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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reworked Afghanistan post for an op-ed

Note: Readers will recognize this op-ed I wrote for my newspaper as a reworking of an earlier blog post. I'm posting it because, 1) I post almost all of my published op-eds as a way of filing them in a secure location, and 2) it shows the difference in styles between a newspaper column and a blog post.

The differences are due to space constraints, and the prospective audience. Writing op-eds, you are always struck by how many things you have to leave out. And you know that your audience is composed of a lot of people who don't agree with you, so you have to take a certain approach just to get them to read it.

I'll have more to say about that kind of writing later, after I figure it out myself. So:

I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan

I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan, and recent events are only making it worse.

General Stanley McChrystal, President Obama's hand-picked commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is already in trouble with the administration for going public with disagreements over strategy.

Obama picked McChrystal, to replace General David McKiernan in May, 2009 less than a year after McKiernan took command.

Afghanistan is Obama's “war of necessity,” as opposed to Bush's “war of choice” in Iraq.

Certainly a punitive expedition to Afghanistan after Sept. 11 was entirely justified. The planners of the attack were there. The Afghan government said "Nyah, nyah you can't have them" when we asked, so we went in and killed and captured as many of them as we could find.

Comb the history of civilization and find me one which would deny a legitimate cassus belli existed in this case.

But sticking around to practice nation-building on the Afghans strikes me as a long-term project with immense costs and problematic gains.

If you believe western civilization is engaged in what amounts to a long war against Islamic jihadism whether we like it or not, Afghanistan doesn't look like the best place to pin down limited resources.

Whatever you think of that war, Iraq is an ancient civilization near the geopolitical center of Islam. Iraq is rich in resources, and in the hands of a hostile power capable of supplying money and resources to the jihadist campaign against the West.

Saddam Hussein for example was, as our “ally” Saudi Arabia still is, paying substantial sums to families of suicide bombers in Israel.

Afghanistan has always been peripheral to the ancient civilizations of the region. It's importance to the jihadists is basically, that it's a great place to hide.

For students of military science, the critical difference difference between them is the strategically important part of Iraq is pretty flat. Afghanistan... isn't.

As a descendant of Scottish highlanders I can affirm that forcing civilization on mountaineers is very, very difficult. Mostly because they don't want it.

I feel for Afghanis who have to live with the Taliban, especially women who aspire to a life as something more than domestic chattels. But our resources are not infinite, and we have every reason to believe this new kind of war is going to be a long and expensive one.

So at the risk of sounding heartless I have to ask, what's in it for us? What do we gain by the enormous expense in the long term? And might those resources be better applied elsewhere?

Students of World War II might remember Germany lost two sizable armies in Africa and Russia, and possibly the war, because Hitler was unwilling to abandon any theater of operations once occupied by German soldiers.

Students of Vietnam remember that the justification of fighting for a democratic regime was rendered indefensible by a succession of about a half-dozen coups in rapid succession followed by strongman rule. Now it appears Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have rigged the last election.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”

With Afghanistan we have an electorate not fully committed to the war effort, and an administration that has shown itself weak and vacillating on the issue.

If we stay in Afghanistan, the Russians can do to us exactly what they did to us in Vietnam, and what we did to them when they occupied that country. They can supply cheap arms to our enemies at no risk to themselves, while we expend immense sums of money and the valuable lives of our soldiers.

I say if the jihadists base themselves in Afghanistan, play whack-a-mole with them every time they stick their heads up. But unless we're willing to commit to an all-out effort, with all of the resources our field commanders ask for, maybe it's better to fight the jihadists another day, in a place where the outcome is more decisive.


  • At 9:42 PM, Blogger Schmedlap said…

    I have believed, from the moment that McChyrstal was put in charge, that he was chosen specifically because he would recommend the "do what it takes to win" approach, rather than the economy of force that we did under Bush. The reason for this is now clear: now that we see the potential cost of the "do what it takes to win" approach, the public is reflecting a change of attitude. And now Obama can claim sufficient public support for a plan to either continue the Bush era plan or modify it slightly. I'm not an Obama fan, but if this was the goal, then well done. Bush went about this right and - as frustrating as it is to not have a quick, decisive, permanent victory - it needs to continue.

    I know it is heresy to suggest that Bush did anything right, but he did Iraq and Afghanistan right. The mission in Afghanistan was to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and disrupt their operations worldwide. We did that for eight years. We will need to do it for eight more. The mission in Iraq was to remove Saddam's regime and put a new one in place that is a partner in the so-called GWOT. That has been accomplished and we need to ensure it is not reversed.

    Now that Obama is in office, has to actually make decisions instead of speeches, and has all of the intelligence in front of him, I think he realizes that Bush was neither the dunce nor the bogeyman that he was made out to be. His only challenge is in continuing with the Bush era policies without being portrayed as "Bush's third term."

  • At 4:45 AM, Blogger Steve said…

    I hope you're right.

    But, Obama's core support is a Left base that loathes the military and to put it bluntly, is indifferent or actively hostile to the lives of American soldiers.

    Obama's problem is starting to look like the mirror image of Bush's: he's never going to make the Right like or respect him no matter what he does, and his support on the Left is contingent on delivering on their agenda.

    Can Obama stiffen his spine and proceed with what needs to be done to secure victory in spite of vociferous opposition?

    Would be nice. Though every public appearance abroad shows him to be pretty clueless.

    We'll see.

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger Schmedlap said…

    ... his support on the Left is contingent on delivering on their agenda.

    Oh, I don't know about that. Witness today - he wins the Nobel Peace Prize for doing... what? Even the Obama fans are scratching their heads.

    Can Obama stiffen his spine and proceed with what needs to be done to secure victory in spite of vociferous opposition?"

    I don't think the opposition matters. He only needs to convince middle America - the swing voters - that what he is doing is acceptable. This latest incident in the media between Obama and McChrystal is nothing but a mock debate to convince middle America that a larger troop presence in Afghanistan is too costly, in terms of lives and money. The right will get angry because he has said that Afghanistan is a necessary war and because he mocked Bush for neglecting it. The left might be a tad disappointed to see him not withdraw all troops and declare world peace. But when it comes time to vote for a Dem vs a Rep, who do you think the lefty's will vote for? He just needs to push ahead with this pseudo-pragamatic approach to retain the middle. (Thankfully, I don't think it will work, due to other reasons, such as the health care debacle).


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