in the day. Defeating an enemy in a war of this type, ala Vietnam is impossible, long term. The only way this works is installing a government that has both the ability and desire to deal with the al qaeda problem effectively, both in the short and long term.