American Elephants

Most of the Pessimism About Afghanistan is Only Half-Truth. by The Elephant's Child
November 14, 2009, 12:29 am
Filed under: Middle East, Military, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

President Obama is apparently going to throw out whatever was undecided after all his meetings with everyone concerned, and unconcerned, with Afghanistan except General McChrystal.

Mr. Obama is trapped between a rock and several hard places, with his supporters on the hard left urging him to abandon the whole thing on one side; the General who is the world-renowned expert in counterinsurgency and the other Generals who have been fighting this war on the other side, and everything in between.

The President would like to find a nice middle road that will please everybody and reflect well on him — and that undoubtedly doesn’t exist.  The choices are all crappy.  Unfortunately, making hard choices  is the job of the President.

President Obama seems to want a clear “exit strategy.”  He wants to know when the Afghan army and police will be up to the challenge, so he can make a promise to his very, very angry left about how soon we will leave.

The far left wants us out of Iraq and Afghanistan right now, as far as I can tell, because they hate George W. Bush, and they want to repudiate his wars to prove how much they hate him.  Bush Derangement Syndrome is still very much alive, particularly in the White House.

There are all sorts of spurious arguments about why we should abandon Afghanistan immediately.  The length of the war is usually mentioned, as if all wars were expected to last 5 years and not a moment longer.  Doesn’t work like that. Historically we have a range from the Hundred Years War, to the Six Day War.  Wars begin when someone is attacked and end when someone surrenders.  Endings (“exit strategies”) cannot be planned in advance, war is an uncertain activity.

There is the “graveyard of empires” argument, the we can’t do “nation-building” argument (counterinsurgency is not “nation-building).” You can’t create a democracy in the Middle East argument. (We did. You may not have noticed, but we won in Iraq.  General Petraeus says it’s more like “Iraqracy,” a form of their own.   They are increasingly having their fights and arguments in their Parliament rather than shooting each other).  That’s what we wanted.

What is important about Afghanistan are the consequences.  And the consequences should not arise from domestic popularity polls.  There are consequences that arise from an undefeated al Qaeda, there are consequences that arise from either al Qaeda or the Taliban undefeated and becoming bigger and stronger because they drove the Great Satan out. We have already experienced the consequences of a strong and resurgent al Qaeda.

David Kilcullen, one of the world’s leading authorities on counterinsurgency and a key adviser to NATO as well as the British Government and the U.S. State Department said that Obama’s delay in reaching a decision over extra troops has been “messy,” and creates uncertainty the Taliban could exploit. He said:

Obama, in a speech to troops in Jacksonville , Florida, a fortnight ago, had said he would never lightly put them in harm’s way.

That’s not the situation we are in.  As an analogy, you have a building on fire, and it’s got a bunch of firemen inside.  There are not enough firemen to put it out.  You have to send in more or you have to leave.  It is not appropriate to stand outside pontificating about not taking lightly the responsibility of sending firemen into harm’s way.  Either put in enough firemen to put the fire out or get out of the house.

Before his Fort Hood trip this week, Obama said the visit “absolutely has an impact because it reminds me that these aren’t abstractions.”  He needs reminding?

If the American people are opposed to sending more troops, or to our being in Afghanistan, a good part of the opposition is directly due to the indecision and lack of leadership from the White House. The more Obama dithers, the more the public doubts that he will give our troops wholehearted support, and those doubts are also consequences.


Uncertainty, Indecision, Naivety, Doubt, Worry, Maybe… by The Elephant's Child


This painting by San Francisco artist Ed Ruscha is one selected by President Obama to be loaned to the White House.  It would seem to indicate some level of self-awareness on the part of Mr. Obama of characteristic indecision.  The world is  taking notice of Obama’s dithering regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan, and worrying.

The word “dithering” has gained a spot in current vocabulary that it has never previously occupied.  In a campaign speech on September 9,2008, Obama said:

His plan comes up short. There’s not enough troops, not enough resources and not enough urgency. What President Bush and Senator McCain don’t understand is that the central front in the War on Terror is not in Iraq and never was. The central front is in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the terrorists who hit us on 9-11 are still plotting attacks seven years later.

On March 27, according to Charles Krauthammer, with his secretaries of state and defense at his side, the President said “Today I’m announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He made it clear that he had not arrived at the decision casually.  The new strategy, he said, “marks the conclusion of a careful policy review.” The conclusion of an extensive review, the president assured the nation , that included consultation with military commanders and diplomats, with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with our NATO allies and members of Congress.

Dr. Krauthammer continued: “The general in charge was then relieved and replaced with Obama’s own choice, Stanley McChrystal.”

On August 30, Obama’s handpicked general submitted a request for 40,000 more troops which he said were necessary for the counterinsurgency strategy the president wanted, and to avoid losing to the Taliban.

General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, General Zinni, and Ike Skelton (chair, House Armed Services), Diane  Feinstein (chair Senate Intel) agreed.  Six weeks later, Obama is still dithering.  Rahm Emanuel was on the Sunday shows using the uncertainty in Afghan elections as the latest excuse.  Robert Kaplan wrote in the Atlantic:

The Afghan people have survived three decades of war by hedging their bets.  Now, watching a young and inexperienced American president appear to waiver on his commitment to their country, they are deciding, at the level of both the individual and the mass, whether to make their peace with the Taliban — even as the Taliban itself can only take solace and encouragement from Obama’s public agonizing.  Meanwhile, fundamentalist elements of the Pakistani military, opposed to the recent crackdown against local Taliban, are also taking heart from developments in Washington. …This is how coups and revolutions get started, by the middle ranks sensing weakness in foreign support for their superiors.

Obama’s wobbliness also has a corrosive effect on the Indians and the Iranians.  India desperately needs a relatively secular Afghan regime in place to bolster Hindu India’s geopolitical position against radical Islamdom, and while the country enjoyed an excellent relationship with Bush, Obama’s dithering is making it nervous.  And Iran in observing Washington’s indecision, can only feel more secure in its creeping economic annexation of western Afghanistan.

At the White House, the dithering goes on.  The meetings are now referred to as “seminars”, but strategic decisions seem to be left, not to the world’s best generals, but, of course, to the president and Rahm Emanuel, Joe Biden and David Axlerod.

As the painting says: I THINK MAYBE I’LL…MAYBE…YES…
xxxxxxxwait a minute…
xxxxxxxxxxxxx On Second Thought…
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx MAYBE NO..

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