Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Flaw of Small Ambitions - Obama and Afghanistan

"“I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way—you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration. Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy I’m not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there—beyond what we already have.” -President Obama

Sounding reasonable and being reasonable are not the same thing. The problem with this approach to any ambition, but especially a war, is that when your aims are so small and "pragmatic" that they excite no one, you will inspire no loyalty, no commitment, and no resolve. When you can't even give an Afghani the time of day, how can you possibly expect them to support you, possibly to their death? These people have to make life and death decisions; if they side with us, and we ditch on them, they may be killed by the other side. If they don't side with us, and we stay, we may kill them. It's a stark reality, and one that must be remembered and honored. If they cannot trust us to keep our word, Mr. President, and have a little bit of honor, we will be sending many more young men and women to die in many other places because we will find help from no one in Afghanistan. We may even, considering Afghanistan's location, face a world war. Worse, we tarnish our good name, and people remember that. And no, regardless of an "illegitimate war" (whatever that means,) if we stay by the side of those we promised to stay by the side of, yes, people can trust us to keep our word, even if they don't like what we're saying.

Joe Biden made it very clear, according to the Economist, that he favors a "bomb stuff" approach to Afghanistan.

From Dr. Strangelove,, Fair Use (Non-profit only)

We will fly around in little drones with rockets smiting whatever we like. In Iraq, we tried a strategy very much like that from 2003 to 2006. We also tried this strategy in Vietnam, a few decades before. Neither time did it turn out any better. In both places, violence got worst, and for every enemy we killed, 2 more were creted to take his place. In Iraq, only the courage and sheer stubborn gall of our president prevented us from ending the war the same way we did in Vietnam, increasing the risk of nuclear holocaust with the Soviets seven fold and wasting every ounce of blood spilled in that jungle.

In Iraq, after 2006, a massive millitary surge took place, but so did som
ething else. A clever, educated, creative young general, General Petreaus, who is as far from the millitary stereotype as could ever be imagined thought up his own method for fighting the insurgents. Before him, a young Colonel with a very softspoken, passive, nonviolent attitude whose name I sadly cannot remember had gathered together a series of Sunni Chiefs in Anbar Province, pointing out to them that Al Qaida was, in fact, a threat to their authority. He won their trust so well that over night, they not only stopped fighting the Coalition, but fought for it. This, among other things, freed up forces and resources for other regions. It also demonstrated an attitude of cooperation that neither the Millitary before the Surge nor Biden after it appear to understand.

See, we are winning in Iraq not because we did such a wonderful job with firepower. We are winning in Iraq because we finally appealed to the people. This is something that both Rumsfeld and Bush spoke of as early as 2003, but did not actually accomplish until after the surge.

General Stanley McChrysthal, photo taken by Scott Davis, Civil Service, public domain

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of Afghanistan, summed it up perfectly on 60 minutes today: "If the people are against us, we cannot be successful. If the people view us as occupiers and the enemy, we can't be successful and our casualties will go up dramatically."No matter how well you do with high-tech gizmos, millitary maneuvering, and plain old riflemanship, if your objective, here the people, won't cooperate, you will lose every time. And here, losing means Afghanistan descending in to chaos and continuing to be a threat to the United States, emboldening Al Qaida and the Taliban, and destabilizing a region with 4, soon 5, nuclear armed nations in it (Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and soon, Iran).

Idealism may be costly, and ambition may be a terrifying dragon when looked at head-on, but if you put none together, and stand for nothing, you will achieve nothing, including the bare basics of what you need. If we destroy our own nations mission, no one is going to care if we live or die. We may not even care, at the individual level. Iraq was won not because we had the best weapons or the best people, but because we actually gave them a way forward, a way out of the darkness as a people. If we refuse to do the same in Afghanistan, then every civilian we kill, every bomb we drop, every life we end and destruction of property that can be accredited to us will inspire yet more hatred, yet more animosity towards truly needless violence. When we give them a way forward, they can accept, they can forgive, and they themselves can make sacrifices for their country, for you can have no law if no sacrifices for your own country can be made.

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