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Archive for the ‘afghanistan’ Category

I thought this piece on the Afghanistan decision-making was truly excellent:

We have known for a while that the administration’s Afghanistan deliberations were taking too long. Now we know why, and the explanation is not pretty.

First, it was a month until Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s commander in the Afghan theater and author of the plan being considered by the administration, was brought into the discussions. McChrystal presented his plan in August and the White House began its deliberations during the second week of September. Yet, McChrystal was not consulted until Oct. 8.

Second, when the White House war planners finally talked to McChrystal, they discovered he was not on the same page as the administration. McChrystal said his plan was designed to “defeat the Taliban and secure the population.” But key members of the White House team insisted that the mission should be to “degrade,” not defeat the Taliban.

McChrystal responded that defeating the Taliban was the mission he had been given in March. Obama agreed, but decided that the mission should be redefined, and the general’s plan adjusted accordingly.

In short, the decision on a plan of action was delayed because the White House waited a month before bringing McChrystal into the loop and, when the general finally was consulted, the White House decided it did not like the mission it had given him.

There’s a word for this — incompetence.

Speaking of flawed decision-making, however, Mr. Mirengoff ignores the assumptions of the Bush administration, namely, that the tribal and primitive Afghan people would respond positively to a decade-long American presence and an alien form of government. Obama and Bush both ignore the civilizational differences of the West and the Muslim world, as well as ignoring the ways Islam itself sustains the hopes and hates of our Islamic terrorist enemies.

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Pretty amazing revelation that when the White House started discussing McChrystal’s proposal, that there seemed to be no awareness of the details of the March strategy by Obama or that it expressed a goal of defeating the Taliban:

In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a PowerPoint slide: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population.”

“Is that really what you think your mission is?” one of the participants asked.

In the first place, it was impossible — the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a major part of the population. “We don’t need to do that,” Gates said, according to one participant. “That’s an open-ended, forever commitment.”

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan — the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff. . . .

“It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent” of the NSC document, said [Former USMC General and NSA advisor] Jones, who had signed the orders himself. “I’m not sure that in his position I wouldn’t have done the same thing, as a military commander.”

My God. If generals have to “read the boss’s mind” in Afghanistan when his orders go through many layers of review and calibration, we are totally screwed. I mean this is as bad as the kind of stuff you see at a Kinko’s or a law firm. Oh, when I said send so and so that letter I really mean to check with me before you sent it, because I was having a conference call before that. Didn’t you check with my calendar? Uh, no, I was doing what you said.

Generals at the top echelons, like Jones, are pretty unimpressive and highly political creatures. For most of them, honor goes out the window after they pin on a star. The Van Ripers of the world are rare. More often you get the half-nonsensical and half-destructive Joneses and Wesley Clarks.

Obama is a huge moron in plain English. Either that or he’s totally callous. Or both, which is most likely.

It should have been obvious in March when he said what to do in Afghanistan was to continue to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda and build up Afghan forces that he was, in effect, calling for a surge. Why? He was calling for recommitment of resources, we just had a surge that was perceived as successful in Iraq, and one of the aspects of the COIN Manual that Petraeus and company produced is the importance of security and training, both of which take lots of troops.

Obama’s half-serious campaign stance of “the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan” is catching up with him. It would all be kind of funny if his zombie-like pursuit of this war would not needlessly cost a few hundred, possibly several thousand, bright young American lives.

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Not much to say. It seemed like he was channeling George Bush’s invocation of 9/11 coupled with a few bones to his buddies in POKEESTAN. I especially laughed at his “direct address” to the “Afghan people.” I’m sure they’ll get the executive summary by smoke signal within a fortnight. Otherwise, it was just more of the same: nation-building, a surge. Not much “Rah Rah” inspiring talk about turning these bastard al Qaeda into a pink mist. Winston Churchill, he is not.

His speeches are making me weary. They don’t inspire. They lack any appeal to the emotions. The only proto-emotions he displays are vague self-worshiping references to “hope” and a very abstract celebration of America’s late 20th Century “global cop” role. He has trouble connecting with ordinary Americans and their concerns. We don’t care about torture or GITMO or that the UN approved the attack on Afghanistan. Only the hardcore anti-American Left cares about such things. We don’t think our moral right to self-defense hinges on how we treat KSM and company. We believe in our right not to be mass murdered, that’s enough. We hate these people and want a leader who hates them too. They killed our people; we want their people killed in turn.

I thought his alibi about the delay on the troop augmentation was weak, and his talk of limiting the commitment of troops because of the national debt was utterly tone-deaf. If this is an essential war to prevent mass terrorism, it’s worth nearly any expense, correct? If McChrystal says time is running out, six months of delay is kind of serious right? And, along these lines, there was a bit too much emphasis on the end-date for the U.S. commitment. But what if things aren’t better in two years? What if it costs a lot but it’s an absolutely vital expense?

This speech is not a game changer. The troop surge won’t be either. And for a guy running $1T stimulus packages, his grave concern over $30B a month–pocket change in comparison–is quaint. Insulting, really.

I still think this is the wrong strategy (as I wrote last June), even if the people we’re engaging deserve to be whacked. Why? Because we won’t be able to do much to reform Afghanistan’s military. The Afghan security forces don’t operate in a vacuum. They serve a state to which many people are lukewarm. The Afghanistan’s government and traditions are the problem, and over those we have had and will continue to have little influence. Second, Pakistan is still highly divided internally over who the bad guys are, and the gravy train for their government depends upon dragging this out. Pretending they’re this great “partner” glosses over more than a little. Finally, the end state we’ve achieved in Iraq is nothing to write home about. Saddam’s gone. Good thing. But that was true five years ago. They still have a guerrilla insurgency and daily terrorist attacks and a not-terribly-pro-US foreign policy. Plus various anti-American terrorist organizations still roam its streets. If this is the success we’ve achieved some two years after Bush’s surge, we’d be in little worse shape if we had quickly left then.

Our comparative advantage is to engage enemy nation-states when they harbor terrorists overseas and to be more careful about whom we let in domestically. These tasks we can accomplish effectively with far less cost, far less loss of American life, and far more success than we’ll have in the quixotic Afghan nation-building campaign among a gaggle of violent subsistence farmers.

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Apparently, it takes six months to decide to half-ass McChrystal’s plan and cut 6,000 troops?

Obama admires Abraham Lincoln and his decision to can various generals–including McClellan–for not being aggressive enough to win the Civil War.  But Obama, unlike Lincoln, is unpatriotic and a pacifist, dithers about whether victory is worth it, and changes his mind on core objectives–in effect, giving his generals a moving target. 

Plus Obama’s adding language to the plan about “off ramps” and what not.  So basically we’ll add 35,000 troops, a bit less than double what we have.  They’ll accomplish a little more, but nothing game changing.  Then we’ll find a reason to leave next June and will do so.  A few hundred more young Americans will die than would have otherwise, and this outcome all so Obama doesn’t look too weak in calling it quits sooner on this misguided nation-building effort.  This is hardly Lincolnesque . . .  more like Hamlet!

I think a deliberate withdrawal or even a limited war is not dishonorable, incidentally.  There are times to have flexible definitions of victory.  Think of something like the Korean War which ended in an armistice or the conventional victory of expelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. But if you think it’s truly a “war of necessity,” and you think the way to win is to build a functioning Afghan state (as Obama said in March), do it right or change that strategy.  Obama is keeping the strategy but under-resourcing it.   Further, with his “exit ramp” talk, Obama is basically admitting he’s looking for reason to call it quits.  It’s a far cry from the Gettysburg Address.  It’s more like a blueprint for our enemies and less committed allies to engineer an American exit.

I actually think Joe Biden’s proposal for a scaled down war using counter-terror operatives is the most sensible and conforms our operation to what the U.S. national interest is in the neighborhood.

Let me speak plainly.  I don’t think these illiterate savages deserve democracy or any U.S. efforts to help them.  I don’t think it’s in our interest, and the trade off is woefully imbalanced.  Afghans and Pakistanis and everyone else in the world just need to learn that if they help our enemies they’ll be punished en masse. For some reason, though, I don’t think Obama can make that kind of warning convincingly.  Sadly, neither could the liberal Republican, George W. Bush.  

This popular view of collective responsibility was what was most appealing about the Bush doctrine, i.e., you’re with us or you’re against us. But in eight years it’s morphed into “help our enemies and we’ll spend many years and many billions of dollars and many young American lives to drag you into the 21st Century.” 

Where’s General Pershing when you need him?!?

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I am not terribly annoyed that Obama would give military policy a deliberate review. War is serious stuff, and too often bad ideas carried forward through inertia. It’s appropriate he changes policy in certain particulars. In fact, my own preference is for something like Biden’s plan or even more radically off-shoring the whole thing, treating Afghanistan not so differently from Pakistan with the occasional Predator or SF raid and a threat of massive conventional retaliation without mercy for whatever government inhabits the rubble that might harbo terrorists. Nation-building is for the birds, and if the “success” we’ve had in Iraq is the end-game, I’d say it’s not worth the trouble.

But Obama is revisiting his policy on the basis of an entirely predictable statement by his hand-picked commander that more resources were needed to fight the traditional counterinsurgency Obama chose to fight. Was Obama not paying attention in super-recent-history class regarding the Iraq Surge, which has become the U.S. military’ model for such operations? He’s obviously backing away because he lacks the guts to follow through on this or much of anything that might require him to act like the leader of a nation at war.

The stuff about the “Real War is in Afghanistan” we heard from so many for the last six years turns out to be a thinly held debater’s point; and this was fairly obvious, because Obama and the Left in general lack the visceral faith in their country and hatred of the enemy needed to win any war. And this demerit applies even if this strategy were a good one, which in fact it is not. It was also obviously not a good strategy earlier this year and during the campaign when it was embraced by the Democratic Party. It was the Iraq “surge” strategy translated into Pashto.

The reason I’m extremely pissed off the more I think about this is that our troops are not in the locker room suited up for the big game. They’re in the field, executing Obama’s strategy as we speak. Some young American will die there this week and the next and the next in order to “build up Afghanistan” and its army and its government. I don’t mean to be maudlin. These are professional soldiers and volunteers. If it’s worth it to defend the country, then their sacrifices are a cause for honor and remembrance, not weak-kneed irresolution. They’re certainly mostly killing bad people that deserve little sympathy. The question is whether a defensive strategy off-shored and focused on surgical strikes is superior. In either case, it is utterly unconscionable to commit to a war, announce a new strategy with much fanfare, and then deny the troops the resources to win only two or three months thereafter.

Obama is dithering as if the world were on hold while he takes his time. This is not a faculty meeting. The issue can’t be tabled. It’s a real war, with real blood and death, and Obama’s increasing the mission requirements while cutting troops and the Pentagon budget. A foreign conqueror could do little worse.

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Not So Clever

One thing you learn quickly in business is that the safest thing to do and often the smartest is to under-promise, over-deliver, and be parsimonious with commitments. Obama’s done none of these things, and it all shows an amateur at work whose appreciation for the real world is sorely lacking. Consider this take-down in Harper‘s of all places:

All these maneuvers might seem tactically “smart”: Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the hedge funds contributed mightily to Obama’s election; John McCain wasn’t able to call Obama a peacenik or “soft on Al Qaeda”; and Baucus’s insurance and nursing-home friends weren’t put to any trouble, which would have caused Obama problems with Baucus about other tax matters before the Senate Finance Committee.

But maybe such cynicism isn’t altogether so smart in 2009. Wall Street, unpunished and unrepentant after three decades of recklessness, is poised to embark on new, unregulated financial adventures, such as the issuance of securitized life-insurance policies known as “life settlement” bonds. Rewarded for their failures with huge sums of public money, the newly emboldened casino managers are liable to sink the ship next time, instead of just flooding it.

In Afghanistan, American soldiers are consistently dying in small batches (under orders from their Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader) while Afghan civilians continue to perish in far greater numbers under American and British bombs supposedly aimed at the Taliban. You don’t even have to remember Vietnam or the Russian occupation of Afghanistan to recognize the profound absurdity of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy. Respectable experts, from Edward Luttwak on the right to George McGovern and William Polk on the left to Andrew J. Bacevich somewhere in the middle, have demolished the notion that such a military campaign can succeed in subduing a nationalist or tribal rebellion.

As for Baucus and health care, it’s clear that whatever bill comes out of the Finance Committee, large numbers of Americans will remain uninsured or underinsured. This means that the emergency room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York will continue to overflow with poor children who come for primary care because their parents can’t afford a pediatrician. And it means that America’s industrial corporations will continue to suffer from a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers based in civilized countries where health care is considered a public trust and a right and the government pays the bill.

Does this sound smart? Or does it sound really, really stupid?

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As usual, the folks at DNI are making sense on the Afghanistan Campaign and the General McCrystal Report

Politically, the report is bold, in that it acknowledges the enemy has the initiative and we have been fighting the war – for eight years – in counterproductive ways. But intellectually, both as analysis and as prescription, it is five pounds of substance in a 50 pound bag.

The report’s message can be summarized in one sentence: we need to start doing classic counterinsurgency, and to do so, we need more “resources,” i.e. troops. In a narrow, technical sense, that statement is valid. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine says we need hundreds of thousands more troops in Afghanistan.

Past that syllogism, the report’s validity becomes questionable. Defects begin with the study’s failure to address Fourth Generation war’s first and most important question: Is there a state in Afghanistan? At times, the report appears to assume a state; elsewhere, it speaks of the Afghan state’s weaknesses. It never addresses the main fact, namely that at present there is no state, and under the current Afghan government there is no prospect of creating one.

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