Throttling Back on Afghanistan

It was encouraging to see White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel throwing elbow punches in the Sunday political gabfests, defending the Obama’s decision to hold off on its decision on what to do about McChrystal’s flying-pie proposal to "Go Big" in a pseudo-classic counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. It would be "reckless," he told CNN, to pour more American blood into Afghanistan without knowing what the sneeze is going on with the government we’re supporting.

Journalist Gareth Porter brings news of another encouraging development. A paper on Afghanistan strategy by Daniel L. Davis, U.S. Army light colonel, offers an alternative to McChrystal’s plan that is receiving attention in important circles.

Davis’ "Go Big or Go Deep" [.pdf] argues that the massive, lengthy, costly counterinsurgency operation that McChrystal and his supporters in the neoconservative cabal insist we need to implement yesterday is unlikely to work.

For starters, Davis notes, 40,000 additional U.S. troops would not be enough. He’s not certain 100,000 additional troops would be enough. He’s right. The Afghan population will never support our counterinsurgency efforts, not if we send a billion troops to their rock-and-desert-heinied country. Afghan cabinet ministers are openly corrupt. It will be mid to late spring of 2010 before additional troops will arrive in Afghanistan, and that causes a logistical nightmare. The troops will be going into Afghanistan in the same time frame that we’ll be trying to remove the bulk of our troops from Iraq.

Hoping for an enlightened ruling class to emerge in Afghanistan is a pipe dream.

"The men who rule today have in most cases risen to power either through the application of violence or the application of money," Davis writes.

"[T]here are virtually no potential leaders in the education pipeline with which we could have near-term hope for meaningful change in how Afghanistan is governed."

McChrystal’s notion of training 400,000 Afghan troops is delusional. You can put that many folks in uniform and teach them to carry a rifle, but they need to be led, and as Davis notes, there is no potential for real leadership to sprout in Afghanistan.

It is already too late to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. They like the insurgents better than they like us and the crooked government that exists by virtue of us having our hand up its back.

Davis’ plan calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. and NATO forces over the next 18 months. It leaves U.S. special force units and their support behind, and other troops for security and for training Afghan forces.

Davis himself alludes to the problem with his idea. As Porter notes, Davis "was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the ‘Go Big’ option is still ‘too big.’"

That’s good news too. Whoever this official in a high position was is thinking along sane lines.

An Oct. 19 AP story opened with "NATO’s 28 member states must quickly endorse U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send reinforcements to deal with the escalating insurgency in Afghanistan because time is not on the alliance’s side, its chief said Monday."

It then added that Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says it "’makes sense’ to delay such decisions until the final results of Afghanistan’s disputed presidential elections are known."

This is typical of the lunacy that’s dancing laps around the body politic on the subject of Afghanistan these days.

President Barack Obama needs to get a handle on this situation very quickly. As journalist Seymour Hersh told an audience in North Carolina recently, the military is in a "war with the White House." The five-sided arms-sales generator has been running an information warfare campaign against Obama since mid-September, when a McClatchy article first suggested that petulant McChrystal might resign if he didn’t get every little and large thing he wanted.

The military feels it has Obama "boxed in," says Hersh. The military has everybody boxed in. It has been running a political and propaganda campaign to justify its existence since the end of the Cold War. The project it has been running to keep the Afghanistan war going has been Herculean. We had the McChrystal resignation talk, then we had the leaked McChrystal "assessment," then we had more sanctioned leaks that you can take a leak at about how unnamed military and civilian experts and officials say that Obama needs to bow down to his generals or Michael Rennie will step off his spaceship and give us a thorough spanking with his ray paddle.

It’s time for us to get Washingtonian in our foreign policy. Cramming a bunch more kids into a foreign country dressed in uniforms and armed with weapons that make them look like Germany’s Waffen SS is not the way for the United States to conduct global business.

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.