Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Good War?

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.


Anonymous said...

I'll get back to you on a few of these, but you need to look into scheduling your posts. They look like quality pieces but the volume is a bit much... even for the unemployed.

There is no way I (or anyone else) want to get into every plank of your platform on the same day. Plus it would give you some greater consistency if you spread the the genius around.

Just a tip from a faithful reader.

Matty said...

Since you info-dumped today, I might do a piecemeal comment thing as I get time (and motivation) to read through everything. I do want to address the Cheney thing.

The reason that Cheney criticized the Obama strategy (in response btw to a Rahm Emmanual cheap shot) as dithering was because many in the Bush administration and also those in the Obama administration know that the current strategy on the table apparently bears an "uncanny resemblance to what was given to them by the Bush team. Cheney can criticize because he was privy to all the hard work to analyze the situation and develop a future solution only to have the Obama team tell them not to let on who developed it.
For team O to then turn around and say Bush had no plans - knowing full well that their plan was basically inherited - is pretty low.

Check out what folks on my side are saying about this one. I hope this hyperlink works.

Wow, it's gonna take a second

Uncle Walt said...

I am not sure that you can claim that the President's current stragegy was one he inherited since one of his early acts as President was to increase our force level in Afghanistan by about 50%. The point of that increase in force level was to attempt to dramatically change the strategy from the Bush adminstration strategy that had left the campaign in such a precarious state. Increasing force levels by 50% and significantly changing the strategy employed by those forces doesn't actually equal using the plan he inherited from President Bush.

As an aside, I never said that President Bush didn't have a plan, I said that his plan was a disaster in the making. There is a difference.

And Vice President Cheney wasn't criticizing any element of the President Obama's current strategy in Afghanistan. He was complaining that President Obama was taking his time to come to a decision. How different would it be there now if Vice President Cheney and President Bush had taken more time before invading a country that wasn't a threat to us. How different would it be if Vice President Cheney and President Bush listened to the Generals who were telling them that they needed a far larger force to secure Iraq after the invastion. How different would it be if Vice President Cheney and President hadn't sat on a request from their commanders in Afghanistan for more troops for 8 months.

Vice President Cheney who supported the intital failed policies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, who has been wrong strategically more times than I can count in their 8 years in office, lacks any credibility when criticizing the Obama administration for being deliberative in coming to such an important statement.

Do you really want a man with so little credibility on the issue to be your party's point man on this issue? Next thing you know you will be pretending like Sarah Palin understands foriegn policy as well.

Matty said...

I'm ambiguous about Cheney honestly but he really only lacks credibility on your side (much like Biden from my side). That's partisanship. You think Cheney's a sneaky liar and I think Biden is... well, just a really bad liar.

Did you even read the linked article? The point was that according to a variety of insiders, Obama's plan is Bush's plan and they all know it. Bush increased troop levels as soon as the Pentagon had the troops available to send (7000 before he left office).

You say Bush's strategy was a disaster but it's the same strategy that's being implemented now... BO's team just asked everyone who knows that to keep a lid on it.

Uncle Walt said...

I read the link in the National Standard and found it interesting that President Bush commissions a review of Afghanistan policy with less than 6 months left in his presidency. Throughout the campaign Senator Obama talked about increasing troop strength in Afghistan and that is what he did. I don't know if the Luke report advocated the same strategy that Obama implemented or not, but to claim that that review, which started after Senator was the Democratic nominee and had clearly stated his intentions for Afghanistan, is the singular or even most important basis for President Obama's decision in March is a bit of a reach.

The difference between my opinion of Vice President Cheney and your opinion of Vice President Biden, is there is an entire array of points in his 8 years as VP where he was clearly advocating policies that later proved to be disasters. Biden, whatever you think of his gaffs, doesn't have anything close to Cheney's history of utter cluelessness.

All that being said, my post wasn't about Vice President Cheney or even President Bush. The fact that they left President Obama a disaster in Afghanistan can't really be argued. Whether they came up with a plan to fix their mess before they left or not, they still left a mess.
I thought that needed saying.

But my post wasn't about either one of them.

It was about the current challenges facing President Obama and the decision he is faced with today. What ever conditions he inherited, he is the President now and these are his decisions to make.

And they are not simple decisions. Every available option sucks. Its trying to find the option that sucks less than the other options.

So I am done talking about the failures of the Bush Administration on this thread. I can do that anytime but its too easy.

This thread is about today.

I don't see a good solution here. I don't a partner for us in Afghanistan to build a nation with and without a partner in Kabul who is competent and honest, all the take, hold, and build in the world will not give us a stable Afghanistan, it will only give us more wasted and ruined lives and money thrown away chasing a goal we can't reach.

We need out.