Free Markets, Free People
He said, in 4,579 words what probably could have been said in 500 or so. The 40 minutes were mostly used to justify to the left his decision to send 30,000 additional troops to A’stan.
On the plus side, he made a decision. It took much longer than it should have, and, as I’ll cover further on, it isn’t a great decision by any means, but he did finally decide to do something.
Using the cadets at West Point as a backdrop (they seemed as enthusiastic about the plan as I am) he told the military that the reason this decision had taken so long is he owed them a clear mission before he sent them into battle. Yet reading through his speech, I’m still not clear as to what the military’s mission is.
Certainly at the level of Commander in Chief, you speak in much broader terms when describing a mission, than would a platoon leader getting ready to attack an insurgent stronghold. But there’s a point where “broad” is sort of meaningless. The three broad missions I heard enunciated that I assume comprise the Obama strategy are:
1. Deny al Qaeda safe haven.
2. Reverse the momentum of the Taliban
3. Safeguard the Afghan people
The first is counter-terrorism. Joe Biden’s ninja and drone strategy. It is, I assume, the reason Obama decided to commit fewer troops than Gen. McChrystal asked for. The second and third are elements of counter-insurgency.
For numbers 2 and 3, we remain – even with the 30,000 new troops – woefully undermanned. Gen. McChrystal will attempt to make the best of his assets, but attempting to reverse the momentum the taliban and safeguard the Afghans are two labor intensive (boots on the ground) roles. Also included in the 3rd mission is the training of a competent Afghan security force.
Obama says these troops will deploy by fastest means possible. Additonally he said:
Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war.
Well let me be clear – deploying troops to a theater of war takes a long lead time. Preparation and training are key. While it is probably true that there were no calls for deployments before 2010, a 3 month delay means 3 months in which the alerted units are shorted vital training time. And now the deployment cycle is going to be speeded up because he’s trying to cover his tail? Guess who suffers to make him look better?
To this point, I’ve laid out a plausible but complex military mission. But it moves from “plausible and complex” to impossible with this line:
After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
Even getting the deployment cycle initiated as quickly as possible, the troops (most likely 3 BCTs, a Marine MEU, 4,000 trainers and a command and control element of 7,000) will take 12 to 18 months to complete their deployment. So how is this a surge if as the last unit arrives in country as the first leaves?
In fact, that line alone initiates all sorts of questions.
What if the Afghan forces aren’t ready? What if the government isn’t yet prepared to fulfill its role. What if the Taliban still have “momentum”? He promised a civilian surge as well – concentrating on agriculture. Who will protect them or are they leaving as well?
Afghan Security Forces (ASF) are not going to be ready in 18 months. Certainly we can train the grunts in that period of time to some level of competence. But it is the leadership that is key. You don’t develop an NCO corps or an officer corps in that period of time. And it appeared the key to this strategy is standing up a competent ASF capable of defending itself and the country against the Taliban.
Obama claims we’ll embed with the Afghan units and fight along side them. But, given that we’ve announced that we’re leaving in 18 months, what if the Taliban decide to sit it out and not engage in battle? They’ve been fighting since the ’80s – what’s 18 months to them? Why not wait until we withdraw and then take on a green ASF with its seasoned fighters?
Obama does leave himself a fall-back position later in the speech when he says:
Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, <em>taking into account conditions on the ground</em>.
If I’m a Taliban commander, I take this as a gift from God. He has not only announced the US’s strategy for the next 18 months, he’s determined mine. The Taliban knows, just as we should, that 18 months is not enough time to train up the ASF into a competent fighting force. The Taliban knows that any COIN strategy is just marking time given this announcement. The people of Afghanistan now know that we will not be there to protect them in 18 months so there is absolutely no incentive to cooperate with us (or the Kabul government) and a huge incentive not too. They certainly know who will be there after our withdrawal and they’ll do their level best to reach accommodation with them.
This isn’t a plan for success. This is a plan for withdrawal and a strong signal to our enemy that if they play the game for 18 months, they can have Afghanistan. Ironically, while taking on his detractors Obama claims he’s not doing precisely what his plan is doing:
[T]here are those who acknowledge that we cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan Security Forces and give them the space to take over.
This plan is all about the maintenance of the status quo while attempting to give the appearance of decisive action. It is certainly not about that. We can argue until the cows come home about the numbers necessary to conduct successful COIN in Afghanistan, but I can assure you no expert would tell you 30,000 are enough. We can give all the lip service we want to saying we’re going to train up the ASF to a level they can take over their own defense, but no expert is going to agree that 18 months is enough. Gen. McChrystal can smile and claim he’s very pleased with the resources he’s been given, but anyone who does an analysis of the missions outlined in the speech know he’s been badly short-changed. If we could beam in the 30,000 troops tomorrow along with 10,000 more NATO troops, it still wouldn’t be enough to do more than “maintain the status quo” – at least for 18 months.
On the other hand, if I’m the Taliban I’m absolutely exultant about what I’ve heard. And I’m immediately into planning a disinformation campaign that will paint the rosiest possible picture in 18 months time. Meanwhile, my forces are basically on R&R for duration (or concentrating in Pakistan) while I sit back and wait out the withdrawal. And when that last C-17 is wheels up out of Bagram, I’m headed into Afghanistan in force. Given that speech last night, they must finally believe that Allah truly is on their side now.
The blog Dissenting Justice entitles a post: “Why Aren’t Self-Proclaimed Fiscal Conservatives Questioning Afghanistan Troop Surge?”
The author then questions why “fiscal conservatives” are fighting tooth and nail to defeat this monstrosity of a health care bill but seem fine with spending billions if not trillions on the war in Afghanistan. He apparently finds that to be a hypocritical and contradictory position.
Really? Well since he lists himself as a professor of Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, Law and Social Change, and Equal Protection Theory at the American University, Washington College of Law, I’ll ask him where in the Constitution he finds the authorization for entitlement programs such as health care? As for defense appropriations and war fighting, even I can find authorization for them in the Constitution.
A second point – wars end. Entitlements don’t. Which do you suppose will cost more in the next 20, 30 or 40 years? Afghanistan or health care “reform”? I think everyone knows that answer.
Those alone seem to me to be two very good reasons fiscal hawks are neither hypocritical or contradictory in their stance.
Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club writes a very well done essay on the present Afghanistan decision making process. He compares Andrew Sullivan’s apologia with David Kilcullen’s concerns about the time involved in reaching a decision. You can disregard the Sullivan part except to understand that he thinks it is just marvelous that Obama is taking so much time considering all the options and doing his homework before making a decision to change the strategy there.
Fernandez reminds us of a very important point that seems to have escaped many as they await the decision. The strategy President Obama is planning on changing is his own. In March of this year he said:
Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people. … So let me be clear …
This is surely something the administration would like you to forget. And thus you hear all the nonsense that’s been coming out lately (and has gotten pushback from former VP Dick Cheney) that Afghanistan was just left adrift by the former administration. It is nonsense because the basis of the March “careful policy review” was that which the former Bush administration had done.
However that’s not really the point – the point is that a “comprehensive, new strategy” for both Afghanistan and Pakistan were announced by this administration. A new general, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was named to implement that strategy. Now, suddenly, they’re involved in reviewing that strategy.
What, if anything, has changed?
The event that has been blamed is the national election in Afghanistan. And, as mentioned, it has been coupled with the baseless claim that the Afghan war was left adrift by the Bush administration. The former problem, while serious, isn’t a show stopper (see Iraq). The latter problem is simply untrue. What has changed is the politics surrounding Afghanistan. The polls show a deeply divided United States with the majority not favoring an escalation and many favoring we leave altogether. Given his domestic political problems trying to ram an unpopular agenda through Congress – which has succeeded in splitting his base as well as firing up the political opposition – he needs something with which to bring his base back in line. Afghanistan may be that issue.
Consider too who he has involved in his review: VP Joe Biden who is pushing a minimalist “super ninja” strategy. He wants to use special operators and drones to kill al Qaeda. Let Pakistan and Afghanistan sort themselves out politically. Obviously if that means the Taliban takes over Afghanistan again, well, so be it. The fact that Biden was wrong about every aspect of Iraq as he suggested strategy then doesn’t seem to matter. Also included is Sen. John Kerry. He’s considered such a lightweight when it comes to military matters that he’s usually ignored outright when he pontificates on matters about which he obviously hasn’t a clue. He thinks Gen. McChrystal’s plan goes “too far, too fast”. The fact that Kerry has somehow managed to include himself and is apparently being taken seriously by Obama tells you how little Obama knows about any of this and how out of his depth he is on the issue.
Lastly, there’s David Axelrod, who claims he “doesn’t have a seat at the table” when these policy reviews take place, but attends every one of them anyway. While he may not have an official seat at the policy review table, he owns the table of chief political advisor and Obama sits at that table daily. Axelrod’s job is to divine the political winds and keep Obama sailing in the fair ones.
Thus the strategy review. When Gen. McChrystal accepted the job to implement the Obama administration’s new March ’09 comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he began what all new commanders do – a commander’s review. In that review he takes the strategy and mission and he games them out. He attempts to ascertain, to the best of his ability, what it will take in terms of resources to accomplish the mission the strategy outlines. Once he has ascertained that, he submits his plan to his commander – in this case, directly to the President.
It isn’t a complicated process – the boss gives you a mission. You analyze the mission, determine what it takes to accomplish the mission and you go back to the boss with a plan and a request for resources. That’s precisely what happened.
However, in the interim, politics began to rear its head. In July, right in the middle of the assessment process, Obama’s National Security Advisor and former Marine General Jim Jones showed up in Afghanistan and made it very clear that requests for more troops would not be a welcome event. Speaking to Marine commanders there he was quite clear:
Now suppose you’re the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?
Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.
Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF — which in the military and elsewhere means “What the [expletive]?”
Nicholson and his colonels — all or nearly all veterans of Iraq — seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.
The “17,000 plus 4,000 more” troops were a part of that March ’09 “new” strategy based on the former administration’s plans. Jones made it very clear that regardless of what these commanders thought they needed to do the mission they’d been given, they’d better plan on doing it with what they had. And later, in another interview, Jones dismissed any additional troops requests or their need by claiming that all commanders in the field ask for more troops, whether they really need them or not.
Apparently, however, Gen. McChrystal decided, Jones admonishment notwithstanding, that he couldn’t with clear conscience, heed that advice and accomplish the mission given (although rumor has it he cut his initial estimate of troops needed from 60,000 to 40,000). He went ahead and submitted his plan at the end of August asking for more resources and troops.
Back to that fairly simple process I outlined above. Once you submit your plan to your boss with the request for resources necessary to accomplish that mission you normally then sit down with him and explain and defend your plan. That, of course, has never happened. And that 20 minutes on the tarmac in Airforce One while in Copenhagen did not give McChrystal the opportunity to do that. That meeting was driven by bad press and politics, not a desire to meet with and discuss the plan McChrystal had submitted. The required meeting, to date, still hasn’t happened. But numerous “war council” meetings continue to happen. And as word leaks out, it appears politics – not a mission to succeed in Afghanistan – is taking center stage.
On October 31st, in their Washington Post article, Anne Kornblut and Greg Jaffe made it clear that Obama was seeking a political decision vs. a military one:
The military chiefs have been largely supportive of a resource request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that would by one Pentagon estimate require the deployment of 44,000 additional troops. But opinion among members of Obama’s national security team is divided, and he now appears to be seeking a compromise solution that would satisfy both his military and civilian advisers.
A worse scenario cannot be imagined. But it is in perfect keeping with how a politician would work vs. a Commander in Chief. Compromise is the bread-and-butter of politics. It is about keeping constituencies satisfied, if not happy. Contentment means votes. But compromise in terms of military strategy usually means disaster. Attempting to satisfy “both his military and civilian advisers” means he’s looking for the best political solution, not the best military solution.
And since such a solution is hardly obvious, he dithers. Sullivan mistakes that for slow, considered and methodical decision making. But in reality, it is a method of stalling as old man himself. Ask for more information, reject the options presented, send your minions back to the drawing board – all the while making the argument or implication that it is the fault of those presenting the options for not getting it right, not the CiC. Of course, anyone with any military experience knows that’s nonsense since it is the “commander’s guidance” from which any options are derived.
That brings us back to David Kilcullen. If you’re not familiar with Kilcullen, he’s considered to be one of the gurus when it comes to counter-insurgency warfare. And Kilcullen gets to the very nut of the problem with this “process” that Sullivan mistakenly praises:
David Kilcullen, one of the world’s leading authorities on counter-insurgency and an adviser to the British government as well as the US state department, said Obama’s delay in reaching a decision over extra troops had been “messy”. He said it not only worried US allies but created uncertainty the Taliban could exploit.
Speaking in an interview with the Guardian, he compared the president to someone “pontificating” over whether to send enough firefighters into a burning building to put a fire out. …
Kilcullen expressed concern that Obama might deny McChrystal the 40,000 extra troops and split the difference between the four options, the kind of fudge common in domestic politics.
“Time is running out for us to make a decision. We can either put in enough troops to control the environment or we can credibly communicate our intention to leave. Either could work. Splitting the difference is not the way to go,” Kilcullen said.
“It feels to me that all these options are dangerously close to the middle ground and we have to consider whether the middle ground is a good place to be. The middle ground is a good place on domestic issues, but not on strategy. You either commit to D-Day and invade the continent or you get Suez. Half-measures end up with Suez. Do it or not do it.”
There is no “third way”. At least not a credible one. In this sort of warfare, to use a poker analogy, you either fold or you’re “all in”. Domestic political considerations should have absolutely no place in these sorts of deliberations and decisions. But it is clear they do.
That is also clearly a disservice (to put it mildly) to every man and woman in uniform serving our nation today. It is also something which may easily get many of them killed.
So let’s remember President Obama’s words at NAS Jacksonville when he told those gathered there:
And while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this-and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan:
I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s the promise I make to you.
Gen. McChrystal, based on the commander’s guidance issued by the president in his March ’09 strategy for Afghanistan, has done his review and submitted his plan to accomplish the mission outlined in that strategy. Now the commander wants to change the strategy.
Is it any wonder that many doubt Obama’s commitment to success in Afghanistan, military or otherwise? Is it any wonder that many are concluding that he’s looking for “off ramps” well before talking about “on ramps”. And is it any wonder then, that those considering how this process is progressing have come to the conclusion that it’s not about the military or winning in Afghanistan – it’s about the politics of getting re-elected before pulling the plug.
If that’s the case, President Obama will be seen as spending the lives of American soldiers in an attempt to protect his political viability. There is nothing most could think of which would be more despicable than that.
Here’s an interesting twist:
A U.N. human rights investigator warned the United States Tuesday that its use of unmanned warplanes to carry out targeted executions may violate international law.
Philip Alston said that unless the Obama administration explains the legal basis for targeting particular individuals and the measures it is taking to comply with international humanitarian law which prohibits arbitrary executions, “it will increasingly be perceived as carrying out indiscriminate killings in violation of international law.”
Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s investigator on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, raised the issue of U.S. Predator drones in a report to the General Assembly’s human rights committee and at a news conference afterwards, saying he has become increasingly concerned at the dramatic increase in their use, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, since June.
June. So the Obama administration has one of its favorite excuses – blame Bush – preempted.
And the administration’s response?
He said the U.S. response — that the Geneva-based council and the General Assembly have no role in relation to killings during an armed conflict — “is simply untenable.”
“That would remove the great majority of issues that come before these bodies right now,” Alston said. “The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions are not, in fact, being carried out through the use of these weapons.”
You can’t help but appreciate the irony. They can, as would have the previous administration, stick with their claim that the UN’s Human Rights council has absolutely no jurisdiction or say in the issue (something I happen to agree with) and risk being branded “war criminals”, or they can capitulate to the “legal” argument and submit justification for using these weapons in combat against terrorists (thereby giving said council legitimacy and a say in how the weapons can and can’t be used).
Apparently the UN Human Rights council has yet to issue the same sort of warning to the Taliban who, when blowing up buildings in Pakistan and Afghanistan are, in fact committing “arbitrary executions” and “extrajudicial executions” with the use of their bombs.
But then, other than arbitrary in their application of anything (especially if it is a blow to the US) what would you expect from the UN?
Pakistan’s army is on the march against both the Taliban and al Qaeda in South Warziristan where there is a large concentration of both:
The Pakistani army pushed farther into a mountainous Taliban and al-Qaeda haven Sunday, as civilians continued to flow out of an area that has become a full-fledged battleground.
On the second day of a ground offensive in the restive border region of South Waziristan, the military said at least 60 militants and five soldiers had been killed. The Pakistani Taliban, which the government says has plotted a cascade of recent attacks on security forces from its base in the area, told the Associated Press that its fighters had inflicted “heavy casualties” against the army.
The fight in South Waziristan is a key test for Pakistan’s military, which is tasked with shattering a rising Islamist insurgency that has killed nearly 200 people in bombings and gunfights in the past two weeks. American officials, who have urged Pakistan to get tougher on militants operating on its soil, say the region is also a hub for militants who plan attacks on U.S.-led forces across the border in Afghanistan.
According to reports we’ve been asking for and encouraging the Pakistanis to take exactly this sort of action since the Obama administration has been in office.
Question: How long do you suppose the Pakistanis will commit to such operations and continue to push back against the Taliban and al Qaeda if we continue to dither about our commitment? Here we have a desired result in action. You’d think that would be extremely useful against the very target candidate Obama said we’d taken our eye off of with Iraq – namely Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Are we conducting a complimentary and supporting NATO operation right now? And if not, why not?
I’ll tell you why – the administration is instead worried about the results of a run-off election in Afghanistan and can’t manage to separate that from the supposed strategic goal that candidate Obama laid out as our purpose for being Afghanistan in the first place.
All things being equal, it would be wonderful to have a popularly elected government free of corruption and connected across the country with provincial and local governments. But what has that to do with that primary goal of defeating (i.e. eliminating) al Qaeda and those who support it who are now located between Kabul and Islamabad? Eliminate the threat, go home, and let the Afghan’s sort out who they want in charge and what sort of government they’d prefer.
In the meantime, we’re undermanned to do what we claim, or at least claimed, was our goal – kill al Qaeda and its supporters. We’ve finally seen Pakistan get off its collective posterior and do what we’ve been asking them to do for years and we’re unprepared to support the operation even though we’ve had 10 months in which to make a decision (IOW, why aren’ t we engaged in an operation that supports theirs?).
If Pakistan’s losses mount while we (and NATO) sit on our rear ends, how long do you imagine Pakistan will commit to proactive and costly offensive combat?
It is all fine and good to have a discussion and even a debate about future strategy in Afghanistan. But probably not 6 months after you’ve announced your former strategy. For some reason, dithering has a tendency to be interpreted as a weakness, not a strength. In war, weaknesses are attacked and exploited. And that may be exactly what we’re beginning to see:
Several thousand foreign fighters have poured into Afghanistan to bolster the Taliban insurgency, the country’s defense minister said yesterday as he called for more international troops.
The remarks come as the United States debates whether to substantially increase its forces in Afghanistan or to conduct a more limited campaign focused on targeting al-Qaeda figures – most of whom are believed to be in neighboring Pakistan.
The minister’s comments hit on a key worry of the United States – that not sending enough troops to Afghanistan will open the door again to al-Qaeda. They also suggest that the Afghan government is nervous about the U.S. commitment amid talk of changing the strategy and a surge in violence in recent months.
This isn’t a Senate debate where you can take whatever time you need and if it’s not finished by the nearest recess, you put it off until you come back. Wars can’t be tabled. A war continues with or without a decision made by either side. And, in many cases in history, wars have been lost because decisions were delayed or not made in a timely manner.
The fact that foreign fighters are pouring in now has to be viewed in a particular context. You can’t snap your finger and produce “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan. They have to be recruited, transported, trained and then gotten to A’stan. So for the enemy to have these fighters showing up now would indicate, at least to me, that they have sensed some form of weakness in the American committment (and make no mistake – there is no NATO Afghanistan mission without the US) and they have been able to sell recruits on the idea that they’re about to turn everything around there and win. And note this: the Taliban won’t have any esoteric conversations about whether or not running us off is a “victory” or just “success”. They’ll trumpet to the world that they kicked our butt while they then barbarically subdue, punish and seek revenge on anyone who worked with us. They don’t care how it happens – force of arms or us just pulling out – it is still a victory. And everyone likes to be on the winning side:
“The enemy has changed. Their number has increased,” the defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, told lawmakers in a speech. He said that about 4,000 fighters, mostly from Chechnya, North Africa, and Pakistan, “have joined with them and they are involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.”
The longer the administration continues to dither, the easier it is for the radicals to sell their cause and claim the indecision by the administration indicates that, as they’ve always said, the US hasn’t the political will to finish much of anything that extends over a year or two. Bush would actually be seen as the exception.
Unless and until a decision is made and made rather quickly, recruiting should be good for the radicals.
And of course, good recruiting for them means more losses among our troops. Sure we usually have a high ratio of Taliban kills to every soldier we lose, but that’s not the point. The point is indecision emboldens the enemy and that ends up killing our soldiers.
There is absolutely no reason that a decision could not be reached within a week or two. One of President Obama’s primary jobs is that Commander in Chief. It’s time he started acting like one.
President Obama claims to be dispensing with “straw men” arguments concerning A’stan:
President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.
Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.
The problem is, that leaves some version of the status quo as a viable alternative, and, as every expert to include the Commanding General there has told us, the status quo isn’t working.
This is what I was talking about when I said he’s just as likely to dither for months making a decision and then make a decision in which he appears to be doing something while not even getting anywhere near to fully resourcing McChrystal’s request. Or said another way, he’ll send more troops, but only enough troops to keep A’stan from getting worse than it is now, but not enough to do the mission McChrystal has outlined.
That’s what he appears to be setting up here. Reading between the line, the implication is that he’s not going to give McChrystal all he wants and he’s building the case by attempting to introduce something less than what most see as the only two viable courses of action – fish or cut bait. All in or fold.
This is what I’ve been afraid of since his election. There’s little will, on his part or that of his party, to do what is necessary in Afghanistan. All the rhetoric about it being the “necessary war” was just that – rhetoric to beat his opponent and their party over the head with.
If that’s the case – then get our troops the hell out of there and deal with the long-term effects of doing that. The effects will be profound. But reinforcing failure, and that’s what I’m hearing here, is just not an option.
Calling the narrowing the choices to the two most viable options “straw man arguments” doesn’t make it so. Certainly Obama has the final say – but the only viable choices remain the only viable choices whether he likes that or not. Doing anything in between is a recipe for continuing failure and will be seen as trading blood for time – political time – because he doesn’t want to make the hard decisions required due to the political implications (I’ve been saying he’ll delay any profound decision, like pulling out, until his reelection is safely in the bag).
The one thing that’s different about the job of President is that when it comes to foreign affairs and the job of Commander in Chief, the people expect the President to put aside all political considerations except what is best for the US. His job is to act in the best interest of the country. We haven’t seen that yet in President Obama’s foreign policy and, unfortunately, I hold little hope as I watch the Afghanistan discussion unfold that politics will be divorced from the upcoming decision on our strategy there.
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.
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.
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”.