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.