Alas Afghanistan

The New York Times tells us that Obama’s advisers are curling themselves around a strategy that will protect "about 10 population centers" in Afghanistan. The debate is no longer over whether to send more troops but over how many more to send. Obama hasn’t made his mind up yet, the Times reports, but the story is a sanctioned leak, so you know he’s pretty close to a decision.  This is a propaganda technique known as "desensitizing."  By the time official word comes down the pike, we’ll already be used to the idea and will have moved on to caring about something else.   

The Times story comes on the heels of the news of the resignation of Matthew Hoh, a senior foreign service officer whose resignation letter said in part, "I feel that our strategies in Afghanistan are not pursing goals that are worthy of sacrificing our young men and women or spending the billions we’re doing there.  I believe that the people we are fighting there are fighting us because we are occupying them — not for any ideological reasons, not because of any links to al-Qaeda, not because of any fundamental hatred toward the West. The only reason they’re fighting us is because we are occupying them." 

Lamentably, it looks like we’re going to keep occupying them.  But then, we all knew that was going to happen.  Obama can’t back down from his "war of necessity" statement.  The right-wing press and the hawks in Congress would shoot his face off.  

At first glimpse, the strategy being considered doesn’t look bad.  We clear and hold and build in Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters (according to unnamed official leakers).  From our bases of operations there, we strike remote pockets of Taliban with drones and special operations forces. 

That’s all very lovely, but it has problems.  However the runoff elections turn out, assuming they take place at all, Hamid Karzai will win because he handpicked the election officials.  We’ll be backing one of the most corrupt governments on the planet. As Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan told the Times, "If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves." 

Another twist of the knot: it turns out that Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a suspected major player in the Afghan opium trade, is on the C.I.A.’s payroll.  The drug trade is the major source of funding for the Taliban.  The C.I.A. pays Ahmed to recruit for an Afghan paramilitary force that operates in the vicinity of Kandahar, which is the first place new U.S. troops would be deployed.   

Does it sound like anybody making decisions in this Boolean goat rope knows what they’re doing?  

Syndicated columnist Gene Lyons asks the question "Why are we still in Afghanistan?"  

"One of the enduring oddities of the American foreign policy debate," he writes, "is that asking the most obvious questions is all but forbidden. For example, how does Afghanistan pose a threat to the United States?" 

It doesn’t.   

The 9/11 attacks were an aberration.  So many people in our internal security and law enforcement structure were asleep at the wheel that it’s downright criminal.  An attack like 9/11 shouldn’t occur again.  Nobody in our Homeland Security apparatus wants to be the schmo who let it happen on his watch.  "Fighting them over there" has nothing to do with national security.  They don’t have an air force or a navy that can get us over here.  

As Lyons says, "Terrorists can’t defeat the United States; they can only cause American politicians to self-destruct in fear of taking blame for future atrocities." 

That, unfortunately, is precisely why Obama is going along with this cockamamie escalation.  Imagine how Dick Cheney and the rest of the war banshees would wail if Obama stiff armed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s escalation demand and somebody snuck through the Homeland Defense screen and blew up a school or a stadium or something.  Ouch!   

Military pundit Ralph Peters is on the right side of the Afghanistan issue. "Even if everything went perfectly in Afghanistan — which it won’t — the results would be virtually meaningless: Our mortal enemies (above all, al-Qaeda) have dug in elsewhere, from Pakistan to Somalia," he wrote recently in the New York Post.  "Our soldiers are dying for a fad, not for a strategy. Our vaunted counterinsurgency doctrine is the military equivalent of hula hoops, pet rocks and Beanie Babies: an oddity that caught the Zeitgeist."  Indeed, counterinsurgency (COIN) is the "it" strategy now, the Army’s reason for being.  There won’t be any big tank battles in the Fulda gap.  COIN is the only kind of war left; without it, there is no Long War.   

Of course, if we don’t need the Long War, we don’t need to do COIN in Afghanistan.   

And we don’t need the Long War.  But it looks like we’re going to get it.

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.