Afghanistan, Strategy, and Learning From Mistakes

Pres. Obama is considering revamping Afghanistan strategy toward an approach that does not involve sending more troops:

President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan, including a plan advocated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan, officials said Tuesday.

The sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and still unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections and a dire report by Mr. Obama’s new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Aides said the president wanted to examine whether the strategy he unveiled in March was still the best approach and whether it could work with the extra combat forces General McChrystal wants.

The major argument against a counterinsurgency approach is that in order to succeed it needs a government infrastructure that Afghanistan does not have:

“A counterinsurgency strategy can only work if you have a credible and legitimate Afghan partner. That’s in doubt now,” said Bruce O. Riedel, who led the administration’s strategy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year. “Part of the reason you are seeing a hesitancy to jump deeper into the pool is that they are looking to see if they can make lemonade out of the lemons we got from the Afghan election.”

Neptunus Lex calls this “fiddling as Afghanistan burns.”  It’s an odd incomprehensible complaint, to me. Afghanistan has been burning while Washington fiddled for six and a half years now — since March 2003, when the previous administration invaded Iraq and started a war and military occupation that continues to this day. The United States has been bombing Afghanistan and killing civilians since that war began, eight years ago.  Why only now does a conservative blogger like Lex sarcastically remark, “Well, that should win hearts and minds.”

Uncle Jimbo is not interested in winning hearts and minds. His reason for rejecting the Biden plan is that it’s not bloodthirsty enough. Or, to be more precise, it could be more bloodthirsty, if the Obama administration didn’t have all these scruples about torture and assassination:

If I thought for a minute that they were serious about actually resourcing this and providing the networks of spies, warlords, assassins, and shady characters with satchels of cash it would take to make it work, I might could get behind it. But does anyone see the Obama administration, which right now is thinking about prosecuting the CIA for being mean to terrorists, doing any of that? All right, get up off the floor.

Obviously, guys like Uncle Jimbo either don’t know or don’t care that the CIA gave those satchels of cash to bad guys for 20 years in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Soviets. And yep, sure enough, the Soviets were defeated, but the bad guys had the last laugh, as we all found out on 9/11. But no point in learning from our mistakes, eh? Let’s just make those same mistakes again and again.

Contrary to those on the right who believe that Obama trusts Joe Biden more than his generals; or who insist that Obama hired Gen. McChrystal to tell him what to do and so he should do that, by god; or who fret that rejecting McChrystal’s advice only six months after he started the job ‘doesn’t look good,’ or who are convinced that Obama is changing his plans because of “his sagging poll numbers and a need to placate the left” over health care reform (as if the issues are interchangeable), Obama’s actual reasons for hesitating to send the additional troops Gen. McChrystal requested are entirely reasonable. The conditions in Afghanistan are not the same as they were six months ago:

When Obama says he needs to review the strategy before he decides on troop levels, he almost certainly means that he needs to assess whether a counterinsurgency strategy makes sense if the Afghan government—the entity that our troops would be propping up and aligning themselves with—is viewed by a wide swath of its own people as illegitimate.

Obama committed himself to a new strategy for Afghanistan this past March. He is nowwavering, not so much because many congressional Democrats and a majority of the American people have turned against the war. (Congress would almost certainly vote in favor of appropriations, just as it did in the bleakest days of the Iraq war, if just to “support the troops,” and a successful battle or two might well turn public opinion.)

Rather, the big new thing that’s happened since March—in fact, since McChrystal and his staff prepared their memo over the summer—is the Afghan presidential election, which, it’s turned out, was marred by fraud on a monumental scale, nearly all of it on behalf of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. Even so, Karzai seems to have barely tipped the 50 percent required to avoid a second-round runoff. If he is declared the winner and offers nothing to the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, popular trust in his government will slide still further—and the prospects for a successful counterinsurgency campaign will slide with it.

In other words, Obama is right to hold off on making such a huge decision. He’s right to wait and see how the Afghan election plays out and how Karzai behaves in its aftermath. The McChrystal memo emphasizes that the only reason for sending more troops is to implement the new strategy. “Without a new strategy,” he writes, “the mission should not be resourced”—that is, no more troops should be sent. The same is true if the new strategy has scant hope of succeeding.

I, for one, am thrilled to have a POTUS who takes such a rational, deliberative stance toward a decision as major as sending 40,000 young men and women to risk their lives in Afghanistan.

4 Responses to “Afghanistan, Strategy, and Learning From Mistakes”

  1. tas says:

    More troops + Unstable government = Vietnam. We threw the whole kitchen sink at that war and it mattered not because the Diem regime was weak and corrupt. As for Afghanistan, this fucking country should have been fucking stabilized in the almost 7 years Bush waged a war there. I would say that I can’t believe the Right has the gall to blame this on Obama, but that would mean forgetting who I’m talking about.

  2. You Regressives sound like these screwl kids:

    Lest we forget that Obama and other Regressives kept reminding us that Afghanistan was the focal point for terrorism, not Iraq, we should focus our efforts there. Afghanistan’s been neglected like you said for years while Bush was in Office. Where’s Bin Laden?? Didn’t Obamba promise to get Bin Laden, even cross over to Pakistan to get Osama??

    This is a classic example of Liberals tying our hands to secure defeat, just what you want, just like in Vietnam. They threaten to cut the money, withhold troops/resources, create political rules of engagement while the terrorists hide behind kids and in mosques.

  3. opit says:

    When checking out whether or not something makes sense, a solid grounding in basic intel is essential. ‘Discussing’ psyops releases doesn’t cut it.

  4. opit: your babbling script reminds me of Qadaffi at the UN yesterday. Stick to Canadian Politics Aye?

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