Saturday, October 17, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee

cited the change in tone he has caused in United States foreign policy. Peace has a better

chance now than it has had in years as Obama changes from a unilateral foreign affairs

approach to a multilateral inclusive model which stresses diplomacy over the use of the

military to solve conflicts. As the President heard the news of his award, he was in the

midst of five meetings to decide what the United States strategy towards Afghanistan will be.

Republican Senator John McCain is attacking the President for not listening to

his military advisers. Republicans of all stripes are attacking the President for appearing

tentative and not accepting the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal, the

general responsible for the Afghan theater. Regressive voices from Hanbaugh to Beck to

Faux News call on Americans to pressure the President to take McChrystal's advice and

escalate the conflict. We are told there are only two choices. We either give McChrystal

more soldiers and win or refuse his request and fail.

I am enjoying this debate intensely. The spectacle of Regressives demanding

Obama listen to his military commander when they so miserably failed to do so in either

the initial war in Afghanistan or the disaster in Iraq. This is a source of both amusement

and disdain. Then Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, testified to Congress in 2001

that it would take 300,000 soldiers to effectively win victory in Iraq. He had the support

of numerous other high ranking members of the military. Yet, after his testimony, he was

essentially fired for committing truth. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz ran

up to Congress to accuse the general of incompetence; flatly stating the war in Iraq could

be won with half as many troops, for less money, in a shorter period of time, and to the

delight of the Iraqi people. We now know who was right and how well the Bush Administration

listened to the military, knowledge won at a tremendous price of both lives and treasure.

The stench of hypocrisy hangs all over this debate.

In March, over the objections of Progressives throughout the nation, President

Obama increased troop strength in Afghanistan by 20,000. He was told this increase

would enable NATO forces to capture and hold territory, drive the Taliban out of the

southern part of the country, deny them funds from the illegal opium trade, and stabilize

the central government. More troops would show we are committed to victory and win

the hearts and minds of the Afghan people who don't like the Taliban to begin with.

Since March, the Taliban has expanded their reach into the northern and western parts

of the country. They are mounting more and more sophisticated attacks designed by

their leader Mullah Omar from the safety of his camp in Pakistan. NATO planes have

killed Afghan civilians and caused deep resentment among the population. The central

government of Hamid Karzai is corrupt and weak and stands accused of rigging the recent

presidential election. Afghan warlords formerly opposed to the Taliban are switching

sides to fight with them to defeat Karzai and his government. All this after the President

authorized 20,000 more troops. Imagine how much more soldiers will be able to accomplish

if the president gives in to this advice again? The truth shouts that additional troops

unquestionably make matters worse in Afghanistan; so is sending even more troops a

workable solution?

General McChrystal and his regressive sycophants say the mission in Afghanistan

will fail without 40,000 more soldiers. Hanbaugh and the rest scream daily about a choice

between winning and losing despite being unable to describe what victory would look like

or define how we would know it when we saw it. Not one supporter of sending more

troops can articulate an exit strategy including General McChrystal himself.

There is something more in General McChrystal's request than just troops. The

general wants billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan and prop up the central government.

He wants to use the military and a huge influx of civilian contractors and advisors to

improve the lives of average Afghans and have them choose us over the Taliban. Does

this sound familiar? In Iraq, there were more civilian contractors than soldiers. Billions

of dollars were spent on construction projects built with shoddy materials at inflated

prices which failed to accomplish the most basic tasks of providing clean water and

consistent electricity to a distressed population. Companies like Halliburton made

billions in profits while failing miserably to deliver their legally contracted obligations.

It would seem the same companies and contractors see a new pot of gold in Afghanistan.

As of today, I know of no major private corporation which has been suspended for cheating

the taxpayers out of billions of dollars and failing to adequately complete projects in Iraq.

Every one of them will be able to bid for work in Afghanistan.

The echoes of the war in Vietnam hang eerily over the question of what to do in

Afghanistan. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan is engaged in a civil war. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan

has a weak and corrupt central government very unpopular with the general population.

Like Vietnam, the President is being told the military can achieve victory, even if no one

can define what victory would mean. Like Vietnam, the enemy is led by a charismatic

leader willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes to win. Like Vietnam, victory for Ho

Chi Minh was the withdrawal of American troops and victory for Mullah Omar is exactly

the same. Like Vietnam, we are once again asked to occupy a country and fight its native

population who can wait years or decades for us to leave.

There are rumors Obama could change the direction of American policy in

Afghanistan to focus more on stability in Pakistan, defeat of al Qaeda, and acceptance

of some Taliban presence in Afghan affairs and government. Whatever the President

decides, he needs to be able to explain to every parent in this country why their child

should put his or her life at risk far away from home. He has to answer Cindy Sheehan's

question: What noble cause will our American service men and women be dying for?

He needs to clearly define what victory will look like and how much American blood and

treasure will need to be spent before we seriously stop the Afghan campaign.

Advice from the military is vital to any decision; but that advice must be based

on the mission as defined by the President. Right now General McChrystal's advice is

based on a strategy of nation building, driving out the Taliban, and propping up a weak

central government. If the President changes the mission, General McChrystal's advice

is of no value. The strategy has to drive the mission, not vice versa.

We cannot "win" in Afghanistan. We could not "win" in Iraq and we could not

"win" in Vietnam, even though the military advice in each case was and still is more troops,

more troops, and more troops. We need a strategy which results in a more stable Pakistan,

the end of a safe haven for bin Laden and Omar, and an Afghanistan which is not friendly

to al Qaeda. This can be accomplished without escalating the military conflict. What is

needed are clearly defined goals and outcomes.

Regressives will try to scare parents by talking about victory and defeat, success

and failure, weakness and strength; and at no time will they show the least bit of concern

for the men and women who will have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their folly. In

Vietnam, most of the current crop of regressives found every way possible to avoid serving

while spouting off about duty, honor, country, and about victory vs. defeat. These same

"chickenhawks" are clucking again and the President must ignore their cackling.

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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