Monday, April 27, 2009
Where Are We Headed in Afghanistan?
Diana West weighs in on the current mess in Afghanistan:
Afghan Taliban …the United States is getting a lot of bang for a lot of buck but not much else. Don’t get me wrong: If killing small bands of Taliban is in the best interest of the United States, I’m for it. But I do not believe it is -- and certainly not as part of the grand strategy conceived first by the Bush administration and now expanded by the Obama administration to turn Afghanistan into a state capable of warding off what is daintily known as “extremism,” but is, in fact, bona-fide jihad to advance Sharia (Islamic law).
Anybody remember Sisyphus? Well, trying to transform Afghanistan into an anti-jihad, anti-Sharia player -- let alone functional nation -- is like trying to roll Sisyphus’ rock up the hill.
She could be right: this Sisyphean task may eventually get us flattened under that rock. Afghan is too lawless, far more tribal than Iraq could ever think of being, and has crushed more than one power which tried to rule it in the past.
Ms. West continues:
…sinking all possible men, materiel and bureaucracy into Afghanistan, as the Obama people and most conservatives favor, to try to bring a corrupt Islamic culture into working modernity while simultaneously fighting Taliban and wading deep into treacherous Pakistani wars is no way to victory -- at least not to U.S. victory. On the contrary, it is the best way to bleed and further degrade U.S. military capabilities. Indeed, if I were a jihad chieftain, I couldn’t imagine a better strategy than to entrap tens of thousands of America’s very best young men in an open-ended war of mortal hide-and-seek in the North West Frontier.
But does it have to be an “open-ended war”? Yes, we need personnel and materiel, but we also need a long-term strategy and some tactics that would allow regular people in Afghnistan to ally with the Coalition Forces. They will never do so if they think we will not stay for the long haul but will abandon them to the sadistic cruelty of the terrorists. America has faced that shameful mistake before. I beg that we not repeat it.
We have the potential for this commitment if we think it through and plan carefully. Iraq was Bush’s war, and no matter how shaky that country seems - and right now it does - the surge will remain imprinted in the national consciousness of the US as a “win”.
Now the roulette wheel spins and Afghanistan is Obama’s war. As his predecessors were, the President is a hostage to the fortunes of his times, and lawless Afghanistan belongs to him.
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I believe that is why he has retained Secretary of Defense Gates and General Petraeus, though I doubt there is little love lost between the President and his military leadership. Obama’s experience is limited to community organizing, sitting on the boards of foundations, and dexterous campaigning. Those are slim credentials for strategizing about the Badlands. Without Gates and Petraeus, Obama is left to roll that rock all by himself. Besides, if and when things go thoroughly sideways, and they well might, the President has these two to blame for his losses.
When Ms. West asked Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely for his recommendations on Afghanistan, he said:
“Basically, let it go”.
“There’s nothing to win there,” he explained, engaging in an all-too-exotic display of common sense. “What do you get for it? What’s the return? Well, the return’s all negative for the United States.”
The general continued: “This doesn’t mean giving up battle. What it means is you transition to a more realistic, affordable strategy that keeps them (the jihadist enemy) from spreading.”
The problem I see with this is that if we let Afghanistan go, we might as well kiss Pakistan goodbye, also. Like it or not, these lawless, backward hell holes are a two-fer. Lose one - or let it go - and we will have a radioactive Taliban in short order.
Think of what pulling out would mean for our relationship with India, just to name one disaster. A connected mess is India’s help with Israel, which she would have to abandon as troops massed on the border with Pakistan.
Not that the General’s idea isn’t intriguing. He told Ms. West:
Such a strategy…relies on “the maximum use of unconventional forces,” such as Navy SEALS and other special forces, who can be deployed as needed from what are known in military parlance as “lily pads” -- outposts or jumping-off points in friendly countries (Israel, Northern Kurdistan, India, Philippines, Italy, Djibouti … ) and from U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups. Such strike groups generally include eight to 10 vessels “with more fire power…than most nations.” These lily pads become “bases we can launch from any time we want to…”
“There’s no permanent force…that’s the beauty of it.” We watch, we wait and when U.S. interests are threatened, “we basically use our strike forces to take them out, target by target.” This would work whether the threat came from Al Qaeda, Pakistani nukes or anything else.
I agree with Ms. West and the General that nation-building is problematic in a place like Afghanistan, or Pakistan for that matter. India, with her years of British colonial preparation, still has her work cut out for her - work that is hampered every day by Islamic terrorists and by poverty. However, India is blessed with an industrious, intelligent people and most especially, she operates under the rule of law.
If we have learned nothing else in the years since September 11th 2001, we have gained much knowledge regarding the difficulty (if not impossibility) of bringing the rule of law to a culture that is severely hampered by tribal fiat.
It remains to be seen what our new President will “do with” Afghanistan. As he so famously remarked to someone who questioned one of his plans, “I won”.
You certainly did win, sir. And one of your prizes was Afghanistan.
Good luck with that, Mr. President.