Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Afghanistan: Failure of Intent

When we went into Afghanistan, it was not yet a month past 9/11, the world effectively supported any reasonable appearing action the US might take, and the American people certainly agreed that since this was the geographical source of the crime, this is where we needed to show that we can’t be so easily knocked down.

NATO joined in and the task at hand seemed fairly straightforward: get in there and roust the intransigent and vile Taliban that took over the country after the withdrawal of the Soviets over a decade earlier; and who made the poor choice of allowing an Arab-based terrorist organization run by an old-style Muslim whackjob with a lot of daddy’s construction cash left under his keffiyeh have undue influence in the country, and the ability to inspire immense acts of murder out of the country. All that, rather than accept billions of US dollars to switch from poppies to potatoes and let girls learn how to read. Once the Taliban was knocked over, blow out the caves and get the sand worm bin Laden and call it a day.

I remember well the day the invasion started. I was out on a country drive with my then-girlfriend and I said to her when the news came on the radio, “I hope this guy knows what he’s doing.” Other than the speech to congress following 9/11 and the megaphone stunt at ground zero, I hadn’t seen anything out of this man-child Bush that gave me any confidence in him at all. He always seemed to me to be the goofy kid of the “guy who was involved in getting things done” which like them or not, was what his daddy, grand daddy, and great grand daddy were. So now he had his chance. Well at least he had the old wise man Cheney at his side, right? And Powell too.

Like each and every other matter these discredited miscreants laid their hands on, they blew it. After quickly bombing the Taliban out of power and taking Kabul, all enemies, Taliban and al-Qaeda were on the run and nearly bottled up at Tora Bora, the jagged, ancient mountains near the Pakistan border. Because another genius, Donald Rumsfeld refused to provide the few thousand additional troops requested for that battle, US forces worked with local anti-Taliban groups who, though good fighters, mostly veterans of the Soviet insurgency, had no great taste after a point to fight fellow Muslims while supporting non-Muslims. The result was that the locals brokered a separate cease-fire which gave bin Laden and his minions the chance to scurry across to the Pakistani tribal areas where, if he lives today, bin Laden remains.

Like the distraction-disaster that followed, GW Bush and his half-a-brain trust either failed or refused to give our military the resources needed to achieve the tasks at hand. And they damn near pulled it off both times anyway.

Now the man who chose to take the cesspit of American politics and policy onto his lanky lap, my friend Barry, is about to make his Big Announcement which, as that earlier expert military tactician Cheney says, he has been dithering over for approximately 90 days. How long does it take to decide on the least screwed up way to deal with what is now a completely screwed up situation? A “war” which should have ended after about 60 days has lasted 8 years and cost about 1500 American lives. Maybe not making a rash decision is called for here, hmmm?

So the early word says Barry is gonna give the general about 2/3 of what he asked for, which to a military man is probably everything he expected. I learned a long time ago to start a negotiation high and settle low. For our friends on the right, who shop retail and buy the sticker price, this makes no sense and they will say so and loudly. But they will never have Barry’s back, unless it’s in crosshairs so why he continues to bother is a question that my political mind cannot reach. I am not myself a political animal so I have no desire to be appreciated by everyone who doesn’t like me for any reason or no reason so I don’t waste effort trying.

On the left there will be howls because this guy was supposed to get us out of these stupid wars. Well yes, but even this guy said he thought this was a correct war so expecting him to ditch it is wrong-headed. Expecting him to do nothing clearly isn’t going to work since, well, it’s not working. So doing what appears to be a half-measure is what should be expected. No one will be happy, which may mean he’s found a good middle ground, like he does in every issue.

My feeling is that numerically, it’s probably necessary to increase troops since there were never enough to cover the country in the first place (it’s bigger and more spread out than Iraq by a substantial margin). It has much less infrastructure and a much less educated population who are nevertheless battle weary and tested following what is now nearly 30 years of near constant war and insurrection involving the world’s major powers: NONE OF WHOM HAVE EVER MANAGED TO SUBDUE THE PLACE.

Very simply, we should stay there long enough in this form to allow Karzai to clean up his act or not, to rebuild some of what we broke, to try to rout the Taliban out of the two southern provinces that actually have lots of Taliban (Helmand and Kandahar), and do so using anti-insurgency tactics rather than old-style big battle plans. We need to get into the villages and interact with the people, gain their confidence and give them the strength to fight off the guys we don’t like and then make sure we continue to supply them appropriately when we want to leave. That’s what finally succeeded in Iraq and that’s what will succeed in Afghanistan. We won’t leave behind a modern democracy. The culture there in 10,000 years old, possibly older than the one we tried to change in Iraq. Dropping bombs around them for a few years isn’t going to bring a light to their world that will obscure the one they have known since before cattle were domesticated.