One of the things military officers do more regularly than they like to admit is play “you bet your bars”. The ‘bars’ referred too are usually captain bars, but it applies at all levels of command. Essentially it means you find yourself in a situation where you lay your career on the line with a decision you make. If the situation works out well, then it’s all good. If not, you’ve “bet your bars” and lost and your career is most likely over. They aren’t all life or death situations. Sometimes they’re situations in which you cannot morally or ethically continue to do what you are being ordered to do because you cannot support the mission as structured. You feel ethically obligated to take a stand.
General Stanley McChrystal is in a “you bet your stars” situation as the commander in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio is reporting that word is out that if McChrystal doesn’t get the “resources” he’s requested, he’ll resign his command:
Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal’s team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn’t given sufficient resources (read “troops”) to implement a change of direction in Afghanistan:
Adding to the frustration, according to officials in Kabul and Washington, are White House and Pentagon directives made over the last six weeks that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, not submit his request for as many as 45,000 additional troops because the administration isn’t ready for it.
In the last two weeks, top administration leaders have suggested that more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and then called that suggestion “premature.” Earlier this month, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “time is not on our side”; on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the public “to take a deep breath.”
In Kabul, some members of McChrystal’s staff said they don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.
Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he’d stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.
“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”
On Thursday, Gates danced around the question of when the administration would be ready to receive McChrystal’s request, which was completed in late August. “We’re working through the process by which we want that submitted,” he said.
The entire process followed by the military in implementing a change of course in Afghanistan is far different, and bizarrely so, from the process it followed in changing strategy in Iraq.
Read the whole Roggio article.
Some may find such a “leak” of his intentions to be an act of petulance. Far from it – if his staff didn’t know this about McChrystal, I’d have been more surprised. After all it was his staff who was integral in putting together the confidential assessment that was leaked to the press.
What this underscores is the depth of feeling and commitment to their plan that McChrystal and his staff have. McChrystal is laying it all on the line and I’m not at all surprised to find out that if his minimums are not met and he’s not given the tools he thinks he needs to succeed, he’ll refuse to be a party to what he would consider a decision to fail and resign.
I’d expect nothing less from him. The politicans may be comfortable with putting more soldiers and Marines at risk, but he’ll refuse to be a party to it. Frankly, his soldiers would expect nothing less from him.
Politically this leak may be viewed as disloyalty. I’m not sure how, but it wouldn’t surprise me. If I were CINC I wouldn’t want a general in a major command who wasn’t willing to “bet his stars” in a situation. I would expect this to be his position. Gen. McChrystal’s professional assessment is his word and bond. He stakes his professional reputation in such a document, saying if given what he requests, he’ll succeed. He takes full ownership of the battle at that point.
But he also bluntly points out that if the request is denied, failure will result. In that case, he has no ethical requirement to simply salute and go down with the ship. In fact, his professional ethics require him to stand up and refuse to participate in something he thinks will not only fail but get his soldiers needlessly killed while doing so. That refusal will come via his resignation from command.
I respect that very much. I’m going to be interested to see how this is handled now, politically. But this adds a new dimension to the politics of the situation and it puts even more pressure on an untried and inexperienced CINC. We’ll all learn much more about the man in that position as this plays out. Despite my ideological differences with him and his agenda, I’m hoping there’s something within him that makes him step up to the plate on Afghanistan and lead. He has got to decide very soon what the strategy the US will follow in Afghanistan will be – commit to McChrystal’s plan or pull out. No other strategy is acceptable. It is one or the other. None of this status quo while politicians debate whether or not to commit to a strategy. The status quo isn’t working and it is getting good men and women killed while they dally.
President Obama must clearly commit to either “success” as defined by McChrystal’s plan or pulling out in an orderly fashion and leaving Afghanistan to its own devices.
Unfortunately, to this point, I’ve seen nothing to indicate he understands that or that’s he capable of making such a monumental decision in the timeframe necessary.
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As someone who just said goodbye to his son this weekend as he deploys to Afghanistan, I’m much more interested in that war than I might usually be. As it happens, General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment has been excerpted by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It is a rather blunt assessment – he needs more forces or we risk “mission failure”.
Let me begin this by saying I don’t care if you are for or against our being in Afghanistan – we’re there. Staying or leaving are obviously the two options we have at this point. The present political leadership told everyone who would listen as they were campaigning for the job that Afghanistan was the “good war” and the “necessary war” and we needed to prosecute it with an eye on eliminating the threat al Qaeda posed and removing the country as a safe-haven. Given the circumstances and situation there that is a very difficult mission fraught with not only danger but obviously requiring a real commitment in blood and treasure.
Faced with a growing and more adept insurgent foe, a corrupt and incompetent host nation government, and a neighboring state under both duress and threat from the same enemy, the situation that confronts both the military and civilian leadership is an extremely difficult one. But, as McChrystal notes, “While the situation is serious, success if still achievable”.
Note that the word used is “success”, not “victory”. I’m not one to quibble about those words. Victory is used in a military sense. Victory is success. But we all know that while the military is an integral part of any success we might have there, ultimately it can’t “win” the day by itself. Success will be defined as leaving a sovereign nation capable of governing and defending itself when we eventually leave. We may not like that definition, we may not like the fact that we’re again engaged in nation building and we may not like the fact that such an endeavor is going to take years, possibly decades to achieve – but that is the situation we now find ourselves in. If we were to abandon Afghanistan now, we’d see it quickly revert to the state it was in 2001 – ruled by Islamic fundamentalists and a safe-haven for our most avowed enemies.
We have to decide now whether or not we’re going to commit to the “long war” to achieve the success I’ve outlined or whether we, like many nations before us, will leave Afghanistan to its fate and suffer the consequences such an abandonment may bring in the future.
It Is “Fish Or Cut Bait” Time
Our national leadership must now make that hard decision. This is no time for equivocation. It is no time for years worth of study and debate. General McChrystal makes that very clear in his assessment:
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
And he makes clear another very important point, one that the civilian leadership needs to understand.
“Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”
Prior to the surge in Iraq, the same sort of perception existed within the Iraqi population. Until we made a firm commitment to stay and protect them, Iraq did not begin to improve. Gen. McChrystal is simply noting the same dynamic understandably exists in Afghanistan. He’s also tactfully saying that we must quickly prove to the population of Afghanistan that we are committed to protecting them while they do what is necessary to empower themselves, their government and their military to a level that they can protect themselves.
Step one in that process is to quickly ensure that the commitment to do that is clear and the forces necessary to do it are forthcoming. That has got to come from national leadership and it has to be said in precise and unequivocal language. Unfortunately, given this weekend’s performance, our national leadership has claimed to be “skeptical” about the need for more troops in the country. The time for debate is rapidly coming to a close. A decision must be made, and in relative terms, it must be made quickly. Whatever it ends up being it should be aimed at one of the two options I’ve outlined – successs or abandonment of the effort.
What Has To Change
Obviously that is all dependent upon the decision reached by the national leadership, however General McChrystal recognizes some rather daunting problems in the situation within the country and how we’re fighting the war.
The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”
All of those things, then, must change for the positive. As our experience in Iraq tells us, that’s a very difficult and time consuming job, especially when we talk about changing the culture of governance, stopping corruption and abuse of power and connecting the government to the people. As you might imagine, that’s not a job for the military, but, instead the State Department and various of our other government agencies. So the question isn’t just are we willing to commit the soldiers necessary to effectively conduct COIN, but are we willing to commit the civilians necessary to properly establish a functioning government in a nation which has never had one?
Without that sort of commitment, we can send all the soldiers we have for as long as we want too but we’ll never achieve the success necessary to leave Afghanistan.
McChrystal further notes:
“Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.”
Our civilians must understand that too because it all combines to result in a “crisis of confidence among the Afghans” per McChrystal. Until that perception is changed, the crisis of confidence will remain the most difficult roadblock and continue to make Afghans “reluctant to align with us against the insurgents”.
McChrystal also addresses the Afghan prison system which he claims has become a breeding ground for terrorists:
In a four-page annex on detainee operations, McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become “a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations” against the government and coalition forces. He cites as examples an apparent prison connection to the 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and other attacks. “Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military.”
The assessment says that Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents “represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan Corrections System,” in which “[h]ardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them.”
Noting that the United States “came to Afghanistan vowing to deny these same enemies safe haven in 2001,” he says they now operate with relative impunity in the prisons. “There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan,” his assessment says.
Obviously segregation of terrorists and/or terrorist suspects is the short term solution, but the fact the situation exists simply underscores how poorly run the civilian government of Afghanistan is at the moment.
The Military Plan
Gen. McChrystal bases his plan on this premise:
“Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”
That has then put the ISAF in the situation that it is “not adequately executing the basics” of counterinsurgency by putting the Afghan people first. … ISAF personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army” … “Key personnel in ISAF must receive training in local languages.”
He believes that the military operational culture must change:
He also says that coalition forces will change their operational culture, in part by spending “as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases.” Strengthening Afghans’ sense of security will require troops to take greater risks, but the coalition “cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people.”
McChrystal warns that in the short run, it “is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase.”
It is here, however, where we bump up against what is a key political point. Is the current leadership willing to accept that increase in casualties to do the necessary job? The word is there is little support for increasing the troop strength in Afghanistan within the Congressional leadership. That will only make the job harder and more dangerous for those who are there. If the operational culture is changed and we see what troops are in country outside the wire and more exposed, the casualty counts may increase anyway, with or without the additional troops.
The last and equally as important a task as protecting the population is expanding and standing up a competent Afghan army and police force:
He proposes speeding the growth of Afghan security forces. The existing goal is to expand the army from 92,000 to 134,000 by December 2011. McChrystal seeks to move that deadline to October 2010.
Overall, McChrystal wants the Afghan army to grow to 240,000 and the police to 160,000 for a total security force of 400,000, but he does not specify when those numbers could be reached.
He also calls for “radically more integrated and partnered” work with Afghan units.
As we learned in Iraq, this is an exceptionally difficult job that requires extraordinary effort on the part of our trainers.
The Broader War
McChrystal also gives a very detailed assessment of the insurgency. A couple of interesting points:
Overall, McChrystal provides this conclusion about the enemy: “The insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much due to a lack of ISAF presence. . . . ”
The insurgents make money from the production and sale of opium and other narcotics, but the assessment says that “eliminating insurgent access to narco-profits — even if possible, and while disruptive — would not destroy their ability to operate so long as other funding sources remained intact.”
Or, let’s not get sidetracked with a war on opium when all it will do is further alienate the population and make no difference at all to the war effort.
While the insurgency is predominantly Afghan, McChrystal writes that it “is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI,” which is its intelligence service. Al-Qaeda and other extremist movements “based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support.”
Or, Pakistan is a critical key to any success in Afghanistan and should be worked just as hard as any effort in Afghanistan.
But the most important point to be taken from the McChrystal assessment is one that is found throughout the document:
“Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.”
The ball is now in the civilian leadership’s court and the future of our effort in Afghanistan must be decided very soon if we’re going to commit to “success”.
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Just when it seems we’re putting al Qaeda between a rock and a hard place, we’re seeing talk about leaving Afghanistan. While we may feel we’ve a way to go against the Taliban, we seem to be succeeding against our number one enemy – al Qaeda:
Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.
Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.
Its activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.
It is getting harder and harder to recruit “martyrs”. And, apparently, the organization has been so brutal that it is welcome in few areas. Meanwhile drone attacks continue to decimate its leadership. And those they do recruit are all but driven off once they get to their training site:
Interrogation documents seen by the Guardian show that European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.
In other words, they become disillusioned cannon fodder. And, of course, word gets back and the supply of more cannon fodder slows to a veritable trickle.
This is called having an opponent on the ropes. We now need to do what is necessary to knock them out for good.
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A lot is happening, not that you’d know it unless you’re paying attention.
The North Koreans are happily enriching uranium again, as are the Iranians. We’re in the middle of completely screwing over Honduras while ignoring what Venezuela is in the middle of doing.
And what is that you ask? Well the Washington Post fills us in:
But Mr. Chavez has clearly forged a bond with one leader who is as reckless and ambitious as he is: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The growing fruits of this relationship, and its potential consequences for U.S. security, have not gotten as much attention as they deserve.
Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.
Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been investigating the arrangements, says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”
“The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles,” Mr. Morgenthau said in a briefing this week in Washington at the Brookings Institution. “The mysterious manufacturing plants, controlled by Iran deep in the interior of Venezuela, give even greater concern.”
Big deal. I mean, look at what Honduras has done.
Mr. Morgenthau’s report was brushed off by the State Department, which is deeply invested in the Chávez-is-no-threat theory. State “will look into” Mr. Morgenthau’s allegations, spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Chávez is off to Moscow, where, according to the Russian press, he plans to increase the $4 billion he has already spent on weapons by another $500 million or so. Mr. Chávez recently promised to buy “several battalions” of Russian tanks. Not a threat? Give him time.
And, of course, as a little jab at the US, Chavez recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and buying tanks in Russia.
North Korea, as mentioned, is back to building nuclear bombs. But don’t worry, all the signs are present that they’re willing, once again, to do a little bartering. They’ve announced they’re open to two-party talks with the US. That means, they’ll talk and the US will pay for them to quit making bombs. And they’ll agree until the next time they need a little cash.
But don’t worry – Honduras is going to pay the price for their constitutional misbehavior. And besides, our president gets to play “King of the World” in a couple of weeks might even have the chance to give Moammar Qaddafi a hug while he is at it.
Yup – it’s looking good out there.
Call in number: (718) 664-9614
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Subject(s): What will President Obama say Wednesday night. Van Jones – he goes after Glenn Beck with a boycott and it is Jones who ends up going home. Afghanistan – the popularity of the war is waning just as Obama is upping the forces there. What’s the prognosis?
UPDATE: Technical difficulties prevent this week. We’ll be back next week.
UPDATE [Dale]: Actually, we won’t be back next week. Or the week after that. I’ll be in Alaska. Podcast will resume after get back, in three weeks.
Yes, I’m again addressing presidential leadership, or the lack thereof. While it appears that President Obama has finally decided he has to “step up” in the health care insurance reform debate, he’s seems to be AWOL in that department concerning Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama lays it out pretty succinctly:
I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, “the good war” has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool’s errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration’s support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).
Of course the assumptions Abu makes in his paragraph above are only valid if there’s someone in charge and leading the effort. A decision was supposedly made in March, in terms of policy and goals, and the assumption was made it would be executed. But apparently that’s not the case. And, as in the case of health
care insurance reform, the evident lack of leadership has caused there to be a noticeable shift in the debate and a tremendous drop in support for the war effort. Again, a major policy issue is left to twist in the wind for lack of a leader.
Abu Muqawama, obviously recognizing this problem, throws out a solution:
What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it’s understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.
This is a very critical issue that needs to be resolved now. That means the Commander-in-Chief needs to act like one and do what is necessary to resolve this policy issue. He needs to make a decision, give guidance to the proper agencies which directs them in how he wants his decision implemented and, finally, take responsibility for the war.
As a certain someone is learning, governing and actually leading is much harder than standing off to the side and tossing bricks while regaling everyone with how much better you could do the job. Thus far, the job performance has been anything but impressive.
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For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.
As usual it has to do with political will.
The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”
Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:
The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.
Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.
The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.
It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.
Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.
Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.
Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.
However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.
Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.
Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:
[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.
That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.
And it may never be done either.
Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.
We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.
And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.
Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.
There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:
Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.
And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:
If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.
What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.
If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.
Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.
If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.
If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.
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This, at least in my mind, has never been a matter of “if”, but instead a matter of “when”. According to the Washington Post, the “when”, has occurred and according to their poll the majority of Americans are now against the war in Afghanistan.
Popularly known, even by Barack Obama, as the “good war” or the “necessary war”, the Washington Post is now saying popular sentiment has turned against it:
A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).
This change of perception has been driven by the left, who previously claimed that Afghanistan was indeed the only proper war to be fighting:
Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.
Among the right, the war there is still seen as worth fighting and winning:
Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).
Interestingly, as the article states, this is a “rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies”. And it pits both Obama and the GOP against the left and, I would guess, a Congress which will eventually reflect the constituency reflected in the numbers above. There’s a reason for that.
Congress is on a “dollar hunt” right now to pay for their favorite domestic agenda items. Afghanistan (and Iraq) are places where some dollars can be stolen. Popular support and money should be more than enough impetus to begin the “cut and run” mantra in earnest.
Apparently for the left, since it is no longer a blunt rhetorical instrument with which to beat George Bush over the head, Afghanistan is no longer the “good and necessary war”.
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Subject(s): Honduras, WaPo selling access, health care, Iraq/Afghanistan (withdrawal from cities/new offensive). Oh yeah, and Sarah Palin.
And after reading this, it won’t be hard to do:
Pakistan’s top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, is buying children as young as 7 to serve as suicide bombers in the growing spate of attacks against Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. targets, U.S. Defense Department and Pakistani officials say.
A Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said the going price for child bombers was $7,000 to $14,000 – huge sums in Pakistan, where per-capita income is about $2,600 a year.
“[Mehsud] has turned suicide bombing into a production output, not unlike [the way] Toyota outputs cars,” a U.S. Defense Department official told reporters recently. He spoke on the condition that he not be named because of ongoing intelligence efforts to catch Mehsud, a prime target for a U.S. and Pakistani anti-Taliban campaign.
People like Mehsud claim to represent a religion of peace and act on its behalf. Yet no religion of peace would ever sanction or condone actions such as this. Perhaps it is time we quit accepting their stated claims that they’re Islamic warriors and call them what they deserve to be called – animals barely worth the price of a bullet.
Rarely will you find me using the term “exterminate”. But when I read things like this, I truly believe that the Taliban are more than deserving of complete and utter extermination. This is a “seed” which needs to germinate no further.
God speed to the 4,000 Marines who’ve just launched Operation Khanjar. May their aim be true enough to bring down this miserable swine somewhere along the line.