Afghanistan: exit strategy or war "for the rest of our lives"?

 In Afghanistan

According to the New York Times and other media outlets who got a hold of Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars, the administration is plagued by infighting and a lack of confidence in the military strategy in Afghanistan.  From Foreign Policy’s Passport blog:

Neither Richard Holbrooke, the special advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan, nor retired Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the White House “war czar,” believe in the current U.S. war strategy. Woodward quotes Holbrooke saying flatly “it can’t work”; Lute apparently said that the Afghan strategy review didn’t “add up” to the course the president ultimately chose.  For his part, Vice President Joe Biden is quoted calling Holbrooke “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met.”…

…Gen. David Petraeus, the man now charged with saving Obama’s ass in Afghanistan, thinks White House advisor David Axelrod is “a complete spin doctor.” Petraeus also told his aides in May that the administration was “[expletive] with the wrong guy,” though it’s not clear what the context was…

The most explosive revelations, however, center around the Obama’s decision last year to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but set a controversial July 2011 timeline for beginning to withdraw — an awkward compromise that Woodward’s sources seem eager to portray as very much the president’s own. And Bob’s got the goods: Obama, who comes across as deeply skeptical about the war and overwhelmingly concerned with finding an “exit strategy” rather than winning, personally dictated a six-page “terms sheet” outlining the conditions under which he was sending the troops. Woodward describes a tense Nov. 29, 2009, meeting where the president demanded that each participant read it and raise any objections “now.” According to the Post, “The document — a copy of which is reprinted in the book — took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy’s objectives, what the military was not supposed to do.”

As Woodward describes it,the memo represented Obama’s attempt to keep the military from boxing him in and pushing to escalate the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (a storyline we’ve heard before, though with fewer details). At one point, Woodward says, Obama told military leaders, “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.” It’s not clear just who’s boxing in whom at the moment, though. The Post remarks on the irony that Petraeus has been tasked with implementing a strategy with which he clearly does not fully agree, but the general has been pretty savvy about thus far about establishing that the withdrawals will be “conditions-based.”

If officials in the administration recognize, along with the majority of the American people, that their approach in Afghanistan isn’t going to work, then they need to find the political courage to end it.  It would be irresponsible and immoral to do otherwise.  It appears, however, that General Petraeus has something else in mind:

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

If President Obama is going to step up and do the right thing by ending the war in Afghanistan, he needs the support of a public and Congress who are constantly pressuring him to do so and pushing back against military leadership that is happy to continue a counterproductive, costly and deadly war.  Woodward’s book points to the fact that the president is sensitive to this opposition:

Obama told Gates and Clinton at another meeting that he didn’t want to stay in Afghanistan for a decade: “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” He also made a similar remark to Lindsey Graham, telling the South Carolina senator, “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

He’s already losing a huge chunk of the Democratic Party, with registered Democrats opposing the war in large numbers and a majority of the Democratic Caucus in the House on the record calling for a timetable for military withdrawal.  It’s up to us to fight even harder and make this war far too politically costly for the administration to continue, and pressure our congressional representatives to hold the administration accountable to changing course.

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  • Bill Kaylor

    I would love your feedback on what I see as a politically viable exit strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan –

  • DE Teodoru

    Two main tragedies make the Petraesu/McChrystal self-promoting COIN arguments beside the point:

    (1) We are NOT fighting a counter-INSURGENCY war in Afghanistan but a counter-REVOLUTIONARY war. So where is our counter-REVOLUTION? The Taliban offers a revolution to Afghans in the form of swift Sharia justice in the order of an Islamic Emirate regime. That may seem unattractive to many of us, but most Afghans at the local rural level have shown to find this quite desirable, preferable to the American created Karzai Regime that Petraeus himself has labeled “an organized crime syndicate.”

    Petraeus wrote a PhD thesis on the Vietnam War. Reading it would fully exhibit his shallowness of intellect and lack of historic understanding. A commander, as Napoleon had said, should be a top intellectual and scholar in order to be a successful general. There is little doubt of the mediocrity and incompetence, respectively, on the part of Petraeus and McChrystal on that score. One need only read their writings.

    There is a critical lesson in the case of Vietnam. There too we sought to save South Vietnam by destroying it. So we plastered the countryside with indirect fire. The result was that the surviving peasants took refuge massively in the cities controlled by the dominant firepower, the Saigon regime. If effect, you might say, the peasant “sea” left the guerrilla “fish” high and dry, by becoming a swell of urban population. As Le Duc Tho, the No2 in the Hanoi regime, admitted in 1984, because the VietCong all through the Vietnam War had no urban infrastructure, it lost the population by 1967. It is here that one man– A CIVILIAN– “Blowtorch” Komer– under LBJ’s direct authorization, imposed CORDS, a resettlement program on the MACV military commanders. As Hanoi Radio lamented back then, South Vietnam went from 85% rural to 75% urban in a few years, and these refugees were absorbed into a CORDS created urban economy to become what Hanoi Radio called “petites bourgeois,” meaning a nation of shopkeepers integrated into that urban economy. Hanoi was, therefore, forced to resort to the Tet Offensive of January 1968 before accepting negotiations at Paris. As a result of the Tet Offensive, the cities held but the VietCong was decimated. From 1968 on the war was between ARVN/US regular troops and Hanoi’s regulars coming from North Vietnam, PAVN. The war was thus won by our side; it remained for Hanoi to win by diplomacy at Paris followed by peace treaty braking invasion of South Vietnam with every soldier it had.

    The only revolution Americans ever proved capable of is URBANIZATION. Since the end of WWII, the US had urbanized Third World rural population thus immunizing them to Communism. Ironically, the Maoist “proletarian” (industrial workers) revolution could only succeed by lying to peasants, promising them their own plots of land after it took over. Of course, its goal was to industrialize agriculture in state farms and collectives where the peasants become mere farm hands. By creating small entrepreneur enterprises in towns, the US has, over and over again, defeated Communism with capital rather than with ordnance.

    Donald Rumsfeld pushed Bush into Iraq because he thought he could win that war quickly with “shock&awe,” pull out, and then dethrone Bush in 2004 to replace him as president at that, Rumsfeld’s last shot at the presidency. Our military leadership’s incompetence and parrot-on-the-shoulder submissiveness to Rumsfeld as star whores can only be matched in outrageousness to SecDef Rumsfeld’s incompetence. As Iraq fizzled out into a smoldering mess, Petraeus– the perpetrator of a fraudulent “surge victory” which all analysts attribute to the change of position of Iraqi Sunnis rather than to any plan Petraeus, an ambitious careerists, might have proposed—Petraeus/McChrystal sought a repeat of that Iraq Surge in Afghanistan in hope of a victory in the latter, covering-up the actualities of the former. So Petraeus bullied Obama into putting his man McChrystal in charge; then McChrystal bullied Obama into increasing US forces in Afghanistan by 60,000 troops by now.

    Rather than learn from our rural–>urban revolutionary victory of Vietnam, Petraeus/McChrystal pushed for more troops, diluting them into the Afghan countryside. As in Vietnam, military success would have require over a million troops over a decade and $trillions (according to their own COIN Warfare thesis), which we then didn’t have, having just been fleeced into national poverty by Wall Street.

    Nevertheless, had NATO earlier created its own cities in the then safe Northwest of Afghanistan where young people could be educated and trained for real economic development, leaving the countryside to the Taliban and constricting our perimeter of defense to a manageable form, we could have created our own URBAN REVOLUTION. Instead, we sent in ever more troop intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb to kill Afghans pointlessly in self-defense.

    (2)A religious Muslim State harboring alQaeda is far more unacceptable for the nations of Central, South and East Asia…that includes Russian and China. They had, however, created a SHANGHAI COOPERATIVE ACCORD (SCA) because they knew that our reason for the war in Afghanistan was not to get binLaden but to seize access to Central Asian oil and develop pipelines that carry it to Pakistani warm water ports on the Indian Ocean. All the full and informal members of SCA then deemed stopping the US grab of territory more important than eliminating alQaeda and its Jihadi offshoots in the region. Had the US pulled out of that region, the SCA would have been left to work out its own internal dialectics to resolve the Afghan Taliban/alQaeda problem at their expense. Instead, so that the Chinese go easy on our $30 trillions in debt, Obama allowed Petraeus to, in effect, make our soldiers into mercenaries of the Chinese, going after the Taliban while Chinese firms go after the assets of Central and South Asia safely.

    Our Pentagon is a treasure trove of evidence of our military incompetence and corruption. But it is allowed by law a level of secrecy that far surpasses that of the CIA. Consequently, at best, only our grand children will know what scumbags are and have been the Joint Chiefs of the last decade. But Americans don’t care as they cheer on the troops, thank them for their “service” and shake their hands while saying to themselves: “ain’t my kid going to war” now that ours is an all volunteer army.

    Yet, as we waste our brave kids and what’s left of our national treasury to the incompetence of Petraeus and to his ambition of becoming another Ike-like president, we should stop and ask who and what will replace all our victims and waste to that incompetence?

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