Obama said Wavering on Troop Escalation in Afghanistan

The NYT says that President Barack Obama is reconsidering his plan to greatly increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan, and to be suffering “buyer’s remorse” for sending 21,000 more troops there soon after his inauguration and before a proper policy review. The article suggests a stark difference of opinion between vice president Joe Biden (who has the most foreign policy experience of anyone in the administration) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Biden is said to favor fewer US troops and a focus on al-Qaeda in the Pakistani badlands. Clinton is afraid the Taliban will take back over Afghanistan and invite al-Qaeda back in there.

At the moment, US policy toward Afghanistan consists of several levels:

  • development aid
  • state-building and giving the Kabul government greater bureaucratic capacity
      This includes working to improve the civilian bureaucracy
      As well as training up 400,000 military troops and police
  • counter-insurgency– defeating the guerrilla groups of Gulbadin Hikmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Mulla Omar, in the eastern and southern Pashtun regions
  • counter-terrorism — destroying the small Arab terrorist cells that exist in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, which security analysts fear are directing plots in London, New York, and so forth.

    This multi-level approach is a disaster. You can’t do development aid very effectively in a country beset by guerrilla violence. Moreover, counter-insurgency requires a legitimate, effective Afghan partner that can compete with the Taliban and their allies for Afghan hearts and minds. And, if counter-terrorism is really the goal, then you don’t need a 60,000-man army in a country notoriously inhospitable to foreign armies.

    The Obama administration seems to be considering whether these four levels can be usefully unentangled.

    In particular, incumbent president Hamid Karzai’s clumsy attempt to steal the election and his continued seeming inability really to take charge in the country he de jure rules, appears to have provoked the Obama team to wonder whether they could in fact work with Karzai.

    Personally, I think Biden is right and that if the administration will bet on him, they’d put us 2 or 3 years ahead of the curve.

    I have for some time been saying that I can’t imagine that what most Pashtuns really want is to have more US troops patrolling their villages.

    End/ (Not Continued)

  • 14 Responses

    1. Dear Professor Cole

      A couple of snags with the Biden plan

      1 M K Bhadrakumar suggested that the US policy is to drag the Indians into Afghanistan which will, under the Biden plan, leave the Indians and Pakistanis fighting a proxy war in Afghansiatan. General McCrystal referred to Indian interest in Afghanistan in his plan.

      This might eventually lead to a nuclear exchange with the US lined up as an ally of India and a very peeved China on the sidelines.

      2 Where do you put the 20% of the US military which has taken up residence in the Middle East? The great beauty of the Afghan solution was that you could send the equipment and some of the troops in Iraq back to the US and the rest to Afghanistan.

      If anyone says Djibouti, Etiopia and Africom, the inner balance and harmony of my existence will be seriously upset.

    2. Obama is not to be crticised for sending troops to Afghanistan before he had time to get his feet under the table.

      If SecDef says he needs the bodies then send the bodies.

    3. Of course following the Vietnam analogy, the next mistake would be to do something terminally predjudicial to President Karzai.

      There would be an even bigger whodunit than after the Hariri assasination in Lebanon.

    4. .
      "You can't do development aid very effectively in a country beset by guerrilla violence."

      I suspect that's an intuition of yours, Dr. Cole, not based on research or data. My own gut feeling is that you're wrong.

      At this point, all we can do is compare gut feelings. There is no data, because its never been tried.
      Some may scoff, particularly soldiers who have personally handed out cash under the CERP giveaway program, or folks at USAID in Kabul. "What do you think we're doing ?" they are asking.

      What USAID is doing in Afghanistan today, and what they've done over the last 8 years, cannot accurately be called "development aid." It looks a lot like "development aid," and it is called that, but if I look at the context, the purposes, the methods and the outcomes, it becomes apparent that it is something fundamentally different.

      True "Development Aid" seeks to build up indigenous capacity. The key is the word "aid." It means that we are helping someone else.
      All the "development" efforts in Afghanistan by USAID over the last 8 years have had as their overall objective the improvement of the military occupation of the country. "Aid" activities are adjunct to military activities.
      Rather than helping the indigenous population, we are helping ourselves.

      A brilliant Strategic Communications campaign has convinced the American fighting man, and the American public, that these development efforts are for the benefit of the Afghan people. A parallel campaign aimed at convincing the Afghan people of the same thing has not been as successful. 2 days ago, the US Army advertised for a local Afghan company to help tailor that failing StratCom campaign to local perceptions.
      link to fbo.gov

      __________________________

      We haven't yet tried to do development aid in Afghanistan, beset as it is by guerrilla violence.
      I think we ought to try, as an experiment, just to see what happens.
      I think we ought to take 15% of the money the US is currently spending on the Afghanistan War, and put it into real development aid. Every cent would go to a local tribal official, who would control the spending and manage the development efforts.

      In no other country does USAID force their development efforts to so nakedly serve US military objectives.
      Do we think the Afghanis are stupid ?

      a student of the folly of assuming indigenous populations will believe whatever line of baloney we try to feed them
      .

    5. “I have for some time been saying that I can't imagine that what most Pashtuns really want is to have more US troops patrolling their villages.”

      After eight years of Allied occupation and encouragement, there is apparently no indigenous movement dedicated to defeating the Taliban. No resistance movement. Nothing to be read of Afghans patriots taking it to the Taliban. On the contrary, I read, as above, that the Pashtuns resent Allied efforts to defeat the Taliban. The so-called Afghan government has no control outside it’s capital city. They can’t conduct a fair election. For eight years we have pursued a military solution in the face of repeated testimony from our own generals that a military solution is not available. More troops? More mercenaries? Where is this heading?

    6. The Biden idea reminds me of the old "no fly zone" days in Iraq 1991 to 2003) when the US and the Brits would casually bomb suspicious targets as they saw fit. Seemed to happen at least one a week. In Afghanistan we'll just let loose our drones to have their way with suspicious clumps of humanity. If the past eight years is any indication, it's a strategy that will only help drone and drone bomb manufacturers, doubt that it will be a "hearts and minds" winner.

      I think this is a "fall on the sword" moment for Obama. Intellectual tools like great speeches won't work. The military will never want to leave because it would be seen as a defeat. The Right will scream and curse no matter what the President does. The Left, especially in Congress will be its usual tepid self. Staying in Afghanistan is just cruel and unusual punishment for all parties.

      Meanwhile no surprise on the Israeli front.
      Another splendid return to symmetry by Obama. The Times reports that Obama is abandoning his firm stance that Israel freeze its settlements, and is asking both side to work something out. The boot on the throat and the throat have to compromise.

      The political question is how many times can a President fall on his sword and still survive? I think that if Obama can morph into a raging bull, the answer is many.

    7. Obama is "wavering" on troop escaltion in Afghanistan ??? I thought this man was so intelligent. Has he NOT read the history books regarding the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Americans in Viet Nam? I an stunnned and disappointed and frightened by Mr. Obama's "wavering" on an escalation of an unwinable war.

    8. William Lind is up with a devastating critique of the McChrystal report

      The Washington Post yesterday made available an unclassified version of General Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited report on the war in Afghanistan. Politically, the report is bold, in that it acknowledges the enemy has the initiative and we have been fighting the war – for eight years – in counterproductive ways. But intellectually, both as analysis and as prescription, it is five pounds of substance in a 50 pound bag…..
      It confuses the strategic and the operational levels of war. In fact, the report does not offer a new strategy, but a new operational-level plan. How the war is fought, i.e. by following classic counter-insurgency doctrine, is operational, not strategic.

      America must find a new strategy, since the current strategy depends on an Afghan state that does not exist. But the report offers no new strategy. The passage on page 2-20 thus ends up saying, “If you don’t give us more troops, we will fail. But you shouldn’t give us more troops unless we adopt a new strategy, which we don’t have. And even if you do give us the troops we want for the new strategy we haven’t got, they will not be enough to achieve success.” This reveals utter intellectual confusion.

      The proper response of the White House, the Pentagon, and Congress to General McChrystal’s report is, “Back to the drawing board, fellas.”

      Last Exit Before Quagmire

    9. Biden also mentioned his philosophy in regard to Pakistani "madrassas" being a hindrance to democratic "progress", thus the need for secular schools to be established in the areas that created the Taliban (assuming he meant the proverbial "extremist madrassas").

      I have mixed feelings about Biden's plans to secularize Pakistan through international development. Then again, I think Hillary's plan is doomed for failure, so his is the lesser of two evils.

    10. imho Military occupation is neither a necessary nor desirable prerequisite for the successful endowment of humanitarian aid, or the humanistic idealism that this unselfish message, perhaps even moreso when done so with some sacrifice, delivers. Nor in history writ has military occupation ever been a successful preemption of or prophylactic remedy to the malady of terrorism. War making for the cause of peace keeping — not unlike ‘censorship’ in the guise of protecting the people from the truth — always looks ridiculous, self-defeating or simply petty in historical retrospect.

      Though it may come to pass that Mutually Assured Destruction prevents the extinction of species, yet perpetuates, ironically the archaic conduct of conventional warfare ~ I would argue that in the end the idea of totalitarian Communism was defeated by our faith in and persistent pursuit of the ideal of Democratic Capitalism. fwiw, I believe that Fundamentalism will likewise reveal itself to be a cultural dead-end, a parasitic affliction that does eventually defeat itself by means of its own decadent meaninglessness; that militant occupation and counter-occupation anarchy only perpetuate being barbarously archaic; and that our most powerful weapon against the cultural insult of Fundamentalism is, indeed our resolute faith in the higher purpose promise of Humanism.

      "Occupation" becomes by its own being there the enemy of the future of a people and being their place. Only by freeing ourselves, Over Here of this tense ‘possession’ pretense, "our strategy" — can they begin building and being any notion of their nation, Over There.

    11. PRESIDENT OBAMA, DO NOT SEND MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
      The Generals are saying that without more troops war effort in Afghanistan will be lost. What they cannot visualize is that with more troops, failure will come sooner.. Many military and independent observers admit that 80% of Afghanistan is already lost to Taliban and this, after eight years of military effort!

      Those of us old enough to remember early days of Vietnam war, remember well that troop levels were around 50,000 at first, then 100,000, then 250,000 and still the Generals wanted more, saying that we can only defeat the enemy if we have more troops. President Johnson listened to them and increased troop levels to over 400,000. United Sates still lost the war and to this day, hasty retreat of U.S. troops from Vietnam haunts many a mind.

      Afghanistan is no different, same scenario will be played out again if troops are increased, only more American young men and women will die, more Afghans will be bombed and the resultant hatred against the U.S. will last for another 20 to 30 years. It is time to learn a lesson from history. "Nations who do not learn from past mistakes are bound to repeat them".

      It is no fault of the Generals that they ask for more troops. This is what they know – have strength to fight the enemy. Generals are no politicians and it is not in their purview to think politically, that is the job of the politicians and the President.

      It is still not too late to achieve a reconciliation in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders have hinted more than once that they are willing to talk. U.S. has the means and the motive to accomplish a reconciliation. What is needed is an immediate ceasefire and a conference of all Afghan players, Northern Alliance, Hazaras, Pashtuns, Taliban and all others. U.S. and NATO should tell them that if you want foreign troops to leave, they have to reconcile and get along with each other.

      Annul the Presidential elections and hold fresh elections after a peace conference so all parties can freely participate and if the people of Afghanistan want an Islamic Government, let them have one, only do not isolate them like before, so they go to bed with terrorists. Bring the new Afghan Government into the fold of international community and let them realize their responsibilities to the international community.

      Afghanistan and its people have suffered a great deal in the super power rivalry. It is time this country was at peace and started rebuilding its infrastructure, an education system and created job opportunities for its young so they don't follow religious extremists. A Marshall style reconstruction plan for Afghanistan and Western part of Pakistan could change the political landscape of that part of the world and yet, it would cost a great deal less than extending the war.

      President Obama, do not send more troops to Afghanistan. Start a reconciliation process in that country and bring all American troops home from Afghanistan within a year.

    12. "…working to improve the civilian bureaucracy…"

      Don't you get it? Or are you subconsciously suppressing the simple fact that the so-called "civilian bureaucracy" is a DIRECT THREAT to their culture and social system?

      I'm SURE someone here besides me fathoms that.

      It's EXACTLY the reason (but undoubtedly not the only one) the Talib are so successful recruiting people and the US is being reduced to crass bribery, which BTW will work even worse, and make even MORE enemies, than it did in Iraq.

      We're continually insulting these people in the name of our own self-interests.

      In this case, the self-interest is what a "civilian bureaucracy" will garner us in the way of trade and resources, even more than an ally in the region, because the Afghan people will most likely hate us for a long, long time due to our government's childish self-serving arrogant attempt to, essentially culturally assimilate them from a distance.

    13. Tell China they can deal with af/pak if they want to. But the west wants some of it's treasury bonds back.

      And for a little more, we won't publicize the autrocities. Then they can drive into Uli's nest and corner all of the religious fanatics for us.

      It's not like they don't have the manpower, equipment or motivation. They just wanted us to have a go at it before they used their riches.

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