Friday, May 29, 2009

Afghanistan: what's the exit strategy?

Do most people in the United States realize the morass our government is leading us deeper into in Afghanistan? Probably not. As Peter Rothberg recently pointed out in the Nation,

... recent estimates of coverage by major news outlets report that a scant 0.6 percent of reporting has been devoted to Afghanistan.

Several significant perspectives have become available recently.

Douglas Macgregor, a former U.S. Army colonel, recently laid out a scary picutre in Defense News. He sees the United States repeating mistakes that will seem all too familiar to those of us who lived through the war in Vietnam.

In 1965, we misconstrued a region of temporary, tactical importance as being of enduring strategic value. President Lyndon Johnson's advisers had unfounded, naïve and unrealistic expectations of Vietnam's near-term potential to evolve into a modern social democratic constitutional republic if the United States put the "right people" in charge and provided a pile of cash and some "military assistance."

... Politicians frequently substitute a fascination with direct action in the form of air strikes or special operations killings for strategy. They see such action as a "cleaner" approach with its own logic, as well as tactics with less risk of U.S. casualties. But in the absence of a viable strategy with attainable objectives, direct action is problematic.

The whole article is worth reading. Robert Gates playing the part of Robert MacNamara, perhaps?

Meanwhile, a NATO ally, Germany, has had a military base at Kunduz in Afghanistan for several years -- and sure doesn't seem to be making any "progress" according to reporting by the German paper Spiegel. We don't read many U.S. reporters being this forthright about failure.

When the deputy director of Aqtash High School talks of the government, he isn't referring to Hamid Karzai's central government in Kabul. Nor does he refer to the provincial administration in Kunduz. "The Taliban are our government," Bashir says. "They have taken over our region, their commanders give the orders here."

... At least 10 girls' sections of schools located near Kunduz have been closed down in the last three weeks after receiving threats from the Taliban. Parents simply stopped sending their children to school because of the danger. ... Neither the German army, the Bundeswehr, nor the local police force are effective against the Islamist extremists. At the most, they can temporarily dislodge the Taliban, but they then move on to terrorize other areas where there are no German soldiers.

Most of all, though, the closures threaten one of the few successes that the Germans have had in Afghanistan. It is an achievement that has been repeatedly trumpeted by those in favor of continued engagement; hardly a German politician has refrained from mentioning how encouraging it is to visit a girls' school in Afghanistan. Now, though, the schools -- just like in the south where recent acid attacks against schoolgirls have hit the headlines -- have become a potent propaganda tool for the Taliban. Western troops, so goes the message, can't do anything to stop the Islamist fighters.

Pressure in the U.S. for an exit from Iraq built up gradually as people realized first that the war had been based on a lie and second that continued U.S. deaths served no useful purpose. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will keep its promise of full withdrawal; no one should be surprised if the Iraqi civil war, on hold for the moment, breaks out again as the U.S. draws down.

Now in Afghanistan, a military occupation with no clear U.S. objective is being challenged by a resistance that can be tamped down momentarily but not eradicated. At present, in fact, the "bad guys" are winning if we are to believe numerous accounts including this German one. And the war has leaked into Pakistan. The U.S. is now building an Iraq-style super embassy(outpost) in Islamabad.

How long will it take for people in the United States realize our troops have once again been committed to a long, expensive, unwinnable war with no plan? President Obama, what's the aim? What's the exit strategy?


Dajenya said...

Now that I have finished celebrating the election of Obama, I must say that I am very concerned that his election has led to a fair amount of complacency in the anti-war movement. Sure, Obama plans to get us out of Iraq (after a year or two...), and meanwhile he plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Even if you are not a pacifist, even if you believe some wars are either justified or necessary, or might do more good than harm, this war falls into none of those 3 categories.

Even articles in Time magazine (hardly a progressive media) state that war in Afghanistan is un-win-able (as it was for every invader from Alexander the Great to the USSR). Afghanistan is more a collection of tribes than a united nation, and the land/topography as well as the cultural conditions are such that "victory" is not possible. So what will be accomplished? Many thousands of deaths of US soldiers and Afghani citizens, and a continuation of the huge waste of money that is so sorely needed here at home. Just so Obama can prove that he is neither "weak" nor a leftist?

I offer my prior article as my pro-Obama credentials. However, regarding his stance on Afghanistan, it is past-due time for the US anti-war movement to organize and resist the escalation of this newest "Vietnam." Rather than tip-toe on eggshells to avoid conflict with our beloved Obama, I hope that all those who, like myself, supported Obama's campaign with words, money and action, will now feel responsible to send a message to our friend Obama that war is not the answer; certainly not this war!

Obama may be the closest thing to Roosevelt in our lifetime. But there is no president then, now, or ever, who does not need to hear the loud and clear voice(s) of concerned citizens when he takes our money, our children, our conscience, our international reputation to war. Unlike the slow quiet involvement in Vietnam, the escalation of this war is public and publicized. What are we waiting for?

Darlene said...

You have it right. This is an un-winnable war with no real strategy.

Two things do bother me, though. The weak Pakistan government having nuclear weapons that the fanatic Taliban will end up with unless we are able to contain them. (The Taliban, not the weapons.) If we leave what will happen to those weapons?

The other thing that bothers me is the cruel way the Taliban treats women. This may not be our problem, but it is a humanitarian one.

Mr. Natural said...

Darlene and Dajenya, I agree that this is an excellent post. Your comments are excellent comments. If we are to BE in Afgh/Pak, we need to HEAR our reasons. We need to SEE our reasons in writing. We do not need to hear a lot of babble about terrorists and making the place safe for "democracy". If our goal is to kill Taliban, then let us get on with it and kill the motherf**kers. We have excellent killing machines and people. We do NOT need to kill more civillians and poor people. We have still not taken account of the numbers of innocents slaughtered in Iraq by our "smart" bombs and other means and machines. I worked toward Obama's election too. Frankly, I am terribly disappointed in him.

Gates is a horrible person right out of the Central America horrors, and should NEVER have been given ANY job in a thoughtful administration.

Sorry...I get sad/angry and carry on...

Mr. Natural said...

BTW, have you seen Small Wars Journal? I find it an excellent occasional insight into some necessary critical thinking as we DO seem to be involved.

Don't know html so you will have to copy/paste if interested:

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