Friday, November 13, 2009

The Worst of Both Worlds: Planning to Fail in Afghanistan, pt II

The above photo is from David Guttenfelder, a embedded journalist from the Denver Post. See more here

Barack Obama appears to have decided to roll the dice on a 2011 impeachment trial.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.
Two things strike me about the President's position:

1. He will never find the guarantees he is looking for; he will never achieve 100% certainty that any strategy will or will not work. America can do many things right and Afghanistan can still be a basket case in 10-15 years. Decades of effort, billions or dollars and 58,000 American lives added up to loss in South Vietnam, mostly because of a bungled burglary at the Watergate Hotel.

2. This is more disconcerting, for a supposed "international relations major" from Columbia University, the president is remarkably naive about the nature of governments in developing countries.

The idea that you are going to build a strong, corruption free government in Kabul from the top down is nonsensical.  The Afghan's themselves pleaded with the U.S. to bring back the Afghan monarchy after we toppled the Taliban in 2002 but the U.S. insisted that Afghanistan should have national elections in which everyone would vote - a feat which the U.S. didn't even accomplish until the mid 1960s. 

That's right, it took 180 years to achieve something of a broad based democracy in an English society (the U.S.) with only 4 distinct (but related and complimentary) regional cultures and long standing and broad based sense of national identity.

TL;DR: We had the best possible set of circumstances in which to build a democracy and it still took the better part of 2 centuries.

And not for nothing, but I find it odd that Obama wants to hold Karazi to higher standards (WRT corruption) than he holds Tim Geithner

That being said, with the right COIN strategy the U.S. can focus on building up and connecting tribal authorities into some sort of patchwork tribal-state. And functioning tribes can provide legitimate authority that could connect into some sort of regional economic/security bloc.

But what Obama is doing here is ridiculous. He just keeps moving the goalpost and kicking the can down the road on making a decision at all. You don't want to commit to winning? Fine - that's stupid - but fine, bring the soldiers home. Otherwise, commit, give McChrystal the troops he requested and let him have a shot at winning this thing, or at least at losing good. But the status quo is unacceptable. Obama better pay attention, because current polling belies a coming Republican take over of - at least - the House.

And, Mr. President, you need to consider that Republicans are not at all squeamish about impeaching Democratic presidents and Clinton got it over sex with an intern when unemployment ~ 5%.

You are going to have a Republican majority, buttressed by Glen Beck and the Tea Baggers, who will be out for blood with an unemployment rate approaching 11% and you want to throw this war? Really? Going in big now, with the support of prominent Republicans in the House and Senate, inoculates you against the worst of their criticisms. Bucking your hand picked commander on the ground in the hope that Karzai will find religion on good government is a fools errand. Casualties are mounting and elites in the media are basically anti-American fellow travelers anyway, so the narrative can be easily won by the Taliban that we are losing and they are winning. But if you think the situation is ugly now just wait until 2011. You're going to have a primary challenge from your left. (And right? Watch Hillary) You're going to have a angry new majority in congress and you will have numbers in the mid to low 40s, if you're lucky.

TL;DR: You will be impeached. You might not be convicted. But you might be. And if CNN is showing us the last American Marine clinging to the skids of chopper as Kabul is overrun by the Taliban, you will have to resign.

President Obama, you are toying with my than your own career here, you are toying with American prestige. If the people who attacked us on 9/11 can get to run us out of Afghanistan it will invite more tests of our credibility. It will force allies to think twice about getting too close and it will force enemies to test our resolve elsewhere. It will destroy both the Leviathan and the burgeoning sys admin capability. It will sully the relationship between civilian and military leaders in Washington and create a level of mistrust and hand wringing by both the civilian and military establishments that will catapult us right back to the post-Vietnam era.

You were elected to bring change.

Change should not mean changing the clocks back to 1975.

When you took the oath of office America's reputation was damaged; we were feared but no longer repected.

If you continue on this course, if you keep doing what you're doing in Afghanistan and continue setting impossibly high standards of leadership on Afghanistan so you can avoid showing leadership in the United States, you will create a situation that is truly the worst of both worlds:

America will be neither feared nor respected. 

And a world in which America is neither feared nor respected would be the biggest gamble of all.

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