The President has been involved in protracted deliberations over the strategy needed in Afghanistan. Amazingly, former Vice President Cheney has chosen to criticize the President for being deliberate in his decisions. Amazing criticism from a man who encouraged his President into making a huge string of strategic mistakes, from the conduct of the war in Afghanistan during the Bush Administration, to invading Iraq, to the general tenor of our foreign policy to idiotic and disastrous domestic policies to participating in the outing of a covert CIA officer.
That rant aside, the President has an incredibly tough decision to make.
Like much of what he inherited, President is faced with a range of shitty options, none of whom hold great promise.
Withdrawal on some sort of timetable and leaving the Afghanistani's to their own devices would be terribly difficult to sell politically even if he wasn't already in the middle of two other very important political debates.
Keep with the current force levels and strategy. Probably the one choice no one is advocating.
Bulk up our forces by 40,000 or more troops to expand the current strategy of take, hold, and build that was the concept behind his first troop increase in March. Basically doubling down on his earlier strategy.
Shift the focus from anti-insurgency and nation building implicit in take, hold, and build to a focused anti-terrorist strategy that utilizes special forces and targeted munitions to target Al Queda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and essentially withdraw from the Afghani civil war.
There may be other options, these are the ones I have heard of.
And they are all terrible options.
Any strategy that is focused on building the institutions and military structure of the Afghani government in Kabul runs headlong into the debilitating corruption of the Karzi government. And there is no real evidence that his opponent in the upcoming runoff will be any less corrupt. And this is why any strategy built on nation building in Afghanistan begins to look and feel more and more like Vietnam. And that image scares me.
I don't know how different a strategic picture we would be seeing in Afghanistan if the Bush Administration had not screwed the pooch so completely, but we may now be at the point where the Taliban cannot be defeated. They have used money and what almost looks like effective governance to establish a very strong position in much of the country. And they can easily present us as invaders and occupiers and history shows that Afghanistan is not kind to invaders and occupiers. And what passes for a central government in Kabul is riddled with corruption and ineptitude. How can we try to build a nation based on that central government? Though it would be easy to criticize President Bush for picking Karzai, I don't know of any other Afghani leader who could have been effective at creating a national government in a nation that has never really had one. If there is a leader who would not be corrupt himself and who could create a government largely free of corruption, I have not heard his name.
Take, hold, and build might possibly work if we could bring in enough troops and keep them there long enough, but the more troops we bring in, the more we look like occupiers. The longer we stay, the more we look like occupiers. The more we support a corrupt central government the more we look like occupiers.
I supported President Obama in the election and I supported his decision to increase our force level in Afghanistan early in his Presidency. Now I am not so sure.
Increasingly I believe it’s time for us to accept that we cannot enforce our will on Afghanistan. Maybe we never could have. Maybe even if the Bush Administration had focused on Afghanistan from the beginning it would still look the same, I don't know.
But I don't see any good outcome here. We will continue to lose good men and women fighting a war trying to build a stable nation in Afghanistan and I don't see any realistic way for us to succeed. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan doesn't really have any history of central governance. It has always been a tribal society where people are far more faithful their faith and their tribe than to their nation. Can come together and stop fighting each other when the need to deal with invaders and occupiers, but they don't see themselves as a nation. Afghanistan is, after all, a nation created by western colonial powers drawing lines on a map that had little or nothing to do with reality on the ground.
We have screwed up here. We gleefully helped the Afghani people defeat the Soviets. The Soviets pulled out and the first Bush Administration patted itself on the back and walked away from a country we helped break. Maybe if we had stayed then, maybe if we had worked with the Pakistani's and the Afghani's to build civil structures and build infrastructure that would give people other options than growing poppies, maybe it might have worked then. My natural inclination is that since we broke it, we have to fix it. I just don't think we can.
We need to be finding a way out. Sooner rather than later.
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