The Democrats have a plan finally! to get us out of Iraq, and it involves as usual with the Dems a complicated process of measuring "benchmarks" that, if not met, will supposedly trigger a U.S. withdrawal (in 180 days). Two dates are given July 1 and Oct. 1, 2007 by which time the "benchmarks" must be met. Oh, yes, and they add $4 billion to Bush’s "Defense" Dept. budget request, making it just short of $100 billion. See, those Dems aren’t anti-military, by any means: who says shelling out more than the next 14 top spenders on military items is enough?
One news account describes this as the Democrats "drawing their line in the sand" and a pretty wobbly and indistinct line it is. After all, how will Congress disprove the administration’s assertion that those "benchmarks" have been met or, rather, how eager will they be to challenge the White House’s rosy scenario? In any case, this Christian Science Monitor piece goes on to report:
"House Democratic leaders are trying to ratchet up pressure on the White House to change its Iraq strategy while trying to persuade Americans that there is another way forward on the war on terror. That direction, they say, involves intensifying the fight in Afghanistan while winding down involvement in Iraq."
The real war, the Democrats argue, is not in Iraq which never had anything to do with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or 9/11 but in Afghanistan. This is their big critique of the Iraq war: not that it’s wrong, immoral, a murderous disaster that surely indicts us in the eyes of the whole world only that it is diverting resources away from another military occupation that shows no signs of winding down.
Yet the war in Afghanistan is being played exactly as the occupation of Iraq is being played as if we are trying to establish a semi-permanent presence. In both countries we have held elections, and used our military to prop up a government that has very little actual power. In Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, our nation-building efforts are doomed to fail.
As Michael Scheuer points out, the Afghans have been badly underestimated by the US-NATO coalition, and they are even now in the process of repeating history and driving out the invaders, just as they drove out the Soviets, the Brits, and the legions of Alexander the Great.
The Taliban and their allies are returning to Afghanistan, having received additional training and an influx of aid from around the Muslim world: Scheuer estimates their numbers are at least equal to the coalition forces. And these aren’t just new recruits, although there are more than enough of those, but seasoned veterans of the Afghan wars who are eager to get on with the fight.
The position of the jihadis is made stronger by the errors committed by the NATO allies. Instead of launching a punitive expedition of the sort that has had some success in Afghan history, the Westerners merely repeated the Soviet experience of the 1980s and, not surprisingly, are reaping similar results. "President" Karzai is in charge of a very small area, reduced, in reality, to the status of Kabul’s mayor. The rest of the country is divided into tribal-clan fiefdoms, with local warlords and drug traffickers divvying up their share of the spoils. What impact the West has had has been largely resented, because efforts to "liberate" women, increase the educational level, and introduce Western-style "democracy" have run up against age-old traditions. The Afghans, while not really xenophobic in the sense that, say, the Koreans, or the Japanese are, have been fighting off would-be occupiers for thousands of years, and they aren’t about to give in to the current crop.
The problem with our Afghan front is that we have substituted nation-building for what ought to be our real task taking out our enemies and then high-tailing it out of there. Yes, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan, and nearby Pakistan, but we aren’t going to defeat them by going in there and constructing a viable state. That region of the world has seen very little in the way of stable nation-states during the past thousand years or so, and we aren’t going to inaugurate a new era on account of our negligible presence. Nor is building an Afghan state necessary to our task.
Our goal in Afghanistan, our only legitimate objective, ought to be to the utter destruction of our enemies, i.e. forces allied with Osama bin Laden who pose a real threat to our security. Whether or not "President" Karzai, or his virtually powerless "parliament," survive another day is not really relevant to that task. Indeed, one could easily make the argument that they are detrimental to our central purpose. Defending Karzai’s Kabul, and pouring resources into building the Afghan central government, diverts us from what ought to be our sole concern: eradicating the enemy.
Afghanistan is, today, a narco-state, one that has been handed over to the "Northern Alliance," i.e., former pro-Soviet puppets, and a "parliament" consisting mostly of Islamist (albeit "pro-American") fundamentalists with a few pro-Western intellectuals in business suits thrown in for purely decorative purposes. If that is "liberation," then no wonder the Taliban has growing appeal.
There has been no real Afghan state for as long as the history of that country has been written, and there is little chance that we will succeed where others have failed. What we need to do is to learn from those failures and our own and limit our mission to getting bin Laden. Then we get out.
Naturally, such simplicity is not going to appeal to American politicians, who are intent on "reconstructing" Afghanistan (as if there was much of anything there to begin with) and pouring in all kinds of "aid" that is bound to have, at best, mixed results in terms of its actual effects. After six years of occupation, the Afghan people are getting sick and tired of seeing innocent civilians bombed by the American-NATO "liberators," and they pine for the law and order that the Taliban, whatever their ideological idiosyncrasies, did a good job of imposing.
Afghanistan is never going to be a Jeffersonian republic where the rights of women are upheld and everyone is free to practice the religion of their choice, and no amount of wishful thinking or sheer military power is going to change that. The Afghans are a patient and battle-hardened people: they have seen would-be "conquerors" come, and go, and we, too, will go some day. They will wait us out, sniping at us all the way, hoping that our exit is sooner rather than later, but ready, as always, for anything.
Ultimately, the Americans and their NATO allies will realize that Afghanistan is just as much a quagmire as Iraq, and just as hopeless. Before then, however, many will die both Westerners and Afghans in pursuit of a futile crusade to make Afghanistan into a Central Asian version of Kansas. Once that project fails, and we are left facing a global jihadist enemy more numerous and emboldened, we will find ourselves in much the same position we are in Mesopotamia in which case the Democrats in Congress will have to come up with yet another brilliant "plan." To them, I say: Thanks, but no thanks.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Counterpunch has finally posted Christopher Ketcham’s excellent report on the mysterious goings on prior to 9/11 involving the hijackers and what looks to be Israeli intelligence: go check it out.
Also of interest: my take on the (latest) Ann Coulter brouhaha in Taki’s Top Drawer.