Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where Are Headed in Afghanistan?

Diana West weighs in on the current mess in Afghanistan:

Afghan Taliban …the United States is getting a lot of bang for a lot of buck but not much else. Don’t get me wrong: If killing small bands of Taliban is in the best interest of the United States, I’m for it. But I do not believe it is -- and certainly not as part of the grand strategy conceived first by the Bush administration and now expanded by the Obama administration to turn Afghanistan into a state capable of warding off what is daintily known as “extremism,” but is, in fact, bona-fide jihad to advance Sharia (Islamic law).

Anybody remember Sisyphus? Well, trying to transform Afghanistan into an anti-jihad, anti-Sharia player -- let alone functional nation -- is like trying to roll Sisyphus’ rock up the hill.

She could be right: this Sisyphean task may eventually get us flattened under that rock. Afghan is too lawless, far more tribal than Iraq could ever think of being, and has crushed more than one power which tried to rule it in the past.

Ms. West continues:

…sinking all possible men, materiel and bureaucracy into Afghanistan, as the Obama people and most conservatives favor, to try to bring a corrupt Islamic culture into working modernity while simultaneously fighting Taliban and wading deep into treacherous Pakistani wars is no way to victory -- at least not to U.S. victory. On the contrary, it is the best way to bleed and further degrade U.S. military capabilities. Indeed, if I were a jihad chieftain, I couldn’t imagine a better strategy than to entrap tens of thousands of America’s very best young men in an open-ended war of mortal hide-and-seek in the North West Frontier.

But does it have to be an “open-ended war”? Yes, we need personnel and materiel, but we also need a long-term strategy and some tactics that would allow regular people in Afghnistan to ally with the Coalition Forces. They will never do so if they think we will not stay for the long haul but will abandon them to the sadistic cruelty of the terrorists. America has faced that shameful mistake before. I beg that we not repeat it.

We have the potential for this commitment if we think it through and plan carefully. Iraq was Bush’s war, and no matter how shaky that country seems - and right now it does - the surge will remain imprinted in the national consciousness of the US as a “win”.

Now the roulette wheel spins and Afghanistan is Obama’s war. As his predecessors were, the President is a hostage to the fortunes of his times, and lawless Afghanistan belongs to him.
- - - - - - - - -
I believe that is why he has retained Secretary of Defense Gates and General Petraeus, though I doubt there is little love lost between the President and his military leadership. Obama’s experience is limited to community organizing, sitting on the boards of foundations, and dexterous campaigning. Those are slim credentials for strategizing about the Badlands. Without Gates and Petraeus, Obama is left to roll that rock all by himself. Besides, if and when things go thoroughly sideways, and they well might, the President has these two to blame for his losses.

When Ms. West asked Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely for his recommendations on Afghanistan, he said:

“Basically, let it go”.

[…]

“There’s nothing to win there,” he explained, engaging in an all-too-exotic display of common sense. “What do you get for it? What’s the return? Well, the return’s all negative for the United States.”

The general continued: “This doesn’t mean giving up battle. What it means is you transition to a more realistic, affordable strategy that keeps them (the jihadist enemy) from spreading.”

The problem I see with this is that if we let Afghanistan go, we might as well kiss Pakistan goodbye, also. Like it or not, these lawless, backward hell holes are a two-fer. Lose one - or let it go - and we will have a radioactive Taliban in short order.

Think of what pulling out would mean for our relationship with India, just to name one disaster. A connected mess is India’s help with Israel, which she would have to abandon as troops massed on the border with Pakistan.

Not that the General’s idea isn’t intriguing. He told Ms. West:

Such a strategy…relies on “the maximum use of unconventional forces,” such as Navy SEALS and other special forces, who can be deployed as needed from what are known in military parlance as “lily pads” -- outposts or jumping-off points in friendly countries (Israel, Northern Kurdistan, India, Philippines, Italy, Djibouti … ) and from U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups. Such strike groups generally include eight to 10 vessels “with more fire power…than most nations.” These lily pads become “bases we can launch from any time we want to…”

[…]

“There’s no permanent force…that’s the beauty of it.” We watch, we wait and when U.S. interests are threatened, “we basically use our strike forces to take them out, target by target.” This would work whether the threat came from Al Qaeda, Pakistani nukes or anything else.

I agree with Ms. West and the General that nation-building is problematic in a place like Afghanistan, or Pakistan for that matter. India, with her years of British colonial preparation, still has her work cut out for her - work that is hampered every day by Islamic terrorists and by poverty. However, India is blessed with an industrious, intelligent people and most especially, she operates under the rule of law.

If we have learned nothing else in the years since September 11th 2001, we have gained much knowledge regarding the difficulty (if not impossibility) of bringing the rule of law to a culture that is severely hampered by tribal fiat.

It remains to be seen what our new President will “do with” Afghanistan. As he so famously remarked to someone who questioned one of his plans, “I won”.

You certainly did win, sir. And one of your prizes was Afghanistan.

Good luck with that, Mr. President.

5 comments:

D.K. Shideler said...

My reaction to West's column was much the same. Losing Afghanistan means losing Pakistan. The only problem with the Lily Pad solution, that I can see, is that not having our boys on the ground interacting with the local population means lost intelligence. So though we can strike with Special operators from sea, or from friendly places like Israel and India, we won't know WHERE to strike.

månesteiner said...

I would think that the loss of intelligence gathering wouldn't be a serious weakness of the Lily Pad solution. For decades the CIA gathered intelligence in hostile locales by the discreet deployment of hundreds of operatives on the ground. Tens of thousands of uniformed troops occupying a country will certainly provide intelligence but I don't see it as the only, or most efficient way, to get it.

Ralph Peters has also been arguing against nation building and instead favors a "hit hard and then get out" strategy. He thinks it would be more effective than what we're doing now and far less costly in terms of lives and money. My worry is that currently we've lost the political will to actually "hit hard" in the way required for that strategy to work.

Ralph Peters article and some of Lawrence Auster's thoughts are here

Robin Shadowes said...

If the taliban nutjobs gets their hands on the paki nukes it will result in lots of mushroom clouds in America, Europe and India. Far better then to wipe Afganistan/Pakistan permanently off the maps. Better for the rest of us that is. Make no mistake of it, they will have no qualms of sending us to the realms of shaitan in the name of allah if they get the chance. Iran is wholly different though since they're allied with the russians. Perhaps we should trust the israelis to sort out this little problem for us all? Also I think a nuclear Iran is probably not as dangerous as a nuclear taliban. The iranians will at least think before they use them. The taliban will simply just unleash them and think later, if there will be any taliban left think at all afterwards, that is.

Zenster said...

"There’s nothing to win there,” he explained, engaging in an all-too-exotic display of common sense. “What do you get for it? What’s the return? Well, the return’s all negative for the United States.

Uncommon sense, indeed. For several years now, I have maintained that our principal lesson in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the era of Nation-Building is truly over for all time: At least with respect to the reconstruction of Muslim majority nations.

Our new strategy should be that of "kill the bad boys, break their toys, then leave".

D.K. Shideler: The only problem with the Lily Pad solution, that I can see, is that not having our boys on the ground interacting with the local population means lost intelligence.

The marginal success America has enjoyed in Iraq should have served notice that intelligence gathering among tightly knit blood-related clans, especially Muslim kith and kin, is an almost futile effort.

Between taqiyya, eternal infighting, mixed loyalties and the usual Muslim hogwash, there is little to be gained that we cannot derive from ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), interception of other media and satellite reconnaissance. Drones, armed or otherwise, play a particularly valuable role in this revised campaign format.

månesteiner: Ralph Peters has also been arguing against nation building and instead favors a "hit hard and then get out" strategy. He thinks it would be more effective than what we're doing now and far less costly in terms of lives and money. My worry is that currently we've lost the political will to actually "hit hard" in the way required for that strategy to work.

With the abandonment of Nation-Building comes another altogether different strategy. This is especially so for Muslim majority nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A simple question: What is there to "hit hard"?

There is no infrastructure. Besides Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, there are no other targets of merit to speak of. These are barely industrialized hellholes.

As månesteiner notes, it becomes a matter of “political will” because the only thing to "hit hard" are the people themselves. Nowhere have either Republicans or Democrats demonstrated the political will to begin killing our real enemy in large numbers. When America avoided bombing that well-attended Taliban funeral, it signaled our unwillingness to step up and do the job.

The only targets of opportunity in these Islamic utopias are people. Jihadist leadership is the only target of value with their mosques as ancillary objectives. I have long advocated using Special Forces to decapitate Islamic terrorism. Unfortunately, Western leadership still has little comprehension of how vertically integrated Islamic terrorism actually is. This prevents an adequate understanding of how, not just the terrorists, but the jihadist clerics, scholars and financiers must also be brought down.

Robin Shadowes: If the taliban nutjobs gets their hands on the paki nukes it will result in lots of mushroom clouds in America, Europe and India. Far better then to wipe Afganistan/Pakistan permanently off the maps. Better for the rest of us that is.

Even the remote possibility of this calculus being true requires that it receive serious consideration. Simply put, Afghanistan and Pakistan offer the world nothing that is worth the loss of even a single great Western metropolis. While I disagree about the volatility of Iran, that can wait for another discussion.

DP111 said...

Where Are WE Headed in Afghanistan?Hopefully, step by step, to a full scale war with Islam.

It being the nature of full scale war, each side/community will go over to their side of the divide.