Obama Demands an End-Game before Committing Troops to Afghanistan

AP is reporting that President Barack Obama is declining to be rushed into committing to the Afghanistan War as an open-ended project, and wants a timetable for turning security duties over to the Afghanistan National Army.

AP says that the key intervention here came from US ambassador in Kabul, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who warned that the government of Hamid Karzai is not a reliable partner.

The BBC says that Eikenberry is against sending thousands of more troops, and he warned of corruption in the Karzai government. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is said to be fuming over the intervention.

Eikenberry is a China specialist who can not only speak but interpret Chinese, who has a Stanford MA in international affairs, and who served two tours in Afghanistan under Bush. His appointment as ambassador in Kabul had been a surprise, since the generals are not usually sent in as diplomats, and the US military was already well represented in US government counsels on Afghanistan. But now it appears that Obama cleverly put Eikenberry in as chief diplomat precisely because he is worldly and experienced in the country, and in a position to second-guess the Washington war hawks who always think that a victory is around the corner with just a few more troops.

Obama is said to have rejected all the plans so far presented to him, insofar as none leads to a foreseeable end-game.

If AP is right, this development is encouraging. All along, the things missing from Washington’s plans for Afghanistan have been a firm, specific set of goals, a detailed means of attaining them, and a way to know when they have been attained.

How unlikely the big counter-insurgency dreams of some military analysts are to result in success is apparent in this recent Frontline report, in which the US military outpost in a village in Helmand never succeeds in getting the locals to open a single shop in the bazaar under US protection, and never succeeds in stopping the constant sniping at them by Taliban forces. (The thing the program never brings up is kinship, and how likely it is that some of the villagers are just first cousins of the “Taliban” firing on US troops).

(Also at this site on Youtube in installments ; here is part 1 from that series:

Here is the beginning of an interview I did recently with Metro Times with a link to the full piece. (Note there is a minor transcription error– I said 13 Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not 15):

‘ Metro Times: By most accounts, the debate in the White House right now isn’t over whether to escalate or de-escalate the war in Afghanistan, but rather over how many more troops to send there. If you were talking to the president right now instead of us, what would you say to him?

Juan Cole: If you are going to accomplish anything in Afghanistan, you need a very light footprint.

MT: What would that footprint look like?

Cole: Let’s back up and talk about what the goal is in Afghanistan. Your strategy and your tactics are going to come out of your goal. I’m a little bit afraid that, in regard to the goal, you see a lot of mission creep. The goal has become standing up an Afghan government and an Afghan military that’s relatively stable and can control the country. There’s a lot of state-building involved in that.

I am a severe skeptic on this score. I don’t think that’s a proper goal for the U.S. military. I think we are dealing with a tribal society of people who, as a matter of course, are organized by clan and have feuds with each other, and feuds with other tribes, and feuds with their cousins. I think that Washington misinterprets this feuding as Talibanism, and thinks that if you put a lot of troops in there, you can pacify the country and settle it down.

I just think it is a misreading of the character of the country. Afghanistan is a country where localism is important, where people don’t like the central government coming in and bothering them. There’s a sense in which the communist government of the 1980s, backed by the Soviet Union, wanted to drag Afghanistan kicking and screaming into the late 20th century, and to do that you had to impose central government policy on the countryside and on the villagers. And the villagers rose up and kicked the Soviets and the communists out. They were outraged, in part, against the centralizing tendency of Kabul.

So, I just think that Afghanistan is a country that needs a light touch. You just have to accept that there’s going to be a certain amount of disorder in the countryside as long as people are organized tribally. And if you put 100,000 or 150,000 Western troops in there, that’s just more people to feud with.

MT: Given all that, what do you think success in Afghanistan would entail?

Cole: If you are asking what I think is a plausible goal, I’d say it is training an Afghan army and police force as best you can. But you are just going to have to accept that it’s going to be a weak government. You can shore it up to some extent, but you need to shore it up behind the scenes. It can’t be seen to be a puppet government, because that will undermine its legitimacy.

A government that can provide more services to people is good. Road building is good. Encouraging the markets to open is good. But as far as fighting what the U.S. is calling Taliban, they are really just regional warlords. They might have a tactical alliance with the old Taliban of Mullah Omar, but it’s a mistake to sweep them all up into a single category . . . ‘

Read the whole thing.

End/ (Not Continued)

8 Responses

  1. "… a foreseeable end-game."

    The "end-game" depends on why war was waged on Afghanistan in the first place–The real reason. Unfortunately, whatever reasons were publicized, they have always been euphemisms for the real goal–to extend the US Empire as a part of the New Great Game in Eurasia, which of course cannot be mentioned publicly. I would say that Naked Imperialsim requires a Naked Withdrawl from the enterprise.

  2. Great post! Heartening if true that Obama hasn't accepted any plan yet. You could throw money and military at Afghanistan and the money would channel into the social structures you describe and the military would continually make more mistakes and more enemies. Karzai has no means to quell corruption so resting hopes on him is useless. Overreach means one can't reach any farther. Soviet redux. Backward into the future.

  3. 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 paying attention to this aspect of the problem, we really are only playing around at the edges of the conflict.

    For more, see here

  4. Excellent post, as usual. Here's some perspective from the ground, so to speak, in Afghanistan. Malalai Joya was the youngest person elected to Afghanistan's parliament, before being forced out for exposing cronyism inside the body. She's under constant threat now. She also just released a book about her experiences. At a speech in NYC she sounded everything BUT enthusiastic about the presence of American/NATO troops in Afghanistan. If interested, visit here to read the text.

    link to mantlethought.org

  5. An excellent, informative, intelligent cogent and succinct contribution to the argument at hand. 10/10.
    However the issue over Bush-Cheney political prostitution to oil megaliths and the trans-Afghanistan pipeline which conveniently bypasses Russian monopolisation on gas transit.

    As an Indonesian, a Muslim and a former soldier who has fought Islamicists in Aceh (funded mainly by Mi6, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia)I wholeheartedly concur with Eikenberry's astute, cogent assessment.
    Afghanistan, where I have also visited in a UN role- is a nation stuck in the medieval period of extreme localisation- be it tribal kin or ethnic feudalism.
    Afghanistan cannot be won, by any external power. History is again proving Kipling correct: '5 thousand pounds of education dropped by 6 rupee jezzail"- the cheaper man always wins.
    The desire for an Afghani centralised semi-modern state must come from within.
    I think India, Iran and Pakistan ingenuity and expertise- not only as they are immediately effected by the bordering nation- but are share many facets with Afghanistan, would be most wise to lead the way in initiating a peaceful, a total demilitarization and "de-violencing" Afghani society.
    Simply put- busy hands, full stomachs, some hope for their children and a few pennies in the pocket keeps ANY devil at bay.
    The US must wage war with the true enemy of all peaceful Muslims- Saudi Arabia whom funds, propagates and encourages fundamentalists from Afghanistan to SE Asia.
    Clip these arrogant sand-herders wings. If not for oil- the Sheiks would still be riding camels, not Bentleys to work.

  6. fertilizer bombs are now the most lethal weapon being used against U.S. and NATO forces. ref: Jeff Huber, Obama's Wacky War : “In a pair of raids on Nov. 8 Afghan police and U.S. soldiers seized a half-million pounds of ammonium nitrate, which is enough to make a crud-load of bombs. (Ammonium nitrate is illegal in Afghanistan; Most of the ammonium nitrate found in Afghanistan is believed to have come from Pakistan).

    This is a wacky war… I’m not sure what we’re doing there. We’re not going to disrupt al-Qaeda by occupying a country al-Qaeda’s not in. It looks like we’ve given up trying to get Afghanistan and Pakistan to act like real countries — and while NATO has encouraged us to send more troops to Afghanistan, none of the NATO nations themselves are likely to pony up any more. Opinion polls in Europe show that everybody wants to bring their troops home; The American public’s opposition to the war in Afghanistan is at an all time high: We don’t have a good reason to fight this war, nobody wants to fight it any more, the Afghans don’t like us, and the bad guys are killing us with fertilizer.”

  7. It will never make sense when we seek answers within nonsensical premises. There are no good answers to the question of how a ruthless empire is to find success in its efforts to dominate others. The proper answer is its defeat – and not least for its own people.

    The American war to dominate others abroad is at the same time the war against the American people to subject them willingly – through constant fear of those that the empire wrongs abroad – to the loss of their own liberties and the ravaging of their economy to enrich the military-industrial complex. The truth is that if the American people are to recover their liberties and keep their republic, they need the kind of catastrophic defeat of their empire that saved the Germans and the Japanese in World War 2, and the Swedes through their defeat at Poltava in 1712.

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