President Barack Obama’s March 27 announcement of a "new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan" makes it official. He has no clue what he’s doing in the Middle East. Unless, of course, he’s leading us further down the road to ruin on purpose, in which case he knows exactly what he’s doing and is making an excellent job of it.
On Feb. 17, Obama announced he would send 17,000 additional troops to the Bananastans to address the "urgent" situation there. The situation was so urgent that the troops were scheduled to deploy "sometime in the spring or summer," according to Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.
McKiernan at the time said the additional troops were not a "temporary force uplift,” that we would need to "sustain in a sustained manner" for two to three years, throughout which time we would need to stay "heavily committed." McKiernan noted that being heavily committed would require about 10,000 more additional troops than the 17,000 Obama had already committed to his theater of operations. (McKiernan had asked for 30,000 additional troops.)
That’s a standard tactic with the generals these days, making sure word gets out when Obama doesn’t give them exactly what they want. The generals’ boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, pulled a similar number recently on Meet the Press when he said the generals would obey the mandate to remove combat brigades from Iraq by August 2010, but if they "had had complete say in this matter, they would have preferred that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010." Gates and his generals say things like that in the media whenever they can so when things go wrong they or their proxies can claim it was Obama’s fault for not listening to his generals. If the generals put as much thought and energy into winning their wars as they put into duping the American public they wouldn’t have to dupe the American public. But they know how to dupe the American public, whereas…
Gen. McKiernan didn’t mention to anybody why Obama didn’t give him all the troops he asked for at once. That’s not surprising, because the reason was that Obama called McKiernan directly and asked him what he planned to do with all those additional troops, and McKiernan couldn’t give him a coherent answer. This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that Obama only gave McKiernan about half the troops he asked for when he couldn’t say what he’d do if he had all of them. The bad news is that Obama didn’t do what he should have done when he heard McKiernan making the sound of one mouth breathing into the phone: tell McKiernan to pack his bags and come home and bring the 30,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan with him.
In a March 23 interview, Obama said we need an "exit plan" for the Bananastans. He’s apparently been looking for one since a Jan. 28 meeting with Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When he asked them, "What is the endgame?" all he heard in reply was the sound of six mouths breathing.
At that moment, our planning for the Bananastans was standing on its head, facing backward, and advancing to the rear. Before you send extra troops into a fight, you’re supposed to have an idea what you want them to do, and before you come up with an exit strategy for bringing them home, you have to know what you sent them there to accomplish. Like every other human endeavor, war must have a lucid objective. Without that objective, armed conflict is nothing more than extravagant violence. Until Obama announced the new strategy on March 27, the closest he had come to expressing a suitable objective was to ensure the Bananastans “cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States.”
That’s a lovely-sounding national security goal that, if achieved, would do nothing whatsoever to improve national security. If you can attack the U.S. from a nosebleed seat in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, you can do it from any point between the Marianas Trench and the Sea of Tranquility. Not even the wet brain trust at the American Enterprise Institute would suggest we can grow a force large enough to occupy that much territory.
Obama’s security team rolled out the official objectives on March 27, and they are, to say the least, stupefying. Even more stupefying is the way the mainstream media is describing them. "A dozen officials who were involved in the debate" told the New York Times that the goals did not involve attempts at nation-building. The Times also published the white paper that delineated the strategy’s goals: "promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan" and "developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces" and "assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan." That’s not just nation-building, it’s social re-engineering of an entire region. Moreover, the white paper describes these goals as "realistic" and "achievable," which they most assuredly are not.
Even worse, the new strategy includes further escalation of our Bananastan bungle by 4,000 more troops and officially expands the conflict into Pakistan. We’re watching a train wreck about to happen, fellow citizens – one that will make our onanism in Iraq look like Hitler’s blitz of Poland. If you can believe the Times, the debate inside the administration pitted military advisers like Gates and Mullen, who said the Afghanistan war effort would be "imperiled" without even more troops, against Vice President Joe Biden, who "warned against getting into a political and military quagmire." Great Gatsby, if Joe Biden can see through the Pentagon’s shenanigans, someone of Obama’s demonstrated intelligence should be able to.
So why is Obama going along with all of this? Come to think of it, why did Obama go along with the cockamamie relabeling of combat units for Iraq?
As investigative historian and journalist Gareth Porter observed recently, combat brigades will remain in Iraq beyond Obama’s August 2010 deadline through the hocus-pocus of renaming them "advisory and assistance brigades" and assigning a few dozen officers to them who will carry out the advising and assisting. By those rules you can assign a comedian and a hooker to a combat brigade and call it a USO Show.
The odds that this absurdity hasn’t penetrated Obama’s bubble are wafer-thin. As Porter points out, the Times revealed the Pentagon’s rename game on Dec. 4, 2008, and later reported that Mullen and Gates discussed this semantic sleight-of-hand with Obama at a meeting in Chicago on Dec. 15. One has difficulty buying that Obama could have forgotten that discussion by Feb. 27, when he publicly announced he’d get the combat brigades out of Iraq by August 2010.
Gates, Mullen, and National Security Adviser James Jones are all on record as being opposed to Obama’s withdrawal timeline. Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno, the general in charge of coalition forces in Iraq, has publicly aired his desire to see 35,000 troops remain in Iraq through 2015. Mullen and Odierno both snickered at the status of forces agreement’s deadline to have all of our troops home for Christmas in 2011. We’ve built enough infrastructure in Iraq to base 180,000 troops and as many civilians; none of it will evaporate until well into the next American century.
Speaking of infrastructure, the Army was spending $1.1 billion on new facilities to berth the troops in Afghanistan before Obama took office, and it plans to spend another $1.3 billion this year. This is another Pentagon ploy that goes, We already bought the troopers’ tickets for Afghanistan and paid for their hotel rooms, so they have to go and they have to stay when they get there. Those Pentagon scamps; you couldn’t wring a cogent war strategy out of them with a waterboard, but when it comes to cooking up stratagems, you can’t beat them with a stick.
The new Afghanistan strategy promises to repeat counterinsurgency tactics employed by Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq. That’s more bad news. Even Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks admits that Petraeus, by bribing everyone and arming them to the teeth, merely "poured more gas on the fire," and the "enemy" is biding its time, waiting for us to leave Iraq, so we have to stay there forever, just like we’re about to get stuck in the Bananastans forever.
It’s hard to say where Obama lies on the continuum that ranges from precocious fool to willing conspirator of the warmongery, but it looks more every day like the change we believed in has changed into the neoconservative agenda for everlasting, pointless war.