During an unannounced visit to Kabul on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan is "absolutely winnable." "It is a very long undertaking," Gates added, but he's "convinced that the US and our partners will be here for as long as it takes to ensure victory."
It's been a nearly six-year undertaking so far, and as with Iraq, "victory" is a concept difficult to define. In the same press conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the war against the Taliban had been largely won already. "The Taliban were defeated in one and a half months when they were ruling the country," he said, referring to the U.S. led coalition campaign in late 2001.
Will any of these guys ever talk straight with us?
The Old Bull Game
There's something to be said for the power of positive thinking, but the Bush administration has pushed the "glass half full" theory into the realm of utter, abject denial. From Donald Rumsfeld's "dead enders" to Dick Cheney's "last throes," the strategies in both Iraq and Afghanistan have amounted to our civilian and military leadership planting its collective head firmly in a sand dune. Most of us by now have read Ron Susskind's anecdote about the Bush staffer who claimed ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
But the reality of the Bush administration is even more bizarre than that. From what we've observed of the likes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush, and others, they seem to believe that they can create a sunny day by simply proclaiming "let there be light."
This latest joint statement by Gates and Karzai reflects the same magnitude of delusion. If the situation in Afghanistan is "definitely winnable," why hasn't it been won yet? If we defeated the Taliban five and a half years ago, why do we need to defeat them again?
The verdict is still out on Robert Gates. At times, he seems to be the much-needed change from his predecessor Rumsfeld. Too often, though, he comes across as a Rummy-class bull feather artist. Recently, Gates signed on to what Mr. Bush described as a Korean Model for Iraq. It's downright frightening that a sitting Secretary of Defense might actually think the Korean and Iraq situations are analogous. As Jim Lobe of the International Press Service notes:
The Korea analogy has spurred some consternation among analysts here for a variety of reasons, not least because when Iraqis have been surveyed on their views about permanent military bases in their country, the response -- except among the minority Kurdish population--has been overwhelmingly negative…
…experts also reject the notion that the situation in Iraq, where U.S. forces find themselves in the middle of a number of internal sectarian conflicts, bears any relation to that of South Korea, where a minimum to 30,000 U.S. troops have been deployed as a "trip-wire" along the demilitarised zone to deter North Korean forces on the other side for more than 50 years.
"(The analogy) is either a gross over-simplification to try to reassure people (the administration) has a long-term plan, or it's just silly," said ret. Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, a former deputy national security adviser who served two tours of duty in South Korea.
Crazy Like a Fox?
There's good reason to believe, though, that the Korean Model is a screen to mask the Bush administration's real motives. Retired Lieutenant General John Johns says, "I can't take seriously that they would compare the Korea situation with Iraq. What bothers me is that it's an umbrella for staying the course." Johns adds, "…our original plans called for 13 permanent military bases, and the grand scheme was to deploy large numbers of troops there to exercise military hegemony over the Middle East… That still is in the back of the mind of President Bush and some of his advisers."
"Some of his advisers" would be the Dick Cheney led group of neoconservative ideologues who still populate the administration or who, like Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol, influence Bush foreign policy from the neocon think tank and media network.
The neoconservatives made their agenda quite clear in their September 2000 manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses. They wanted to increase the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East in order to protect Israel and ensure a steady flow of oil from the region. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a vital component of their policy, but he was really just a convenient excuse to justify their actions. They admitted that it would take a "new Pearl Harbor" to sell their scheme to the American public and the rest of the world, and they got their Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001.
Since that time, the neocons have established a track record of unmitigated disasters, but that doesn't worry them a bit. Like the monster in a horror movie serial, the dreams of megalomaniacs never quite die. You've hopefully noticed that the Bush administration has consistently ignored all calls to disavow intentions of setting up permanent military bases in Iraq. It's already building the permanent bases, along with that Superdome of a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and it has no intention of giving them up.
So don't kid yourself into thinking our Iraq aims will change on Mr. Bush's watch. "Victory" in Iraq involves creating conditions that support our permanent presence there. When we've established that, we might actually go back to Afghanistan and focus on that terrorism thing.