Obama's strategic wasteland

by Jeff Huber

In December 2008, Joe Klein of Time magazine called the war in Afghanistan an “aimless absurdity.”Our new president is onboard with committing 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Pentagon isn’t certain what to tell the additional troops to do there or even what kind of troops it wants to send.According to the Washington Post,”the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like ‘surge’ of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years.”

So why are they executing an Iraq-like “surge” of forces?

No, After You…

One senior U.S. military commander told the Post “We have no strategic plan. We never had one.”He was referring to the Bush administration’s Afghanistan program, but he might as well have been talking about Iraq and Iran and every other tentacle of Bush era foreign policy.The senior commander also said that Obama’s first order of business will be to “explain to the American people what the mission is” in Afghanistan.Obama will be hard pressed to explain what the mission is if he doesn’t have a strategy.

A December New York Times article stated that “Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban.”Arming local militias was only part of the “successful” experiment in Iraq.The larger part of the experiment involved bribing militias not to use the arms we gave them, a course of action that has further cemented the ostensible necessity for U.S. troops to stay in that country well beyond Obama’s promised 16 month deadline.The surge has been so successful that, after two years, it’s still in effect; we have several thousand more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began in January 2007, and it still hasn’t produced its stated purpose of political unification.Maybe that’s okay.Objectives seem to have gone the way of the foreign policies of yesteryear.

The hero of the Iraq surge, General David Petraeus, is now in charge of Central Command, the area of responsibility that encompasses Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.In a November press conference at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Petraeus said that, “an overall effort is essential,” but declined to give details on what the effort might consist of.

Antonio Giustozzi, an Afghanistan expert at the London School of Economics, puts it bluntly: “In the end, I believe it will boil down to bribing people into joining militias.”He cautions, “How military effective [this is] going to be remains to be seen.”

Bribing militias to fight the Taliban won’t be effective at all if the Pentagon decides not to fight the Taliban.As analyst Gareth Porter notes, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his rear echelon military functionaries have already had months to develop a new strategy, and the bottle is still spinning.Some officers have suggested we shift from killing the Taliban to protecting the population (from the Taliban, I’m guessing).Other proposed strategies include offering the Taliban protection from international forces in Afghanistan if they agree to undertake peace negotiations, and many believe the only solution is to offer a share of political power to the Taliban, in which case—arguably, at least—we might not want to kill them at all.

Then, as in Iraq, we’ll have to stick around forever to make sure the militias we paid to kill the Taliban don’t kill them or turn on us. Of course, they probably won’t kill the Taliban if we don’t pay them to, and they pretty much can’t kill the Taliban if we don’t arm them, and they can’t turn on us if we leave; but what kind of strategy would that be?

Throw Soldiers at It

For all the machinations of the Bush administration, its standard operating procedure was quite simple, more of a tactic than a strategy.The closest analogy to it I can think of is ice hockey’s dump-and-chase play.Hockey teams with overwhelming speed and size don’t bother with coordinated maneuvers; they simply sling the puck into the opponent’s zone, skate after it, knock the other guys into the boards and try to slide the puck to an open teammate in front of the net.If the tactic doesn’t work, they just do it again, and again, and again.If the opponent scores, the dump-and-chase team shakes it off and goes back to dumping and chasing and never stops doing it.

It’s not long before all the dump-and-chase team knows how to do is dump and chase, and after a time it’s too late for them to relearn how to skate and pass and play as a team.The U.S. has been playing dump-and-chase since the end of World War II.The stronger and bigger and faster we got relative to everyone else, the more we played dump-and-chase, and the less effective armed force became as a tool of foreign policy.Rather than reexamine the efficacy of our methods, we merely invested in an ever more powerful but increasingly impotent military.

So it is that we invaded Iraq on fuzzy pretexts with no idea of what we’d do after we “won,” without even a way of determining we’d accomplished our mission other than hanging a sign behind our commander in chief that said we had.

We’re about to escalate yet another enigmatic war with no particular purpose in mind.Mr. Obama says Afghanistan is now the “central front on terror.”The central front has moved from Afghanistan to Iraq to Iran to Syria to North Korea to Pakistan and back to Afghanistan again.That’s a boatload of central fronts for a war that doesn’t have any front lines.I can’t wait to hear who Obama says the latest incarnation of Hitler is.

Obama says he wants to make sure Afghanistan “cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States.”Nobody can actually launch an attack on much of anything from the mountains of Afghanistan.You can plan an attack from there, but you can plan an attack on the United States from a picnic blanket spread out in front of the Lincoln Memorial.And oh yeah, the Taliban, whether we decide to kill them or not, had nothing to do with 9/11, and have no interest in being party to a second one, and wouldn’t be fighting us if we hadn’t pitched a tent city in their front yard.

I hope young Mr. Obama thinks good and hard before he decides to send more G.I.s to risk life and limb in a third world wasteland for no coherent reason.I grew sick from watching the last commander in chief treat our troops like hockey pucks.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy(Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

6 replies »

  1. “it will boil down to bribing people”

    “an overall effort is essential”

    Pretty sophisticated foreign policy.

  2. “We’re about to escalate yet another enigmatic war with no particular purpose in mind.”

    Except, the Taliban is harboring bin Laden (if he’s still alive, I don’t think he is) in Afghanistan. Or so the theory goes. So, by pulling down the Taliban we’re hoping to find support for finding bin Laden, and thereby putting Sept. 11, 2001 to rest.

    I don’t think that’s what the Shrub wanted to do, even though those were the words coming out of his mouth (once in a while.. also, “I’m not that worried about bin Laden” was uttered, so which do you believe?). I am pretty certain the Military Industrial Complex isn’t interested in shutting down it’s money maker, either.

    But, we have stuck our foot in this mess, and there are, without question, those that would like to attack America and kill her “image”, if not her actual people. We have to find out “who” and which “image” they are trying to kill.. If you pay attention, the Dick Cheney’s of the world want to kill the image of “useless Liberals living (and enjoying) their lives when they should be slaves making us money!”. The Dick Cheney’s of the world are at war with the bin Laden’s of the world, those being the ones that want to kill the “image” of “buy buy buy! wanton waste and gluttony! whores for everyone!” crowd.. who, incidently, are actually the Cheney crowd.

    America, in her native “image”, is just about people living their lives how they want.. We don’t get to do that here, and haven’t for a very long time.

    I don’t know if Afghanistan is a good push or not. Iraq was certainly fucktarded.. but bin Laden DOES hang out in Afghanistan, and the Taliban DOES hide him (when it suits them). However, bin Laden only managed to be successful on Sept. 11, 2001 (if that really _was_ him) because the Dick Cheney’s of the world let him be.. so, perhaps it’s all a wash and we should just come home and lick our wounds and try to find out what some reality is in all of this deceit and trickery that’s been going on for the past 30 years or so.

  3. I question how much the Taliban is “harboring” bin Laden. I have trouble believing al Qaeda is doing much in the Bananastans besides laying low.


  4. First thing Obama dont be so gullible as to believe bush and friends as We havent heard one truth from them. How many innocents did he kill and how many are you going to kill.. Get your own house in order or you wont have a house

  5. I tend to agree, Jeff.. wouldn’t it be nice if we had an intelligence system, and office of the President that we could trust to be honest with us about such things?

    I think bin Laden died years ago. He needs dialysis on a regular basis, which means hospital visits.. and we can’t find him? We were visiting him in Afghanistan in Oct. 2001 while he was getting treatment… now 7 years of “where did he go??”? .. not buying it.

  6. I don’t think that the Taliban and al Queda are very closely related, except within the propaganda machine of the US government. AQ is very Arab and the Taliban is very Pashtun. If i’ve read my history right there was always a fair amount of animosity between the foreign mujahideen and the natives during the Soviet war. The Pashtun code means that they will not give OBL up to the US, but it doesn’t mean that they particularly like him.

    I’d bet that he was more of a useful tool than a true friend when he was in permanent residence: he has oodles of money.

    We can chase aQ around central Asia forever. We could even pretty well destroy the network and its ability to operate from central Asia. But the Pashtun aren’t going anywhere and they will never consent to be ruled by us. It might not be the Taliban, but it will be someone.

    Mr. Obama’s rush to earn his tough guy stripes will be the downfall of his administration.