Thursday, November 12, 2009

Say Nyet to Afghanistan

Mikhail Gorbachev, head of state of the Soviet Union when it withdrew from Afghanistan, has two words for Barack Obama: get out. Gorbachev, now 78, said in an interview in Berlin that he sees no chance of American success in Afghanistan even with more troops. “I believe that there is no prospect of a military solution,” he said. The U.S. “should be preparing the ground for withdrawal rather than additional troops.”

Gorbachev noted there was little chance that Obama would take his advice. Maybe yes, maybe no.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos offers a ray of hope. He says Obama is looking for “off ramps” out of Afghanistan, Obama’s not satisfied with what he’s heard so far from his advisers, and well he should not be.

In early 2009 when Gen. Mark McKiernan was still in charge of Afghanistan, then brand new President Obama nixed a full bore surge of troops there because McKiernan couldn’t say what he’d do with them and the Joint Chiefs of Staff couldn’t describe an end state for the conflict. We still don’t have a coherent strategy for Afghanistan and there’s no end state in sight. If we continue to pour blood and money into Afghanistan, we’ll be there for at least another 20 years, and if we ever leave, we’ll have done more harm than good. We’re just recruiting terrorists.

Obama would do well to sack most of his senior advisers. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, is as full of gas as the Goodyear Blimp. He has said, “If we don’t get a level of legitimacy and governance [in Afghanistan], then all the troops in the world aren’t going to make any difference.” But he’s also part of the triumvirate that includes Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who want Obama to send 30,000 or more additional troops to Afghanistan. We won’t get legitimacy and governance in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai and his family are among the biggest crooks on the planet, and the CIA has been funding them. And we’re stuck with them.

Pakistan is controlled by its military and its Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). ISI has ties to all of the terrorist groups in the region, according to Pakistan’s former military leader Pervez Musharraf. Maybe that give some credence to reports that Hillary Clinton has taken to dealing directly with Pakistan’s military and the ISI.

But why should we even be bothering with these people? They’re not worth the trouble.

Any assertion that we’re in Af-Pak because of terrorism, or 9/11, is a crock of horse mustard. We’re not even sure whom we’re fighting there.

There are probably fewer than 100 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, and less than 300 of them in the tribal areas of Pakistan. We and our NATO coolies already have more than 100,000 troops in the theater. The Taliban, who aren’t a threat to our national security, number at best around 25,000. We already have a force advantage—when we count Afghan security forces, of 12 to one. If we give Stan McChrystal the U.S. troops he wants, and plus up Afghan forces to 400,00 as he projects, we’ll end up with an astronomical numeric advantage. And it won’t do a bit of good.

We’re experiencing the kind of madness C.S. Forester described in The General, a novel of World War I that notes how career British military officers drove their country to mindless slaughter of its youth and how mindless and spineless politicians let them get away with it. Forester is the one who compared the senseless trench warfare of the Great War to a group of dimwits haplessly trying to pull a screw out of the floor with a hammer claw, never imagining they could accomplish the task easily with a screwdriver.

Today’s American generals figure they can keep their wars going as long as they keep the friendly casualties low. They know, at some level, that the wars they’re in are unwinnable. But they don’t want to lose them, and as long as they can keep them going they won’t lose. That’s the crux of the Long War strategy, which isn’t so much a strategy as it is a theology, or an ideology, or something akin to voodoo.

The dudes behind the Long War—the top tier of which includes Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen—aren’t interested in defending America. They’re interested in preserving the military-industrial-congressional complex, and the trillion-plus dollar annual bite it takes out of the federal budget. (Plausible estimates place our military spending at almost $1.5 trillion, 54 percent of annual federal government spending.)

The latest media swag, from the increasingly war-friendly Washington Post, says that “Military planners will present President Obama with several options for how to proceed in Afghanistan on Wednesday afternoon that at a minimum would send 20,000 additional U.S. troops.”

How tragic. 20,000 troops won’t make a bit of difference in that conflict. It will just put 20,000 more American kids in harm’s way for no purpose. We committed a half-million troops to Vietnam and they didn’t to a bit of good there.

Gorbachev is right. We should be preparing to haul buns out of Afghanistan, not getting stuck further in the crack than we already are.

In a Veterans’ Day speech, Obama said, "As long as I am Commander in Chief, I am going to do right by [its service members]. American will not let you down, we will take care of our own.”

If Obama is serious about that promise, he’ll follow Gorbachev’s advice, not the hawkish screech chorus of his generals and their supporters in Congress and the press. Obama met today with his national security team for the eighth time for another skull dig, possibly the last one until he announces what he’s going to do about Af-Pak.

If Obama really wants out of Afghanistan, he doesn’t need an off ramp. He just needs to pull off the road his generals and the hawks in Congress want him to take.

Just say nyet, Mr. President. Pull the plug on this misadventure.

Karl Eikenberry, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and former general in command of forces in the country, has warned Obama against sending additional troops as well.

The good news: Obama has rejected the four options that his national security team has presented him. It’s sounding more every day like he’s come to his senses, and understands Afghanistan is not a “war of necessity,” and wants a way out.

As Seymour Hersh told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Wednesday night, Obama may be putting his foot down. Let’s hope so. It’s about time.

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. Anonymous2:24 AM

    Thanks for your insights and persistent, passionate attention to these matters. Sadly, Nixon set the precedent for Obama's most likely course of near-term action. As summarized by George Ball:

    "What was plainly required by a new President in 1969 was not that he accept the premises of the administration be succeeded - premises which the majority of the American people had clearly rejected - but that he try by realistic analysis to put the war back into context. That meant abjuring vapid talk of "defeat" or "victory." It meant ... climbing out of the pit in which the preceding administration had imprisoned itself with its own slogans.

    "Had he possessed the requisite qualities of character and temperament, President Nixon was in a superb position to do so, since, free from the hostages of past actions, he could forthrightly challenge the assumptions of the war ... He had a chance - indeed an obligation - to take a totally fresh look at what America was trying to achieve by its continued intervention in Vietnam."

    (From Diplomacy for a Crowded World - pg 67)

    Interesting how the template for an Obama failure seems to have been written a mere 33 years ago.

  2. Good stuff. Thanks.


  3. Russians have been advising us to get the hell out of Afghanistan since before we invaded. Gorbachev is only the latest. Speaking as someone who has young relatives about to enter the U.S. military meat grinder, I hope and pray that Obama takes the red pill (on Iran as well as Afghanistan). As someone wise on the Internet once said, "Deal with reality or reality will deal with you." Are you listening, Barack?

  4. Unless we develop a comprehensive South Asia strategy, the most we can hope for is a temporary peace in Afghanistan.

    What would such a strategy look like? Well, at the very least it requires some moderation of the strategic competition between India and Pakistan.

    Without attention to this aspect of the problem, we really are only playing around at the edges of the conflict.

    For more, there's a good piece here

  5. Anonymous8:03 AM

    Afghan profit machine is taking milk from American babies, despite the fact that too many unlamented US personnel are dying for perpetual war theory, with no consideration of anthropolgy or hsitory.

    Withdraw now.

    India is not an issue and if left to its devises will "take care" of little Pakistan.

    The Chicom can grab this tar baby. Just as the Brits and Russians tilted to no useful end in the 19th century.

    There is no domino game here, they play chess.


  6. Who would've thought Gen. Eikenberry, now the Ambassador there, would be the one to try to give Obama a reasonable out?

    Gotta wonder if he isn't doing this at the request of his higher ups? That would be Hillary's crew at State, right?

  7. If Hillary is lined up with Mullen and McChrystal against the President and Vice President on Afghanistan, (as reported on HuffPost) in favor of more war, clearly she has no business being the top diplomatic representative of this country.

    Obama wants an option with an exit strategy, not an open-ended commitment to war in Afghanistan.

    Best news I've heard lately.

    When he made the statement that the war in Afghanistan was a "war of necessity" that was when we took our eyes off that ball, where we knew Al Queda was actually located, and instead invaded Iraq --- for reasons nobody has been able yet --- to justify.

    One more "Bush/Cheney" mess to clean up.

  8. Conn. man1; I have to respectfully disagree.imo; Shillary is running a covert crew within the state dept. She has been beating the chicken hawk war drum from the beginning. She is teamed up with the Patreus, Mc Chrystal camp. Her comments about the illegal Israeli settlements stirred the pot. She is a BIBI Likud fan.

  9. Gen McChrystal was said to be fuming about Mr Eikenberry's intervention

    Fume away, buddy. If he fumes enough, he may blow a gasket and leak (precious bodily) hydraulic fluid all over the floor, just like the BEAR (Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot), as chronicled by Nick Turse at a War Toys conference earlier this year.

    "One of its pitchmen spent a great deal of time kicking very specific objects into a very specific position so BEAR could actually lift them -- not exactly a battlefield likelihood -- while another gave an apologetic spiel explaining the robot's many drawbacks, including its low battery life. 'Obviously, this couldn't go on a battlefield,' he said. Soon after, red liquid began to pool on the floor just beneath the BEAR. 'It bleeds like a human, too,' one sarcastic conference-goer remarked as the robot hemorrhaged hydraulic fluid."

  10. Remembrance Day here yesterday. The Governor General, for some reason best known only to herself, was all tricked out in full army uniform. This followed several previous ones who had gone away from the uniform thing completely. Weird.

    Some people seemed to actually enjoy feeling sad. Fewer veterans of WW2 every year. But someone remarked "..but there were many there with the Afghanistan medal", as if this were a good thing. Goody, goody. We can have many, many more veterans for Remembrance Days for years and years to come.

    I looked at all this stuff and thought, "We failed them." They died and their colleagues thought that maybe the world would learn, that it's "shotvarfet". (Arthur Silber's November 11th entry).

    But no. We find new ways to produce more broken, wrecked, profoundly disturbed young people while the war profiteers, the oil companies, the greedy politicos can all may hay while others bleed.

    I'm beyond trying to figure it out.

  11. The most important factor here is whether Obama is capable of greatness, or whether he is just another genius micro-compromise equivocator like Clinton.

  12. The tea leaves are getting hard to read. Hillary is on record as being in favor of escalating, so I suspect Eikenberry is acting on his own.

    Then again we have heard reports that Hillary negotiated directly with the Pakistani Military and spies to cut a dope deal with the Taliban for us and give us an exit out of Afghanistan.