National Review Online does a little review of the run up to the announcement by President Obama at the G20 summit concerning Iran and wonders what is going on. For instance, NRO points to Joe Biden 8 days ago. This was in answer to why the US was pulling its missile defense shield from Poland and the Czech Republic:
“[Biden said] Iran — a key concern for the United States — was not a threat.
“I think we are fully capable and secure dealing with any present or future potential Iranian threat,” he told CNN’s Chris Lawrence in Baghdad, where he is on a brief trip.
“The whole purpose of this exercise we are undertaking is to diminish the prospect of the Iranians destabilizing that region in the world. I am less concerned — much less concerned — about the Iranian potential. They have no potential at this moment, they have no capacity to launch a missile at the United States of America,” he said.
So 8 days ago, Iran was a diminished threat that was much less of a concern than previously.
President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain blasted Iran’s construction of a previously unacknowledged uranium enrichment facility and demanded Friday that Tehran immediately fulfill its obligations under international law or risk the imposition of harsh new sanctions.
The new Iranian plant, the country’s second uranium enrichment facility, is believed by U.S. officials to be part of a broad effort by Iran’s leadership to pursue the ability to build nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied having any such goal, insisting that its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. U.S. officials said they believe the Qom plant is not yet operational but is intended to produce highly enriched uranium — suitable for nuclear weapons — and will be capable within months of producing enough material for at least one bomb per year.
Boy, the Obama administration must have just been profoundly misguided and dangerously misinformed about Iran’s capabilities and intentions. Right?
Right – because, as pointed out 8 days ago, the reason the missile defense shield was pulled, per the VP of the US, was because the US considered Iran a much diminished threat. So obviously this is “new” information which has profoundly changed the game and required the US to completely rethink its policy since it has emerged.
@markknoller US officials say Obama first told of Iran secret nuclear plant during the transition — as President-elect. 9/25 10:28 A.M.
WTF? Mark Knoller of CBS says this was something the administration has known for almost a year? So what was all this nonsense about a diminished Iranian threat as a reason to pull the promised missile shield that the administration had promised the Poles and Czechs a mere 6 months before?
Astonishingly incompetent, perilously naive, or deliberately dishonest? Which is it?
I’d suggest all three. And I think that will become alarmingly apparent as this crisis continues to unfold.
I’ll also toss this out there as well – it was saved for a forum in which the President would have the attention of the world focus on him (a much tighter focus than the UN) and staged to maximize that. All politics all the time. He wanted the non-binding non-proliferation resolution from the security council before he took on Iran. Meanwhile Joe Biden’s (and the DoD’s) credibility is left twisting in the wind.
So now the staging has been accomplished and the spotlight turned on the President. That’s the easy part. The usual talking the talk, something at which he’s quite good. Now comes the hard part – walking the walk – something he’s yet to demonstrate he’s capable of doing.
Oh – and where in the world is Hillary Clinton?
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Appearing before microphones at the G-20 conference, the Presidents of the US and France along with the PM of the UK made an announcement concerning Iran:
President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.
Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.
Essentially the argument is the facility is too big for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes and can only exist to enable the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.
So now Iran has been called out. That’s the easy part. Increased sanctions are promised. That’s the hard part. Russia may possibly come on board (we’ll see if the unilateral decision to remove the missile defense shield from eastern Europe), but China is an unknown (although the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it was not in favor of increased sanctions). That’s assuming the Obama administration plans on working all of this through the UN.
One of the sanctions that the US and others are considering is one which would restrict the importation of gasoline. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, it has very limited refining capacity. It must import most of what it uses. Cutting those imports would seriously effect the country. However Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez, during a recent visit with Iran, promised to provide the regime with gasoline. That could set up a confrontation between the US (and others) and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez might finally get the confrontation with the US he’s been claiming was coming very soon.
This is about to get complicated and nasty. December is the date in which France has demanded compliance with international demands. In the interim, both sides are going to be scrambling to line up their allies. And then there’s the wild card – Israel.
This will be an interesting couple of months. But one question I have – why wasn’t this presented to the UN before the president of Iran spoke?
UPDATE: Dale sends me a link to this article by Simon Tisdale at the Guardian in reference to this story:
…Now it seems the Iranian regime has been caught red-handed, and clean out of trumps, by the forced disclosure that it is building, if not already operating, a second, secret uranium processing plant.
The revelation will bring a triumphal roar of “told you so!” from Bush era neoconservatives in the US to hawkish rightwingers in Israel. The likes of former vice-president Dick Cheney and UN envoy John Bolton, and the current Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, have long insisted that Tehran’s word could not be trusted.
Yet the argument about who was right and who was wrong about Iran is hardly important at this juncture…
As Dale sarcastically notes:
Yes. Whatever we do, let’s not try and keep track of who was right and who was wrong about Iran. We certainly wouldn’t want to have a track record of foreign policy reliability we could consult in the future.
Because this is about, uh what was it again, oh, yeah, change!
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Lech Wałęsa, former President of Poland had this to say about the Obama announcement that the US was pulling the anti-missile defense system from Poland:
“Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example,” Mr Walesa told TVN24. “[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business,” he added.
“I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates,” the former president added. “I simply don’t like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated,” he concluded.
Another foreign policy coup. Treating our allies shabbily while sucking up to the Putins and Chavezs of the world.
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The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?
• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”
• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”
• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.
Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”
And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.
So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.
Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.
So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.
The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.
The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.
Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”
Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?
Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.
Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.
Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:
“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.
In a word: nonsense!
Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.
It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.
What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:
During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.
Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.
Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:
That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.
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Regardless of the reason, he’s left both Poland and the Czech Republic very unhappy with the announcement today that the US is “scrapping” the promised missile defense shield in Eastern Europe:
The former Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, said: “This is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence. It puts us in a position wherein we are not firmly anchored in terms of partnership, security and alliance, and that’s a certain threat.”
The Polish deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Kremer, saidthat Warsaw had heard from different sources there were “serious chances” the anti-missile system would not be deployed.
Russia, of course, is sure to be quite happy with the plan, although it hasn’t yet reacted to the news.
Mr Obama, who is due to meet the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev next week in New York, says he wants better ties with Russia so that the two former Cold War foes can co-operate on Afghanistan and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.
He may also have been reassured by Moscow’s growing willingness to discuss further sanctions against Iran.
Not exactly a sign that the US is a solid and dependable ally to the former eastern satellites of Russia. It has been interesting to watch the foreign policy of this administration develop. Thus far, it has certainly made all sorts of overtures to those we haven’t exactly had great relationships with – but for the most part, as in this case, those overtures have come at the expense of existing relationships with supposed “allies”.
For the 600th time – Russia is not our friend and never will be. Cooperation in various areas is fine but it shouldn’t be bought at the expense of our allies’ security or pursued from a position of weakness. While the missile defense shield may have only been a token defense, to those it was promised, it meant a solid commitment from the US to their defense. Withdrawing it without notice makes the US much less of a reliable ally in their eyes and may see them trying to seek some sort of accommodation with Russia now. If the intent of US foreign policy to this point was to keep them out of Russia’s orbit, this sort of move is sure to force them more into it.
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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.
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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At least in the domestic realm. Those are the latest poll results tracking the president’s job performance approval by CNN/Opinion Research Corp.
Obama retains majority support on foreign affairs at this point (although I don’t expect that to remain favorable for long), but a majority of independents, the key to his electoral victory last year, are not at all impressed with this performance domestically:
Fifty-three percent of independents questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say they disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties in the White House, with 43 percent in approval. That result marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of independents give the president’s performance a thumbs-down.
Here’s the key line in the article:
“Obama won a majority of the vote among independents last year, and that helped put him in the White House,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Losing their support makes it more difficult for Obama to govern from the center.”
So that leads the question, “how does Obama recapture this key electoral demographic”? The obvious answer is by moving toward the center. But if he does that he’ll have to scrap the more controversial parts of his health
care insurance reform bill and there’ll be hell to pay with his base.
But it is even more complicated than that.
Is the fight over health care responsible for the downturn in Obama’s numbers?
“Yes, in part, but his standing on some other issues has taken an even bigger tumble,” adds Holland. “Among all Americans, his rating on health care has dropped 13 points since March. Compare that to his 16 point drop on the deficit and 17 point dip on taxes and it looks like there is growing discontent with Obama’s overall domestic agenda — not just his health care policy.”
Again, emphasis on the point the left seems incapable of grasping – independents disapprove of the whole domestic agenda – health
care insurance reform is only the flash point.
So coming up with a new bill aimed at the health care issue, even if more acceptable than what is presently being proposed isn’t going to necessarily change the approval rating or bring independents back into the Obama (and Democratic) fold.
As an aside, this is interesting as well:
The survey also indicates that 37 percent of Americans think the media has treated Obama fairly, down 18 points from February. One in four say the media has been too critical of the president, up seven points from February and 36 percent say the media has not been critical enough, up 10 points.
If you add the 37% who think the media has treated Obama fairly, with the 18% who’ve dropped out of that category you just about have the percentage of the vote which elected Obama. My guess is that 37% that think he been treated fairly are mostly the independents he and the Democrats have been losing over the past few months.
Back to the topic – it is fish or cut bait time for Obama and the health care debate is where he’ll finally have to show his true colors. Is he going to try to woo the independents back by proposing moderate reforms and attempting to move back toward the center? Or will he double down, push the controversial portions of the legislation his base demands and all but declare his liberal colors? He’s not going to be able to please both his base and independents. So he’s going to have to make a decision and make it soon – look for his “major speech” on health care to be that decision point.
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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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