Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zen and the Art of Military Maintenance

It appears General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan,

has told President Obama he needs more troops to do his job properly. News reports say

he will ask for as many as 60,000 additional soldiers. He hasn't submitted his request;

so President Obama doesn't have to ask Congress to approve the idea...yet.

Afghanistan is the "good" war, remember? We invaded Afghanistan to drive

the Taliban out and destroy the al Qaeda camps which acted as a staging ground for the

attack on this country on September 11th. Al Qaeda was driven out and so were the

Taliban (both relocated in Pakistan). We installed a new government under Hamid Karzai

and elections were held. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong!! The Bush administration

allowed Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to escape

the caves of Tora Bora. They stripped Afghanistan of troops and essential supplies and

slowly the Taliban began returning. Now, once again, American young men and women

will be asked to fight and die in greater numbers in a foreign land. The question remains:

Why? The Obama administration has yet to answer that question.

Afghanistan raises the same question Obama asked about Iraq. The "Powell

Doctrine" as articulated by former Secretary of State Colin Powell states that military

force should not be used unless there is a definition of what victory means and an exit

strategy articulated. How will we know we have won? When will we know it is time

to pull out? Powell also said military power should not be used unless overwhelming

force is employed. In Iraq, the doctrine was ignored; and to this day no one can tell you

if we won. Our exit strategy still leaves thousands of troops there beyond 2011, the "surge"

accomplished virtually none of its goals, Iraq hasn't solved the problems between Shiites

and Sunnis, nor have they solved the problem of Arabs vs. Kurds. There is no oil revenue

sharing agreement. The Kurds want to be free of the central government. Iraqi security

forces appear to be unable to maintain peace. Civilian deaths in August were the highest

in more than a year. Can anyone define what victory looks like in Iraq?

The story may actually be worse in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is another nation

where tribe is more important than nation; and historically, the scene of violent ethnic

disputes. The Taliban have tribal roots in Afghanistan. Our allies, the Northern Alliance,

are a series of warlords who rule as medieval feudal lords who have refused to cede power

to the central government; and according to the New York Times, some have joined up

with the Taliban to oppose Karzai and his government. The most recent election for

president is in total disarray. Accusations of fraud and vote-tampering are rampant.

If there is a run-off, it might not occur until sometime in 2010. There is no guarantee

the winner will be recognized by the nation as legitimate. Both the Taliban and al Qaeda

enjoy safe haven in Pakistan. They can attack and retreat and NATO forces cannot follow.

They can wait out the harsh winters safe in Pakistan and rebuild and regroup and there

is nothing we can do.

Sixty thousand more troops do not solve any of the problems I have cited. Sixty

thousand more troops will "occupy" Afghanistan much to the consternation of the Afghani's

themselves. The "take and hold" model used in Iraq will ultimately fail in Afghanistan

because our enemies can wait in Pakistan until we leave. Sixty thousand troops will not

end rampant corruption nor will they make Karzai any more appealing. Sixty thousand

troops won't convince tribal warlords, who we armed, to give up their arms and cede power

to the central government in Kabul.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan one of the central questions is why won't they

defend themselves? Iraq's security forces have been training for over six years, yet still

are not adequate to the task. Afghan security forces have had eight years to get up and

running. Why won't they defend their own nation? Why should young Americans die to

defend what the natives refuse to defend? Will sixty thousand more troops increase the

willingness of Afghans to die fighting the Taliban?

The reality is Pakistan and Afghanistan are linked in all of the calculations.

Will 60,000 more troops in Afghanistan convince the Pakistanis to end safe havens for

the Taliban in their nation? Will 60,000 more troops motivate the Pakistani military

to go after bin Laden and Omar? Will 60,000 troops in Afghanistan change the political

climate in Pakistan?

We really have learned nothing from Vietnam. In that war, we saw the same

creeping incrementalism. A few more troops, then a few more, then a lot more, without

ever knowing what the definition of victory would be. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese

Army was useless and the government corrupt. Americans were told just a few more

soldiers would finally buy victory. This was done at the same time Lyndon Johnson is

heard on tapes telling advisors Vietnam could never be won. Despite his feelings, he

escalated the war for political purposes so Republicans couldn't accuse him of being soft

on communism. President Obama is deathly afraid of being attacked by Republicans for

being soft on terrorism. This troop increase is being driven far more by politics than it is

by military strategy.

Here are the facts which the President doesn't want to face. First, neither he

nor anyone else can tell the American people what victory would look like even if it could

be achieved. Second, neither he nor anyone else can promise that 60,000 more troops

would be enough or whether they might ask for more. Third, neither he nor anyone else

can state what the exit strategy would be and when these Americans would come home.

Fourth, the current government is not sustainable. Fifth, Pakistan and it's policies will

have more impact on this war than will 60,000 more troops. Finally, President Obama

has yet to answer the question Cindy Sheehan first posed to President Bush: "What noble

cause did my son die for in Iraq?" How would President Obama answer a parent who

lost a child in Afghanistan? What did he or she die for? Unless he can give a clear and

convincing answer to that question, the Congress should refuse his request for more troops.

In the end, the Afghans have to fight their own war. In the end, the Pakistanis

must help them. In the end, an occupying force cannot "win", whatever "winning" means.

We can help them, advise them, encourage them, and support them; but we can no longer

give our children to fight for them. What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

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