Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Impossibility of Being in Afghanistan

President Obama met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday Oct. 30 for another skull session on Afghanistan. Another reason not to escalate: long term consequences on personnel and equipment of land warfare services that have been strained by eight years of dual wars.

Obama has not made any decisions regarding Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops, and it is unlikely he will before he leaves Monday on a weeklong tour of Asia. So we’re safe for another week, anyway.

I hope that at some point in the Joint Chiefs meeting, Obama ran a cheese grater across Adm. Mike Mullen’s face. Mullen had been part of a media blitz designed to box Obama into acceding to McChrystal’s demands, telling Congress that he endorsed McChrystal’s plan while Obama’s security team was still in deliberations. Gen. David Petraeus also publicly endorsed the McChrystal plan.

McChrystal himself pulled a string of MacArthur-class stunts that he should face discipline for: the leaked classified assessment on Afghanistan to Bob Woodward, the Newsweek profile, the 60 Minutes infomercial, the Dexter Filkins hagiography in the New York Times Magazine, the dog-piling by congressional hawks like John McCain demanding that Obama snap to and obey McChrystal ASAP or troops already in Afghanistan would be in peril. Leaks galore: McChrystal might resign if he didn’t get his way. The military was “frustrated” with Obama. There was the op-ed at the right-fright outlet Newsmax encouraging the military to conduct a coup to resolve the “Obama problem.” Then we had monster laureate Dick Cheney chime in with his “dithering” comments. It was shameful. Don’t think for a second McChrystal and Petraeus and Mullen didn’t know what they were doing. They’re as media savvy as any movie studio executive (Mullen’s father was a Hollywood publicity agent). It’s tough to say how much of the media madness was planned and how much was spontaneous, but these guys know how echo chambers work. You shout “fire” a few times and pretty soon everybody’s shouting it along with you.

McChrystal now admits that even if he gets all the troops he wants, it will take more than a year to get them on the ground and into the fight against the Taliban. The first additional brigade couldn’t get to Afghanistan until Jan. 2010. So all the anile hysteria—“more forces or mission failure”—was (ahem) exaggerated. Maybe McChrystal hadn’t thought about that before. Maybe the guy needs more sleep. Or better advisers. He could stand to scrape off the likes of pseudo-counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen and larded neocon prince Fred Kagan.

John Kerry, having sweet talked Afghan President Hamid Karzai into accepting a run-off election, now seems to be in charge of putting lipstick on him. He recently described Karzai, possibly history’s most crooked politician in charge of the world’s most corrupt government, as a “patriot.” After a lunch with CIA director Leon Panetta, Kerry said he didn’t believe there was a direct relationship between Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali and the U.S. spy agency. Sure. This is a non-denial denial. Ahmed’s been on the CIA dole for most of the past eight years, and he’s suspected to be Adam’s apple deep in Afghanistan’s drug trade to boot.

Kerry is putting what’s left of his credibility on the line by backing the Brothers Karzai. They’re as crooked as the Missouri River. I’m not sure why Obama let Kerry get involved in the Afghan issue in the first place. Kerry doesn’t exactly have a reputation for knowing how to put together winning strategies.

The Joint Chiefs are putting a company front behind McChrystal, the handpicked darling of “King David” Petraeus. Rumors abound that Obama will bow to pressure from his supposed subordinates and order some sort of escalation in Afghanistan. Too bad. What he should do is follow Joe Biden’s advice and opt for a small footprint anti-terror strategy.

An even better strategy would be to pull the plug on the whole operation. Stop pouring guns and graft into a violent, corrupt society. Stop giving them American targets to attack in their back yard. Just walk away.

All we’re doing in the Middle East is making more jihadists. We need to roll back. Let those people fight among themselves if they want to. We don’t need to stick American kids in the middle of it.

A great neocon myth says that if we withdraw from Central and Southwest Asia, a regional war will break out. It won’t. None of the countries in that region are capable of projecting significant military force much beyond their borders. But even if a regional war did break out in that part of the world, so what? The death and destruction would be lamentable, but it could hardly be worse than the death and destruction we have caused.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Afghanistan “is not an open-ended, never-ending commitment” Friday morning on the Today Show. Somebody start leaving Hillary a trail of breadcrumbs, please. A commitment to nation birthing of the kind McChrystal wants to execute will take 20 years or more.

A singular lunacy of McChrystal’s proposal is his plan to train up 400,000 Afghan security troops as part of the counterinsurgency force. Maj. Gen. Richard Formica related a story in the Filkins article that illustrates the futility of that objective:

“When I was down in Helmand where the Brits were training police officers, they said not only could none of them read but they didn’t understand what a classroom was. How can you train officers if they can’t write arrest reports?”

Answer: you can’t.

You also can’t win the hearts and minds of Afghans when the government you’re backing is the most corrupt regime on the planet, perhaps in the history of the world.

It’s an impossible mission. Let Tom Cruise have a crack at if he likes, but bring our troops home.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Commander,
    Sadly, the only one who can stop the pro-war military "leaks" and PR blitz, is the COC.

    For now, he does not seem inclined to do what Truman did, and fire somebody for insubordination.

    War - for the sake of war, and the military-industrial complex -- has never been a "winning strategy".

    However, it does appear to be the only one we currently have.

  2. Sen Kerry's involvement seems to be a prelude to a new job. SECDEF 2010?

    Just sayin.

  3. I like the cheese grater strategy. There have been a few times when I'd have abandoned the cheddar for the troublemaker myself.

    Another young Canadian blown to kingdom come today. The poor sod had only been there a week.

    May I give you a link to one of my favourite Canadian columnists, Tom Walkom, who's a nice guy with a big heart.

    Afghanistan sacrifices may have been in vain.

    With casualties in Afghanistan at nearly 52% over last year's, with a couple of months still to go, now is the time to simply stop. Pack up your stuff and get out.

    Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has boycotted a run-off election. Without him in the running, any election would be even more laughable than the first one, if that's possible.

    Having Celtic roots from way back on both sides of the family, Hallowe'en resonates. I like the idea of the old Hallowe'en - bonfires on the hilltops, music, and heaven-only-knows-what going on in the dark.

    The world recently is scary enough in the daytime, all year round.

    I'll still stick a carved pumpkin out on the doorstep to scare away the evil spirits. Maybe, tomorrow, McChrystal will have resigned.

  4. Go-bomb-them needs to get a set of balls. Then he needs to do a Harry S. Truman and fire Stan, "king" Davey, and Moon Mullins.
    The mindless idiotic endless war for only one reason, profits for the war industries and the goddamn banksters on Wall Street must stop.
    Holy crap, you would think that Vietnam taught the military brass a lesson.
    Just read American history for crap sake. A foreign army cannot defeat the home team. I know that most Americans don't know much world history, but damn, don't the brass even know US history? A rag tag bunch of farmers, mechanics, shop keepers, and other non military types beat the super power of the day back in 1776 and that is why America became an independent nation. Why do these morons think they can beat the Afghans?
    Who dies and made them gods?
    ENOUGH of the useless wars of choice. Bring ALL our troops back home to defend this country. Or else, at least rename the Department of Defense the Department of Endless War so we can at least have truth in advertising.
    Just my 2 cents worth.
    semper fi

  5. Turns out there is something to "win" in Afghanistan after all:

    China Taps Huge Copper Reserves in Afghanistan

    Here is a story from earlier in the year explaining how the American deployment in Afghanistan is essentially providing on-the-ground security for Chinese economic interests.

    I wonder if that's how they think of us, as rent-a-cops paying the price in blood and debt to make their new neighborhoods safe for investment. Given their recent snagging of oil contracts in Iraq, one could say there is a pattern developing.

    Boone Pickens went apoplectic over our "right" to Iraq's oil, but when you think about it actually seems only fair, since the Chinese are the ones actually financing our lunacy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Who better than Americans should understand that you get what you pay for?

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