Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Can This War Be Saved?

If the media reports are accurate, tonight Obama’s going to announce that the Afghanistan troop surge he ordered in December 2009 is going to last through 2012. When it ends, however, there will still be roughly twice as many American troops in Afghanistan as there were when he took office. I can’t think of more conclusive evidence that Obama remains committed to David Petraeus’s counter-insurgency strategy as opposed to the light-footprint, counter-terrorism strategy associated with Joe Biden. Presumably that means that, for the foreseeable future, we’re going to keep subordinating our national interest in killing terrorists to our interest in winning over Afghan hearts and minds by protecting civilians and nation-building. You don’t need 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, or to incur casualties at the rate we’re now incurring them, just to kill terrorists.

Anyway you look at it, Obama inherited a weak military and political hand and I’m not the guy to tell you whether there’s a better way for him to play his cards. For all I know counter-insurgency may be the best military strategy to achieve the aims of counter-terrorism under the peculiar circumstances presented by the Afghanistan operation. But I can’t help noticing that the administration’s pitch to voters in defense of its Afghanistan policy is all about killing terrorists without saying much of anything about our success in building a viable Afghan nation.

Listen, for instance, to how White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s selling the administration’s Afghanistan policy. It's all about dead terrorists:
“Carney signaled that the White House believes it can weather public impatience with the war and perhaps even persuade voters to give Obama some breathing room in light of the successful U.S. military mission last month that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

“‘We’re all aware of what the public generally thinks, but I think the public is interested in the right policy and a policy that is succeeding,’ Carney said. ‘The successful mission against Osama bin Laden highlights the broader success that we have had in going after members of Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. … It is a high-profile and highly significant success.’”
This is a lot different from the pitch we heard from the Bush administration in defense of the Iraq surge. That, you’ll recall, was mostly about the brightening light at the end of the nation-building tunnel. We heard a lot about how the Anwar Awakening showed that Iraqi Sunnis were coming over to our side, the stability and democratic legitimacy of the Maliki government and the ever-increasing capacity of the Iraqi army to stand up so that we could stand down. Granted, that wasn't enough to quiet Bush’s Democratic critics or to keep the American public behind the Iraq war. But it was effective enough with the Republican base and the Republican congressional caucus to enable Bush to complete the Iraqi surge on something like his terms.

Obama can't point to anything like the Anwar Awakening, a legitimate and reasonably effective Afghan government or an Afghan army that's even literate, much less battlefield ready.  How much longer can he hope to retain the support of his own party, much less the voting public, for keeping 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan merely by pointing to the terrorist heads mounted on the wall, especially when the biggest trophy of all is already there?


Lone Wolf said...

People forget that, as hard as regime change turned out to be Iraq, we undertook it because we thought it would be easier there than anywhere else in the Middle East. There was already a middle-class, a reasonably well-educated work force, oil revenues, etc. Nation-building was supposed to be largely a matter of rebuilding the pre-Saddam civil society. That turned out to be way too hard because a lot less of civil society had survived the Sadam years than we thought.

There never has been civil society in most of Afghanistan and we have to teach Afghans how to read before we can teach them how to be modern soldiers. It's delusional to expect to see anything like the nation-building progress we finally saw in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

You should ask not Can this War Be Saved, but If this War Should be Saved. Maybe, for once in his life, Biden is right. Obama is risking more than blowing the support of his liberal supporters. He may be pursuing a lost cause and putting too many more lives in harm's way. Let's get out of Afghanistan.

Popinjay said...

Maybe we're teaching Afghans how to read English, and that's why it's taking so long.