Reading the Af-Pak Tea Leaves

It’s tough to tell what’s going to happen with Af-Pak. We get so many conflicting reports.

For a time, we heard that President Obama was leaning toward sending 30,000 additional troops there, and that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were encouraging him to do so.

Then we heard from National Security Adviser James Jones, who said not to expect Obama to make a decision on Afghanistan troops levels until the first week in December.

Somewhere in between came a story from Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad that said Hillary had cut a multi-dimensional dope deal with Pakistan’s military and intelligence service and the Indians and the Taliban and Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah that would give us a plausible route out of Afghanistan.

President Obama has told the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rest of his security team to come up with an exit plan before he decides on a course of action. It’s remarkable that Obama, who has no direct military experience, should have to tell his military to include an exit plan in any strategy they bring him.

Or maybe it’s not. The Pentagon’s Long War philosophy is based on a lack of exit plans.

Is it possible that Obama is willing to take a walk on the political wild side, admit that Afghanistan is anything but a "war of necessity," and walk away from it?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s insistence that we need to commit up to 80,000 more American troops to the Afghanistan fandango, train up 400,000 Afghan troops, and get more NATO Shemps involved in the effort is a pile of used oats.

Even our phony-baloney counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine admits, "The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government." We’re never going to get legitimate, effective governance in Afghanistan. We just let one of the biggest political crooks in history – Hamid Karzai – steal two elections. He’ll never be seen as a legitimate leader, no matter how many times President Obama exhorts him to begin a "new chapter." (Dear diary, my brother Ahmed made another million dollars U.S. in the heroin trade today, and the CIA sent him another fat check besides. Boy, does Ahmed owe me!)

The COIN doctrine has become the false military promise of the 21st century, having eclipsed naval power and air power and nuclear weapons as the ultimate answer to America’s security requirements and the leading excuse for our country’s distended military budget.

The difference between COIN and its militaristic philosophy predecessors is that its predecessors offered the promise of the end of war. Our foolhardy intercession in World War I, the war to end all wars, the war that would make the world "safe for democracy," did neither. The lamentable end state of that horrible war set conditions that brought about Fascism and World War II, and the end state of World War II brought about global communism and the Cold War and the nasty little Third World wars (Korea, Vietnam, etc.) that accompanied it.

After World War I, air power was going to make all other forms of military power obsolete. After World War II, nuclear weapons were going to make all other forms of military power obsolete. Now we have COIN, which promises to make all forms of military power relevant for as long as our COIN wars last, which, if the American warmongery has its way, will be forever.

Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker says Obama’s refusal to rush to judgment on Afghanistan "could be huge," that maybe Obama is "putting his foot down." If so, it’s about time. Obama’s general and flag officers, specifically David Petraeus, Ray Odierno, Mike Mullen, and Stan McChrystal, have been used to getting their way for too long. I wish Obama had transferred them to civilian command when he first came into office.

Hersh also makes note of the objection that the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, former Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, has made to "deploying additional troops to the country.” That apparently has McChrystal "fuming," the poor guy. McChrystal should try getting some sleep.

If Obama is putting his foot down, that’s a good thing. If Obama goes along with McChrystal’s desire to escalate the war in Afghanistan, it will be a very bad thing. We’ll be stuck there forever. It will make Vietnam seem like a footnote.

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Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.