Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Afghanistan -- as we begin year nine
Pundits pontificating about a lost cause

The New York Times greeted the impending ninth anniversary of the U.S.-Afghanistan war with a collection of remarkably empty verbiage from ten pundits. Only of few of them were people who have or have had any active responsibility for the murderous morass now reaching yet another Presidential decision point. Here's a run down:
  • David Killcullen, an Australian former counter-insurgency advisor to U.S. General David Petraeus, was dubious and realistic. He thinks "progress" requires a legitimate, functional Afghan government. There's no such thing now -- and not much chance of one as the completely fraudulent August election showed.

    If we see no genuine progress on such steps toward government responsibility, the United States should "Afghanize," draw down troops and prepare to mitigate the inevitable humanitarian disaster that will come when the Kabul government falls to the Taliban -- which, in the absence of reform, it eventually and deservedly will.

Eight commentators dished out what I can only call crackpot prescriptions [my commentary in italics]. Perhaps there was something in the Times' assignment that brought out their least practical pre-occupations.
  • Robert A. Pape, an expert on suicide bombings: "end suicide attacks." How?
  • Linda Robinson, author of a book on Petraeus: hire the insurgents into local forces, as in previous wars in Columbia, South Vietnam and Iraq. All those are models for murderous "government" militias. Just what Afghanistan needs more of.
  • Anthony Cordesman, Washington think tank perennial: create and train a police force. What does he think our troops have been trying to do for eight years on and off?
  • Nader Nadery, Afghan human rights campaigner: kick out corruption. How? Many Afghans complain about how much MORE corrupt this government is than the Taliban.
  • Gretchen Peters, a journalist who has covered the opium poppy economy of Afghanistan: collect taxes.With all due respect to someone whose seen a lot, how? And who would manage/walk away with the cash if it were collected?
  • Andrew M. Exum, another Washington security thinker: get the troops out among the people and risk taking casualties. Probably Afghans would respond better to U.S. troops who made an effort to understand them and who interacted without pointed guns and body armor. But can any responsible authority ask troops to risk their lives when the mission remains so undefined?
  • Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, professional neo-conservatives: escalate, escalate, escalate. Leading us into an aggressive war on Iraq wasn't good enough -- they lust after more blood and guts not only in Afghanistan but also in Iran. Imperial sickos, those neo-cons.
  • Paul Pillar, former CIA spook turned security academic: get Pakistan on board with the project. How? That would take solving the India-Pakistan stand off over Kashmir, a legacy of colonialism long predating current U.S. pre-occupations.
The only Times pundit I found at all interesting was Retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak who pointed out that after eight years of this war, domestic political realities will drive what the U.S. does in Afghanistan far more than facts on the ground. This seems true:

In time, democracies tire of war, as well they should. Thus, the single most important factor [an indigenous insurgent] enemy counts on is time. The outcome in Afghanistan may be determined already, simply because we've been there for eight years. The strategic center of gravity is American public opinion, which will tell us when we've run out of time. If you want to know how we are doing in Afghanistan, read the polls in America.

The truth is, the U.S. public is done with this war, just as it was with the Iraq morass by the beginning of 2006.

Will the President find a way out that responds to where his own people are at? That's his job these days -- we are waiting to see how he does at performing it.

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