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Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan’

Neocons never seem to learn.  Even after the Somalia disaster and the dubious win against Serbia, their first recommended response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq.  Public opinion required them to delay things for a while–in spite of a vigorous debate–but after a short and ineffectual campaign in Afghanistan, they finally go their wish.  We’re still in Iraq, and we’re also plodding around Afghanistan, Iran is stronger, and this is all in the name of spreading democracy as the antidote to terrorism. None of these campaigns is a great showpiece of neoconservative strategic thinking.

So, this week, Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most bellicose neocon, has suggested the US should be invading Libya and arming the rebels.  Similar sentiments were uttered by his fellow travelers regarding Egypt.  Worse, some Republicans mindlessly pile on Obama’s leadership deficit in this arena, even though his leadership problem is not his caution regarding a military response, but rather his rhetorical invitations for rebellions among strange and unpredictable peoples coupled with his estrangement of longterm and reliable partners.  Who are these rebels?  What do they stand for?  Can we do any good for them or ourselves?  If we intervene, how long will we be there? Do we really want democracy among people shouting Allah Akbar?  I don’t want Obama’s “leadership” here, especially if it means we’ll be putting our troops into harms way without a clear idea of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Qadaffi is a dirtbag, terrorist supporter, whom I haven’t heard much from since Reagan sorted him out in 1986.  But even a nutcase who keeps a lid on things is preferable to anarchy.  What I don’t understand, or rather what I understand and have great contempt for, is the continued call by neoconservatives for mindless, hubristic US interventions after what has gone down in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Worse still is the Pavlovian Obama-hatred among many conservatives that cannot see when, in spite of himself, he is doing something useful, in this case by not doing very much.  Conservatives have been easily manipulated into supporting wars that serve no American interest whatsoever; it is time conservatives woke up, returned to their nationalist roots, and rejected the Wilsonian “global cop” role once and for all.

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I was perusing the Washington Post’s excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book on Obama’s decision temporarily to add 30,000 troops to the Afghanistan campaign.  A few things are rather striking to me, and they reveal Obama’s defects as a leader.

First, Obama is completely ambivalent about the mission and the troop increase in Afghanistan.  This is the case in spite of his campaigning as this being more important than Iraq and his announcement in early 2009 of a recommitment to Afghanistan.  Obama seems unaware how his flippancy can degrade the mission and morale.

Two, he is completely vague about his goals, other than the goal of getting our troops home. The September 2009 deliberations are rather strange to me, because there seems little collective recognition that in April of 2009 Obama announced an ambitious recommitment of resources to Afghanistan with a goal of destroying the Taliban, protecting the population, and increasing the skills and reality of the Afghan government and its security forces.  Having stated this goal, Obama now asks for wildly varying “options,” even though he seems unaware that certain goals, having already been stated, exclude certain tactical options.  But he’s used to options, because he’s used to low stakes legislative and public relations decision-making; he doesn’t realize that in more practical tasks, from building a car to defeating an enemy, you can’t tell someone to take a satellite to the moon and also demand that he gives you an option that doesn’t involve a rocket.  Incidentally, Don Rumsfeld’s obsession with troop levels in Iraq had much in common with Obama in this respect; he too wanted the military to do the impossible on the cheap.

Three, the military is at times borderline insubordinate, but a certain amount of push-back is to be expected, particularly when you’re being told (a) accomplish the impossible but (b) told to use fewer troops than you have already said are necessary to accomplish part “a” of this mission.  It would be nice if once in a while we’d actually see someone resign in public protest of these impossible orders.  Indeed, the military’s original timeline went out to 2016, which suggests quite a bit about how little will be accomplished by 2011 when the drawdown is supposed to begin.

Finally, Obama also seems to have a real problem with dissent.  He wants everyone to “sign off” on the plan, but it’s clear some disagreed before, during, and after its formulation.  These things happen, and this need not be a major problem.  The President’s the decision-maker.  But manufacturing false consensus where one is absent is not the mark of a mature leader, but rather of an insecure one who wants “yes men.”

Obama is not serious about the Afghan war.  He has split the difference with the military and given them contradictory mission guidance. Woodward’s expose of his decision-making shows to me that far from the problem being the existence of various factions–a normal feature of every major strategic decision–the commander in chief himself is the problem.  Specifically, Obama is incoherent, unserious, and inexperienced in how the world works, particularly on military matters.  The conflicts among his subordinates and his own impatience with them originate in his own incoherent leadership.  He doesn’t see this and mistakes his pig-headedness and stupidity for steadfastness and enlightenment.

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That’s what they used to say about World War I:  you had armies of lions led by donkies.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the grand strategy–democratic nation-building in the Muslim world–will do little to make us safer from terrorism and requires an impossible tutelage of proud, xenophobic Muslims by secularized America and its military. 

Nearly ten years into Afghanistan, the place is what it has always been:  dangerous, anti-American, Muslim, and primitive.  Iraq is little better.  Yet conservatives remain optimistic, bragging even about the Iraq “victory.”  At the same time, the military plods onward, in spite of the strategic lunacy of our civilian leaders’ vision.  I confess, I was once more optimistic about the possible outcome.  Events have chastened me.  I have returned to my natural isolationism (coupled with a Jacksonian bias to the occasional, brutal retaliatory raid).  Ten years after these campaigns have begun, it’s clear that they are doing more harm than good, at least for our country and its security.

Lawrence Auster observed an important aspect of why this farce continues in a comment on the increasing focus of training Americans to build rapport with locals:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level–among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.

Of course, mid-level officers are not supposed to conduct grand strategy; it’s healthy that they are subordinate to civilian leaders and also healthy and admirable that they are optimistic.  But there comes a time when some push-back is called for.  If a mission is unworkable, impossible, and will simply get soldiers and men needlessly killed, then it’s time to say something, whether in professional journals, in briefings to civilian leaders, or otherwise.  If nothing else, there is a time to say ” yes we can patrol here and there, meet with this or that village, and the like, but we do not have enough men to defeat the enemy, guaranty local security, and, further, we cannot and will not win hearts and minds, because our very presence in an Islamic land is repulsive to the people. And finally, none of these things will do anything identifiable to defeat al Qaeda or make America safer.” 

One unfortunate consequence of the incresaing “professionalism” of the modern military is its leaders’ absolute financial dependence on the government and, by necessity, prevailing political winds.  The old aristocratic volunteer officer might have been more inclined to speak out, whether against a losing campaing in Afghanistan or a meddlesome requirement to integrate women into his unit, not least because he could fall back on an inheritance and family wealth.  The modern major and lieutenant colonel is on the brink of a comfortable pension and is likely from a middle class background; to speak out to forcefully against the crazy directives coming from on high would result in penury, if not worse.  We sometimes wonder why Soviet engineers and soldiers and bureaucrats participated in their insane system year after year, in spite of the obvious lies, half-truths, destruction, and missed projections made by central planners.  There, as increasingly is the case in America, the state was everything.  In the Soviet Union, the withholding of a job, a pension, a license, a prescription, an apartment, or a degree was incalculaby destructive of the individual.   And there, as increasingly is the case in America, there were almost no resources outside the state, including private wealth, to fall back upon if one had earned the disfavor of the state.

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I read (but did not watch) the President’s speech on Iraq.  Of all the things he has done as President, stopping our mindless “stay the course” approach in Iraq has been something I generally approve.  I also think it’s a testament to his relative moderation on foreign policy that our withdrawal has been orderly.  I disagree with conservatives who say we’re “cutting and running” or that his failure to acknowledge the “success of the Surge” shows his bad faith.  The Surge, in fact, while it tamped down some violence in Iraq, has hardly been a success without qualification.  There is still a significant terrorist presence in Iraq.  Its politics are still corrupt, and its likely future will be as a Shia-led Iranian partner. And the Surge is often credited with a reduction in violence caused by the earlier Anbar Awakening, which itself was caused by the mistakes and oversteps of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The original mission in Iraq (of finding and destroying WMDs) turned out to be largely unnecessary.  Upon this, Bush elevated the secondary mission of installing a friendly democracy.  This led to a seven year counterinsurgency campaign that has ended inconclusively.  It likely created as many Iraqi nationalist terrorists as it destroyed Islamist ones.  And for its modest or nonexistent benefits, it did tie down our forces, cost many American lives, destroy much American equipment, and cost a great deal of money over the last seven years.  If the first part of the Iraq mission was defensible, the latter portion was clearly a mistake.

As a work of rhetoric, however, Obama’s speech was uninspired.  He never seems tremendously comfortable in the commander in chief role.  He keeps our troops’ sacrifices and honorable work on the same plane as jobs for steelworkers or healthcare reform. In other words, he misses some of the romance of the soldier’s life that Bush and Reagan understood.  This is one of many reasons a great many Americans view him as an alien figure, who does not share their values.

Where Obama does not get points from me and where he seems particularly confused is on Afghanistan.  He disagreed with Bush and pulled out of Iraq because he surmised, correctly in my opinion, that the mission was a counterproductive loser.  But why then should the same type of mission be pursued in Afghanistan so many years after the 9/11 attacks? Unlike 2001, there are not significant terrorist training camps there; we are dealing there, as in Iraq, with a nationalist and Islamic insurgency fueled by our presence and the various petty and major grievances Afghans have with our lumbering presence.  The main part of the enemy have fled to Pakistan, which is an on again, off again, partner in the war against al Qaeda.  The mere presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan should not be enough to justify an extended nation-building campaign; al Qaeda is also in Iraq, not to mention Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and, for that matter, Germany, France, the UK, and the US.  It’s not clear from Iraq that replacing corrupt dictatorships with corrupt, sectarian democracies does anything at all to fight terrorism at a strategic level.  Once again, look at Pakistan, a functioning, long-established Islamic democracy, where large elements of its military and intelligence infrastructure support Islamic terrorists.  In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, limping along with a smaller, but still significant presence, hardly seems the kind of serious change Obama made such a show of in the campaign.  It looks more like hedging his bets in an area in which he is supremely unconfident.  And this course promises to continue blood-letting, expense, and meaningless accomplishments like slightly reducing the daily car-bomb count in countries that have nothing to do with us.

How to use the military to fight terrorism is not an easy question.  But part of the answer seems like focusing on the terrorists themselves and not being terribly concerned with changing the environment that incubates them.  That environment is fueled by a combination of Islam and typical Third World corruption, and it cannot be easily changed.  But what our military can do is blow up camps, lavish informants with cash, use drones to blow up terrorist leaders, bomb terror-supporting countries, sink ships, and otherwise engage in our own version of “hit and run” tactics rather than conventionally, and expensively, trying to transform ancient peoples into good liberal democrats.

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Obama’s Afghanistan Problem

There have been a few excellent editorials, including this short piece by Gary Wills, in recent weeks noting that Obama risks becoming the LBJ of his time:  a man with an ambitious domestic agenda, whose foreign policy mishaps and inconclusive, persistent prosecution of a counterinsurgency are his undoing.

I think the analogy is apt, but the left and the country in general seem a great deal less interested in the war now that George W Bush is out of office.  Casualties are mounting, many of the same problems of corruption exist in Afghanistan as in Iraq, and the war’s results are mediocre at best.  Yet Obama has a freedom of movement on this that defied his predecessor.  LBJ, by contrast, was seen as “the man” by the New Left and was given no real breaks for his progressive agenda at home or Democratic Party identification.  Indeed, the 1968 Democratic Convention was the sight of one of the greatest riots of the far left as part of the anti-Vietnam movement.

Obama, I believe, will muddle through in Afghanistan and not take a significant hit.  The main issue that has eclipsed all others is the dreadful state of the economy, which so far seems impervious to the various spending and stimulus measures he has issued.

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Brief Update

I’ve been in process of moving cities.  I haven’t forgotten you dear readers.  This weekend the home internet is getting hooked up, and I’ll be back to regale you with the usual stuff.  My brief recap of the week:

Iraq is still a hell hole, and if this is “success” we should pull up the chocks on Afghanistan today.

Economy still looking bad.

Kagan is a leftist and an extremist, but also witty and likable, and this is why she’ll be confirmed.  Indeed, this may be why Harvard Federalist Chapter liked her:  she had a sense of fair play and liked the exchange of ideas.

Thank you WASPs for letting us displace you (at the NY Times of course).  We won’t return the favor for the next up and coming group of people looking to displace us, of course.

Ammo on sale at ammunitiontogo.com.  1000 rounds .223 for $200.   What a way to celebrate Second Amendment Supreme Court victory this week, which was expected after Heller, but a nice triumph after all my years disarmed by Daley’s thugs in Chicago.

Al Gore has gone from enviro-crazy to possible criminal.  A lot of folks are sugegsting this is beyond the realm of possibility–and to me it’s equally likely this woman is an opportunist engaged in high stakes blackmail–but, then again, the sexual passions can be strong and overwhelming even for people otherwise successful.  Look at Eliot Spitzer or Bill Clinton.  Plus, Al Gore seems to have become very angry and nasty after the 2000 election.  Anything’s possible.  What a fitting denoument for the Clinton administration if this comes to pass.

I’m hopping mad that Obama’s felaty to unions and myopic concern for peacetime environmental regulations is keeping effective, foreign, non-union oil skimming vessels from assisting in the Gulf of Mexico.

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A roundup of a few interesting things from the internet this week.

Great pieces by establishment conservatives George Will and Charles Krauthammer pointing out the increasingly wide gap between Obama’s rhetoric of post-partisanship and his narrowly partisan agenda.

A scathing editorial by Robert Samuelson on Obama’s phony economics agenda.

A nice tribute to one of my favorite writers, Steve Sailer, by John Derbyshire.

An interesting power point from Natick Labs that shows the Army’s dubious universal pattern was actually a poor performer in tests.  The best performer looked a lot like old Rhodesian camouflage and, like the earth around us, was comprised of greens, tans, and browns.  It is a minor scandal that the Army has made its soldiers appear worse in garrison and endangered them in the field with its new Army Combat Uniform.  Since so many soldiers are now slogging it out like their fathers and grandfathers on Afghan hills, it’s a decision worthy of revisiting by the DoD.

South of the border, things seem to be really melting down.  It’s kind of pathetic that Obama thinks we can have an unsecured border with Mexico and is considering sending in the military to stop narco-terrorists only, as if a border without controls can easily separate illegal aliens seeking work at car washes and restaurants and illegal aliens seeking work as pimps and drug dealers.  Without a secure border, the un-uniformed, un-named, disorganized, and visually indistinguishable criminal element from Mexico will continue to flow into the US.

I was never terribly impressed with the GOP since Bush took the helm.  Michael Steele is not helping things. More of the same is a recipe for disaster:  both politically and, if we somehow manage electoral success, on policy.  The gap between concerns of the rank and file–the economy, culture, immigration, national security, and moral decline–and the guilt-ridden, beltway rhetoric of the leadership is quite remarkable.

Dick Cheney said this morning that Obama’s policies make America less safe.  I, of course, said Bush’s border policies made America less safe, though Obama may even be worse on this score.  But so what if Cheney said this?  Isn’t this what criticism of another person’s national security policy always is saying implicitly?  One of the most dangerous developments in the media’s tone under Obama has been the idea that criticizing his policies–i.e., hoping they fail or saying they make us less safe–is out of bounds and unpatriotic.  If we can’t criticize Obama without being called racist, and we can’t criticize his policies without being unpatriotic, what is left other than blind submission?

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