UPDATE: We can all relax. John Kerry is going to Afghanistan to see what needs to be done. I guess he must know a lot about these things from his friends, the North Vietnamese.
Watching the last two weeks or so in the White House, gives me the sense that the decision is going to be the wrong one. There are three possible choices that Obama has; one is to take his hand-picked general’s advice and send 40,000 more troops. It will stress our military and the logistical challenges are serious. Afghanistan is land-locked and the neighbors are not friendly. Russia will try to create problems, as they already have in Kyrgyzstan. They do not want us to succeed yet they may fear total failure. In the meantime, they are making serious trouble.
Another option for Obama is to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and withdraw the troops. That goes against all of his, and the Democrats’ rhetoric during the campaign about how Iraq was a “war of choice” but Afghanistan was the “necessary war.”
The third option, and the one I fear is coming, is to muddle through much in the fashion of Lyndon Johnson after his advisors lost confidence in Vietnam and the mission there. That will sacrifice our all volunteer military for political purposes and it is already becoming apparent to the troops that they are not being supported. Morale is plummeting.
American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taleban.
Many feel that they are risking their lives — and that colleagues have died — for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.
“The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families,” said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2-87 Infantry Battalion.
Remember, these are not draftees and most have families. I should add to rebut a comment, that the soldiers have very high morale among themselves. This is typical in combat where they rely on others in the unit. Even in the Second World War, where the US Army was no match for the German Army man-for-man, soldiers would do almost anything to avoid letting down their friends and “team.” They are losing faith in the leadership, just as the Army did in Vietnam. Those are two different things. Forty years later, a penis is still referred to as a “Johnson” in the military.
More important than whether or not Obama will send in the 40,000 troops the generals are asking for is what constraints the troops on the ground will be asked to follow. Dropping leaflets on a population is futile when the population is illiterate. Explaining democracy to a people that have no conceptual understanding of liberty is equally difficult. Many Americans today view counterinsurgency operations chiefly as “hearts and minds” operations involving the handing out of teddy bears and candy bars. But the first step in isolating the enemy from the people is protecting the population from those who wish to destroy it. If you keep people safe, you gain their trust. McChrystal is not a man who will shy away from a fight. The surge in Iraq killed hundreds of insurgents using special operatives and regular infantry.
But the current rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan are simply far too constrictive to eliminate large pockets of threat. The people of Afghanistan don’t trust their government and their police forces. We are years away from relying on them as we have with their Iraqi counterparts. The ROE are a direct reflection of that: We are forced to be gentle because of the barbaric manner in which the Afghanis treat their own people. This may make us feel good, but we choose this tactic at the risk of our young men and women.
The chief problem with our Afghanistan strategy is the craven politicians who want to micromanage the war. Moveon.org opposed the escalation of force in Afghanistan eight years ago. Since 2004, however, the Left has turned about-face, bellowing that we “took our eye off the ball” in Afghanistan by fighting the war in Iraq.
I think we are about to see a craven and mistaken decision to let the troops hang out there rather than accept the responsibility for losing the war. This seems to be the patterns of Democrats at war since the New Left took over in 1972. Bill Clinton avoided this in Serbia and Kosovo by bombing from 20,000 feet. It didn’t accomplish much but it did avoid the fate of Johnson and, I fear, Obama.
If the decision is to abandon the commitment to Afghanistan, do it openly and bring the troops home. No one will be fooled by anything else. The rest of the Army officers certainly aren’t fooled.
The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces. Obama and his advisers are now debating strategy in Afghanistan, with some officials arguing against additional deployments.
“It was definitely a hand slap,” one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by national security adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command. The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.
A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country — advice that was dismissed as “wildly off the mark” by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
Yes, but that was Bush and his administration. It now looks as though the Obama pullout will be called Pakistan first.
One of the ideas the Obama administration is considering in response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan reportedly is called “Pakistan First.” Championed by Vice President Biden, the idea is to focus U.S. efforts on attacking al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drones or Special Forces, while backing the government’s efforts to pacify and develop the lawless areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are based. The battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, meanwhile, would be put on the back burner.
“Pakistan First” would excuse President Obama from having to anger his political base by dispatching the additional U.S. troops that his military commanders say are needed to stop the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan. It would nominally focus U.S. efforts on a nuclear-armed country that is of far greater strategic importance.
Yes, it would be a lie, of course, but a useful lie. One that keeps him from “angering his base.” Pakistan, however, isn’t fooled.
If the likes of Mullah Omar take over in Afghanistan, it will have serious implications for Pakistan,” Mr. Qureshi said. “They have a larger agenda, and the first to be impacted by that agenda is Pakistan. . . . Whether they do it in Pakistan or whether they do it in Afghanistan, it will have implications on Pakistan and it will have implications on the region.”
Well, you can’t please everyone.