Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nothing to Win in Afghanistan

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it’s a bad idea to send more troops to Afghanistan until it shows it has “good governance.” When does Kerry, or anyone else, think Afghanistan will ever have good governance? It never has before.

"It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country, when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working in, with," Kerry told CNN in an interview aired on Sunday Oct. 18.

Will it ever be responsible for a president to send more troops to Afghanistan?

Kerry told CBS that it is time for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to "step up" and explain how his government could be a viable partner in the US and NATO-led mission to rout out Taliban militants and build a stable Afghanistan eight years into the war.

Karzai hasn’t stepped up yet, there’s no reason to expect him to do it now.

The fallacy behind Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s proposal to pour more troops into Afghanistan to conduct a “classic” counterinsurgency campaign is that, in fact, there’s really no such thing as a viable partner in a country that you’re occupying, and certainly not in a country like Afghanistan.

If the leadership of a government is a viable partner, you don’t need to occupy the country: you do business with it through economic and diplomatic means.

If the viable partner has an insurgency on his hands, he’s not a viable partner. If he had a legitimate hold on power, there wouldn’t be an insurgency.

Any partner we make in a foreign country is a puppet, and will not be seen as a legitimate leader, and hence is not a viable partner.

Karzai is a piece of work. The UN sponsored electoral investigation may well determine that Karzai won less than 50 percent of the vote in the recent election, which would require a runoff election. He is reportedly furious over the prospect. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has phoned Karzai, urging him to accept the results of the election investigation.

What if he doesn’t?

Supporters of Karzai’s main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, are threatening to demonstrate in Northern Afghanistan if there is no second round of voting.

To further complicate things, there’s not only controversy over the elections, there’s controversy over the people who monitored the elections.

To imagine that we can step in and sort all this out and fight the Taliban and everybody else there is to fight in Afghanistan is a textbook fool’s errand.

I’d like to see us abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan altogether. Whatever latent threat of terrorism still exists there can be handled through policing and political methods. Lamentably, I don’t see us withdrawing from the area. It’s the only war with a future on earth right now, and too many people stand to make a lot of money from it.

But the proposal to throw another 40,000 or more troops into the cauldron is abject lunacy. As Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress says, McChrystal’s argument boils down to, “if we had a capable and legitimate Afghan government then more troops would make the difference so therefore we should send more troops.” And, as Yglesias infers, there’s no reason to imagine that more troops can make the Afghan government capable and legitimate.

That seems to leave us with the Joe Biden option: reduce the footprint. We could continue to conduct strikes against terrorist cells in the region, and it will be easier to extract ourselves when the time comes.

Combating and deterring terror is the only stake we have in the region. Creating a western democracy in Afghanistan, as Hillary Clinton seems to want to do, is not feasible enough to be worth trying, and it’s certainly not worth the cost.

Reducing the footprint in Afghanistan also allows us to keep the size of our Army and Marine Corps under control. A reason many in the Pentagon and their allies are behind McChrystal’s plan is that it justifies continuing to enlarge our land forces. I know how cynical that sounds, but it’s true. If you’re in the war business, war is good for business.

Eight years and change into this war, we’re still not sure what we’re doing. We just got a new strategy in March that was so bad we’re working on a new one already, we can’t settle of achievable objectives or measures of effectiveness that make any sense. It’s time to start easing away from this one. We have nothing to win in Afghanistan.

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. Why would any one listen to Kerry. The way he quit in 2004 makes him null and void. He makes a peep for the peeps, and thinks everyone should listen. he was weak in 2004. and he is weak now. At least if the dems would have had Dean in 2004 we could have gone down in flames. with Kerry and his mind set, the dems exist on their knees. the dems need a real new voice. but it will be hard to silence the war drums of shillary, and her ilk of chickenhawks.

  2. Not a big Kerry fan myself, RZ. Anybody should have been able to beat Shrub in 2004.


  3. JH; Just as i believe that Obama was the chosen one in 2008 by [TPTB]. They needed the shrubster to continue his control thru chaos agenda in 2004. as i always say -----they select, so we may elect. --

  4. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Afghanistan is not Vietnam, the US had more money then and were not fighting a culture which resisted Alexander. Industrial age troop formations are not the answer.

    Industrial age war is very profitable and in 40 years the profits may invite some country into a quagmire with some level of amnesia and hubris, but it won't have any better result than Vietnamization did in the Nixon plan.

    Kerry is close to the point. There is no difference between Karzai and Thieu or Ky or Diem, none could hold their countries. Why make the same trillion dollar mistake?

    In the Second Afghan War (1879 to 1881), Lord Roberts won all the battles including a renowned 300 mile forced march relief of a British force under seige at Kandahar. However, having won every battle the Lord evacuated the country and paid off the rulers, to ignore the Czar's entanglements.

    Can anyone imagine paying off Karzai and him surviving when NATO leaves?

    There is one way to "build" a nation in Afghanistan and it requires depopulating the place as the Nazis proposed for Russia under Liebensraum.

    The cost to get there is too horrid.

    So, what to do?

    Get out!!


  5. Anonymous8:10 PM

    The War in Afghanistan is over, it's all about saving face now.

  6. Looks like some congresscritters are getting
    about the $400 the Pentagon pays for a gallon of gas in Afghanistan. Maybe sticker shock will lead them back to sanity. One can only hope.

    I'm not sure our lords and masters are convinced that there's nothing to win over there. Permanent bases with which to threaten Iran and direct Central Asian oil flows towards America are two possibilities.

    As far as I'm concerned, the real cost of the war(s) is the energy being wasted by militaries in trying to secure future oil supplies. This was predicted by, among others, peak oil writer Jay Hanson years ago (see

    It looks like the Pentagon is about to get an education in thermodynamics, specifically net energy. Note well the key sentence in that article:

    [I]it means that, if the trend of declining EROI continues, society will be spending an increasingly larger chunk of their remaining energy to get more energy.

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