Monday, September 14, 2009

Public Must Force an End to Afghan War

What is Obama's
Real Plan for

By Tom Hayden

Sept. 14, 2009 - What is Obama's real plan for Afghanistan? Surely he sees all the signs of quagmire that we do. So why is this happening?

The key to Obama is that he often assumbles what he considers "best practices" into new packages he then tries to promote. The other key is that like any President, he wants to avoid the appearance of losing, even if escalating doesn't assure winning. So here is what he is doing:

[1] Repeating the 2007 Iraq surge strategy of Gen. Petraeus. This was designed for political reasons, to lessen the Iraq violence in order to suppress the Iraq issue as the defining one in the presidential elections. As Petraeus said at the time, he wanted to speed up the Iraq clock to slow down the American one. Anti-war critics were caught off balance. The surge "worked" in ways that were under-reported. First, nearly 100,000 Sunni insurgents were put on the American payroll if they agreed not to shoot American troops. Second, the same McChrystal who now commands Afghanistan was in charge of a massive top-secret extra-judicial killing operation that devastated the remaining insurgents and gave a leading US operative "orgasms" [details in Bob Woodward's last book].

[2] Repeating Richard Holbrooke's diplomatic role in the Balkans where he presided over the complicated Dayton all-party talks on Bosnia, which cobbled together a fragile peace of sorts for the next decade. Holbrooke even negotiated with Slobodon Milosovic over pear brandy and in hunting lodges while the US military campaign was tightening against the Serbian leader. Holbrooke has been managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, and a director of Lehman Bros. and AIG. He is a symbol of so-called "soft power." As Obama's special ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has assembled a large team of diplomatic, political, commercial and agricultural advisers who serve as a shadow neo-colonial state ready to assume responsibility for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. He famously said last month that it was impossible to define "success" in Afghanistan "but we'll know it when we see it."

In summary, the Obama plan is to use escalating military force to weaken - but probably not defeat - the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely based among Pashtun tribes. According to the plan, the next 12-18 months are the "critical window" for "demonstrating measurable progress" in disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda "and its allies" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the escalation kills and wounds greater numbers of Taliban, the violence will be described as declining, and Holbrooke's soft-power infrastructure will take over the role of nation-building, including standing up a newly-trained police force and army of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. In this plan, US casualties then will decline after the first 18-24 months and a phased withdrawal can proceed, ending in five, ten or 12 years.

The latest version of the plan is contained in the August 10 Pentagon "sensitive but unclassified" report, "United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan", by generals Karl Eikenberry [chief of mission in Kabul] and Stanley McChrystal, US commander. Their document is laced throughout with references to "civ-mil" strategies and "civ-mil" units, as if to emphasize the seamless connections between hard power and soft.

Perhaps it is a tribute to American and global public opinion, but the military strategy lacks any bloodthirsty references to combat, instead describing goals in sanitized language such as this: "International security forces [aka US troops] in partnership with Afghan security forces reverse security trends especially in Helmand, Kandahar, Khost Paktya and Paktika, facilitating GIRoA [Kabul government] presence at sub-national level."[p.17] the only slip came last week when the generals openly talked of using more "trigger pullers" on the ground and outsourcing more non-combat duties.

Have no doubt, they will kill a lot of Afghans and Pakistanis without press releases. Given unlimited time, troops and funding, it is possible that the US strategy can succeed in suppressing a restless Afghanistan/tribal Pakistan, though at the expense of numerous other American priorities. But with a majority of Americans and 70 percent of Democrats opposed to the war and occupation, with similar anti-war majorities rising in NATO countries, the question is whether the Obama strategy can appear to "succeed" in the short run.

The brief answer is no.

First, the current military surge is resulting in higher American troops losses than at any time since the beginning of the war. At the July-August 2009 rate, another 1,100 American troops will die by the end of 2011, on top of some 700 who were killed on Bush's watch. The American death toll inevitably has to rise before it ever begins to subside, if it even does by the end of Obama's first term. The dispatch of more American troops will increase the American casualty rates in the short term, stirring more questions from the public and Congress.

Similarly, the civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan and Pakistan will still increase in an escalated war, inflaming public opinion, even if the Pentagon's tighter guidelines are actually followed. The latest controversy over air strikes called by German forces shows the impossibility of truly "surgical" strikes, pits most Afghans against the foreign forces, and is having an unsettling effect on the Merkel coalition.

Second, unlike Iraq or the Balkans, the longer the foreign occupation, the more the Afghanistan client state weakens. The same is proving true in Pakistan, where the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Baluchistan [homeland of Pakistan's Pashtun] show signs of breaking from the grip of the centralized state. The most immediate crisis is the discrediting of the Afghan government in the presidential election on which the entire American strategy depends. The civ-mil strategy paper sets a near-term goal of a "capable, accountable and effective government" in Afghanistan, and states that the "most important component [of the plan]", according to the document, "is a strong partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan [GIRoA]." But the US government was unable either to [1] fix the recent elections to benefit its client in Kabul, or [2] unable to prevent its own client from engaging in the most blatant of vote-rigging tactics.

We should not be surprised at this catastrophe. The same US government ignored, or was ignorant of, the "Lord of the Flies" behavior rampant among the private security contractors in charge of security at the American embassy in Kabul.

Now the US has dwindling choices. Ahmad Karzhai and his main opponent, Abdullah, are made of the same cloth. Any foreign plan to impose another leadership is sure to be rejected. The entire US plan to combine military and civilian tracks is derailed.

Whoever was responsible for this failed US strategy, from Karzhai to his American consultants at the highest levels, should be forced to resign. President Obama should retreat with his most trusted advisers to his most secluded study to ask who led him to this place, and quietly plan to slip out of the untenable position he is in. When President Kennedy realized that he could not trust his advisers during the Cuban missile crisis, he turned to his brother Bobby to open a second, secret track. Obama needs a Bobby.

The Democratic-led Congress, which is hardly known for a consistent anti-war stance, may be better able to see the quagmire in the making, and begin hearings on an exit strategy if only to avoid political consequences to their self-interests down the road.

The indispensible factor- never consulted by the experts but never ignored by the consultants- is the 70 percent of Democratic voters who, having no stakes in a failed enterprise, are the difference between winning and losing for the Congress and administration in 2010 and 2012. The public is the only force capable of making Congress step back from the brink.

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