Monday, September 21, 2009

We have already failed in Afghanistan....

... which is something we need to admit before too many more young Americans, Brits, Canadians, Germans, and Italians die to prove it to our military and political leadership.

Yes, with the 40-45,000 additional troops that General McChrystal wants, we could win a short-term victory against the Taliban, at the cost of several thousand casualties over the next three years. But what then? Exactly how long is the United States willing to leave a garrison force of 50-100,000 in Afghanistan to enforce the so-called peace? Five years? Twenty?

Nor can we depend on the Afghan security forces, whose budget will be nearly four times the GDP of the entire country.

The Canadians, it seems, are being much more honest about this than the Americans, as The Independent reports:

It is instructive to turn at this moment to the Canadian army, which has in Afghanistan fewer troops than the Brits but who have suffered just as ferociously; their 130th soldier was killed near Kandahar this week. Every three months, the Canadian authorities publish a scorecard on their military "progress" in Afghanistan – a document that is infinitely more honest and detailed than anything put out by the Pentagon or the Ministry of Defence – which proves beyond peradventure (as Enoch Powell would have said) that this is Mission Impossible or, as Toronto's National Post put it in an admirable headline three days' ago, "Operation Sleepwalk". The latest report, revealed this week, proves that Kandahar province is becoming more violent, less stable and less secure – and attacks across the country more frequent – than at any time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. There was an "exceptionally high" frequency of attacks this spring compared with 2008.

There was a 108 per cent increase in roadside bombs. Afghans are reporting that they are less satisfied with education and employment levels, primarily because of poor or non-existent security. Canada is now concentrating only on the security of Kandahar city, abandoning any real attempt to control the province.

Canada's army will be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, but so far only five of the 50 schools in its school-building project have been completed. Just 28 more are "under construction". But of Kandahar province's existing 364 schools, 180 have been forced to close. Of progress in "democratic governance" in Kandahar, the Canadian report states that the capacity of the Afghan government is "chronically weak and undermined by widespread corruption". Of "reconciliation" – whatever that means these days – "the onset of the summer fighting season and the concentration of politicians and activists for the August elections discouraged expectations of noteworthy initiatives...".

Even the primary aim of polio eradication – Ottawa's most favoured civilian project in Afghanistan – has defeated the Canadian International Development Agency, although this admission is cloaked in truly Blair-like (or Brown-like) mendacity. As the Toronto Star revealed in a serious bit of investigative journalism this week, the aim to "eradicate" polio with the help of UN and World Health Organisation money has been quietly changed to the "prevention of transmission" of polio. Instead of measuring the number of children "immunised" against polio, the target was altered to refer only to the number of children "vaccinated". But of course, children have to be vaccinated several times before they are actually immune.


The Independent also captures the change in NATO [which means "America"] policy in Afghanistan, which has gone from the traditional mission creep toward downright mission vacillation or even mission du jeur:

Colin Kenny, chair of Canada's senate committee on national security and defence, said this week that "what we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible. We are hurtling towards a Vietnam ending"....

Only Obama, it seems, fails to get the message. Afghanistan remains for him the "war of necessity". Send yet more troops, his generals plead. And we are supposed to follow the logic of this nonsense. The Taliban lost in 2001. Then they started winning again. Then we had to preserve Afghan democracy. Then our soldiers had to protect – and die – for a second round of democratic elections. Then they protected – and died – for fraudulent elections. Afghanistan is not Vietnam, Obama assures us. And then the good old German army calls up an air strike – and zaps yet more Afghan civilians.


But perhaps President Obama is beginning to realize the depth of the hole he has dug for himself.

He is now vacillating on the commitment of additional troops for Afghanistan, with the White House refusing to say when he will make a final decision, while at the same time our Bush-era military leaders [SecDef Gates, Admiral Mullen, Generals Petraeus and McChrystal] are growing increasingly impatient.

Meanwhile, NATO troops [most of whom are Americans] and Afghan civilians continue to die.

I understand the calls that will come from my friends on the right, not to abandon our troops, not to make vain the sacrifices already made, not to cut and run.

But here's the unpalatable truth: even if we give McChrystal 45,000 more American troops, and he executes his plan to perfection, thousands more Americans will be killed or wounded over the next three years, and within a decade the situation in Afghanistan will be back to where it was before 2001. Afghanistan is not a failed state, it is a non-state. Since World War Two we have operated under the delusion that the only possible social organization in the modern world is the nation-state with a strong central government. It's not, and in many cultures it is not even the preference of the people.

Outsiders since Alexander the Great have been trying to change that reality in Afghanistan for over 2,000 years, with a uniform lack of success.

It is not worth another American of Afghan life to discover we are not exempt from the major rules and forces of history.

It is not morally acceptable to remain quiet while President Obama vacillates and more Americans die in a war where even winning will not mean winning.

8 comments:

Miko said...

And the interesting thing about a non-state: it's impossible to win a war against them. As Afghanistan illustrates, you still need to worry about local thugs, but without a central government to co-opt, invaders will eventually either give up or go bankrupt while trying. That said, the local thugs are a huge problem in Afghanistan (for the Afghanis) and I'd even support the U.S. efforts on humanitarian grounds if I were so naive as to think 1) there was a thing the U.S. could do about it and 2) that the U.S. was actually interested in doing something about it.

I'd guess that not having a strong central state is actually the preference of most cultures. It's just that they're so used to it that they don't realize that not having one is an option.

traceymc said...

Thanks for the excellent exposition about why NATO is failing in Afghanistan. Interesting point about it being a non-state: apparently a de-centralized government has actually kept it from being invaded for the better part of 2,000 years.

PlanetaryJim said...

It is an interesting term "cut and run." The neoconservative brutal thugs who love slaughtering children (provided they are foreign children of somewhat swarthy complexion) are wont to thrust this phrase at others. "You want to cut and run," they say, as though heaping calumny upon their auditors.

But, where does it come from? The phrase comes from nautical terminology. When one is in a doubtful anchorage and a heavy sea or huge storm comes up, the ship may be lost entirely unless you cut the anchor cables and run before the wind. Cut and run - you do it to save the ship.

Now, I don't give a rat's feces for the ship of state. Wreck it all, I say. But the neocon scum, the filth who got us into these wars, the despicable bastards who celebrate every child maimed, every Afghan murdered, every bomb dropped, and every village obliterated, the idiots who demand that the whole country be "glassed" by nuclear weapons, ought to give up "cut and run." It just makes them look absurd.

The anti-war activist in me wants Americans to give up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and leave people in other countries alone. The anti-state activist in me wants the state permanently sunk in the quagmires it has gotten itself into, and hurt as much as possible by the coming backlash as the American people literally hound the bureau-rats and politicians from their homes, tar them, feather them, ride them out of town on rails, and lynch the bloody lot of them.

Those pacifists who demand that such things not be said should remember that people of my generation burned out the ROTC barracks on campuses all over the country, rioted, demonstrated, rioted some more, and ended the Vietnam war, the Nixon administration, LBJ's shot at re-election in 1968, ended military and CIA recruiting on many campuses (and on others for many years) and ended the military draft. Violence did a lot in its day.

On good days, I see some merit in humanity and want an end to war and the profiteering that the death merchants use to exploit war - to exploit love of country and love of comrades to slaughter more people. On bad days, I don't mind so much the deaths in war, for the prospect of an entire world without states.

Bill St. Clair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill St. Clair said...

If only it were that simple. "When all the war freaks die off, leaving us alone." States have been sending children to kill other children for a long time now. There doesn't appear to be an end to it. Wish it weren't so.

MKotyk88 said...

I'm probably going to be the only one on here saying this but I absolutely refuse to surrender in Afghanistan. If we have failed in Afghanistan it is because we did not give it a 100% effort. At one point, we had both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda at the edge of defeat but then we allowed ourselves to be misled into Iraq. I did two deployments to Iraq and both times I have come home to find my neighbors and community completely untouched by war. They go about their lives in merry ignorance of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, I know friends of mine who have made 4 or 5 deployments to Iraq/Afghanistan. America has not felt the sting of this war at all nor has it sacrificed for either the country's needs or those who are in the field. I have neighbors who don't even know we were still at war in Afghanistan and I watch men of military age driving around every Friday and Saturday night looking for that next beer and high while a soldier in Afghanistan has nothing to look forward to but maybe a few hours sleep, an MRE and a prayer that they don't get shot on their next mission. Not only do I support Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops but I'm willing to support a draft of all men 17 to 38 yrs old. I'm 43 and, at this point, if such a call came, I'm more than willing to go back continue the fight. I've had it with cries of 'cut and run' and 'its too tough'. It's time to ante up.

Terry Hulsey said...

Steve Newton: Everyone should read this article. It is brilliant because it makes the point that is common-sensical, patently obvious, ...and never noticed: That Afghanistan does not fit the nation-state paradigm, and that any attempt to create it as such defies its history. As for PlanetaryJim's remark about "cut and run": What did the U.S. do in Vietnam in April 1975? Cut and run. What did the U.S. do in Beirut in February 1984? Cut and run. What did the U.S. do in Somalia in May 1993? Cut and run. --And two of these three cases were under Republican presidents. Just as "nation-state" is a non-concept for Afghanistan, "cut and run" is a scare word ignorant of recent history.

George Phillies said...

The Soviet Army, during its occupation of Afghanistan, had an estimate of the required size of the garrison force in order to stay in control--a half a million men.

That's about 400,000 above where we are now.

Mind you, that assumes we do not do something to annoy the Iranians so that their border becomes highly porous to arms of all sorts.

When we set off to pacify one recent province, 4000 or so Marines were accompanied by 600 Afghan soldiers. That gives a reasonable estimate of the actual size of the Afghan gendarmie and army, namely a seventh the size of our force or ten to twenty thousand men, of whom we have thus far trained and equipped 90-100,000.

You may notice something odd about those two numbers.