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The beginning of the end to our war in Afghanistan

13 August 2009

This site contains mostly analysis, with few specific predictions.  Here is one one:  August 2009 will mark the beginning of the end to our war in Afghanistan.  The debate about the strategic foundation to the war has begun, and the advocates of ending the war have exposed its frail — even fraudulent — foundations.  Also with collapsing public support, this suggests that the days are numbered for large-scale American involvement in the fighting.

We see the cautious (often obsequious) establishment folks turning critical of the war.  Like Marc Lynch (abu Aardvark):  “Afghanistan Strategy Debate“, Foreign Policy, 10 August 2009 — The analysis is, as usual for Lynch, excellent; well-worth reading in full.  Excerpt:

My friend, CNAS colleague, and Gen. McChrystal review team member Andrew Exum has opened up Abu Muqawama for an online dialogue about the strategic rationale for the war in Afghanistan. …

I very rarely write about Afghanistan or Pakistan, primarily because it lies outside of the Arabic-speaking Middle East areas which I know well — I don’t speak the languages, I don’t have fine-grained local knowledge, I don’t follow the regional media. I can’t help noticing that such constraints don’t seem to stop anyone else, though. At any rate, I’m not going to join the new Iraq refugees and refocus on the AfPak policy debate. But since Exum has thrown open the question … I’ll throw out a few thoughts at least.

I have an open mind on these questions, want the U.S. mission to succeed, and have a great deal of confidence in the Obama national security team. I know that there have been a number of policy reviews at all levels of the government on Afghanistan strategy, and that most of the questions I can raise have already been discussed at one or the other. But at the same time, I find the strategic rationale for escalating the war in Afghanistan extremely thin, and the mismatch between avowed aims and available resources frighteningly wide.

What follows this introduction is a brief but comprehensive demolition of the war’s rationale.

Also on August 10 Spencer Ackerman wrote that The Wise Men Start Rethinking Afghanistan.   On August 11 he described why the great and wise have begun to bail on the war.

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal published a story on all of the ways in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s command considered Afghanistan to be in crisis mode. It was very good, very comprehensive, and very compelling. Its headline summed the whole thing up by saying that the Taliban was ‘Now Winning.’

Then the Pentagon freaked out. “The general did not say the Taliban is gaining the upper hand,” a McChrystal spokesman told NBC. “That’s not how we are characterizing this,” spokesman Geoff Morrell said. Well, obviously.

… Independent observers, though, clearly see merit to The Journal’s headline. Some not-so-independent observers do, too: Kimberly Kagan, an adviser to McChrystal’s 60-day strategy review, has a thorough analysis in Foreign Policy of the myriad ways in which the war effort is in deep trouble. Indeed, pretty much every public statement from every adviser to McChrystal’s review has conveyed the same sentiment. Recognition that the Taliban is winning isn’t the same thing as saying failure is inevitable or the war is lost or the whole thing is hopeless. If Pentagon officials — indeed, if McChrystal’s command — conflate the difference, then they really will be Rumsfeldizing the war in an important way.

A note about the politics of the debate

This Is Not The Iraq Debate“, Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 10 August 2009

The Iraq debate tore the left into factions. Did you support the war on human-rights grounds? Oppose it on realist grounds? Oppose it out of general dovishness? Support it out of post-9/11 political opportunism? Support it as a measure about WMD proliferation? Each faction wanted to make its argument into a broader critique of what liberalism meant after 9/11 and why its opposing factions had revealed an intellectual decadence within liberalism.

And Afghanistan in 2009 … isn’t that at all. One of the things that’s struck me about the Afghanistan debate — aside from how muted-to-nonexistent it is — is that no one is making an argument about what it means for liberalism. There’s a general lack of certainty on the part of those who favored the troop increase earlier this year that tends to preclude ideological arguments. One result is a more open atmosphere to reexamine fundamental premises of the war.

The debate waged at Abu Muquawama

(1)  Exum: “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue” – This includes my submission.
(2)  The first salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate – An extraordinarily weak start for the pro-war side.
(3)  Second salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate — Bernard Finel
(4)  The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Three
(5)  The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Four

A paid propagandist at one of the leading pro-war think-tanks starts a debate about “why we fight”.  The pro-war submissions are bizarrely weak. The anti-war submissions and comments (e.g, Bernard Finel, Col. Gian Gentile) are far better reasoned and factually supported.  In broader terms, most of the comments are anti-war.  Probably not how Exum intended this to run.

As with every  chapter of American foreign policy (which is largely military-related) since 9-11, we can guess at what unexpect turns lie in our future.  My guess is that the times are changing.  The foundation for our armed intervention in Afghanistan is washing away.

Some previous predictions on the FM site

The Iraq War  (The first was totally wrong; the next two look good so far):

  1. Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq, 30 November 2005
  2. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  3. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007

Economic forecasts, all looking good so far:

  1. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter I — the housing bust, 6 November 2007
  2. Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, III – death by debt, 8 January 2008 – Origins of the long economic expansion from 1982 to 2006; why the down cycle will be so severe.
  3. Is America’s decline inevitable? No., 21 January 2008
  4. Geopolitical implications of the current economic downturn, 24 January 2008 – How will this recession end?  With re-balancing of the global economy — and a decline of the US dollar so that the US goods and services are again competitive.  No more trade deficit, and we can pay our debts.
  5. The US economy at Defcon 2, 11 March 2008 — Pretty self-explanatory.  Where are we in the downcycle?  What might the world look like when it ends?
  6. What will America look like after this recession?, 18 March 2008 – More forecasts.  The recession might change so many things, from the distribution of wealth within the US to the ranking of global powers.
  7. The geopolitics of inflation, an introduction, 17 June 2008

Afterword

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. GoldenHorde permalink
    13 August 2009 5:00 am

    Uhhh, The beginning to the end of your war in afghanistan, began when you shat away 2/3’s of your gold reserves in viet nam.

    Arms, however beautiful, are instruments of ill omen, hateful to all creatures.
    Those who know the way of life do not wish to employ them.
    The superior man prefers his higher nature, but in time of war, will call upon his lower nature.
    Weapons are an instrument of ill omen, and not the instruments of the superior man, until he has no choice but to employ them.
    Peace is what he prizes; victory through forces of arms is to him undesirable.
    To consider armed victory desirable would be to delight in killing men, and he who delights in killing men will not prevail on the world.
    To celebrate when man’s higher nature comes forth is the prized position; when
    his lower nature comes forth is time for mourning.
    The commander’s second has his place in man’s higher nature; the commanding general has his place assigned to man’s lower nature; his place assigned to him as if to a funeral.
    He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them; and the victor in battle has his place accorded as in a funeral.

    Lao Tzu

    Like

  2. Oblat permalink
    13 August 2009 7:59 am

    All the signs are that the US military knew it couldn’t win in Afghanistan right from the start. While troops were diverted to Iraq there was a deliberate strategy of minimizing the footprint in Afghanistan anyways.

    The problem has always been that it would take half a million men to properly control the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan (ie 20 troops for every 1000 hostile population) and everyone knows that is not achievable because there simply isn’t enough tajik and hazara and the US would have to institute conscription. So even if all the political and cultural issues could be finessed away it was never a viable strategy to occupy Afghanistan.

    But what really started off as a punitive raid is has been escalating into a colonial occupation and now spread into Pakistan because a lack of a good exit strategy that doesn’t look like defeat. Escalation is a sure sign of a lack of a viable strategy in general but particularly in insurgencies.

    Vietnam is a good example to what extent the US will go to try to salvage some prestige. They knew in 1967 that the war there was un-winnable and that it was mainly a matter of retaining US military prestige (as a memo in the pentagon papers shows) and yet the vast majority of casualties occurred after that time as the war escalated and the US searched for a way out.

    Combined with this is that fact that without insurgencies to fight the US military has little purpose in the modern world. If it can beat up agrarian societies successfully and can’t fight peer nations because of nuclear weapons the rational for the vast bulk of the military disappears. It is an organization fighting for it’s existence in Afghanistan.

    Rather than the beginning of the end it really is just the end of the beginning. The desire to get out has been strong right from the start, but they don’t call it a quagmire for nothing. It’s much more likely that things will get a lot worse.

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  3. mclaren permalink
    13 August 2009 9:41 am

    The ultimate and fundamental justification for continuing American involvement in both Iraq and Af-Pak is the Love Which Dare Not Speak Its Name.

    To wit, the urgent need keep some war going, somewhere, in order to prove that America needs to keep spending upwards of 1.5 trillion dollars per year on our military-industrial complex, broadly defined.

    This love of wars which never end isn’t something any NSC advisor or Pentagon official or cabinet member or congresscritter can ever admit to. Nevertheless, America’s ultimate nightmare used to be losing a war. Today, that’s changed — now our ultimate nightmare is winning a war, because it might mean an end to that sweet sweet river of gold flowing into the coffers of military contractors in every congressional district and pumping up the career of every Pentagon mid-grade officer and congressman and senator eager to find an issue to justify his re-election.

    The deadly danger in 21st century America isn’t an Al Qaeda operative sneaking a dirty bomb into one of our major ports. It’s a hippy holding up a xeroxed flyer that reads PEACE DIVIDEND NOW! and shouting “The Stealth bomber is stealing your wealth!” Without endless wars all over the world, the hippies are in danger of winning.

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  4. 13 August 2009 9:42 am

    I think there are three points that are very relevant that no one really stresses in this discussion:

    1. The United States has some sort of moral obligation and duty in this area simply due to having intervened militarily twice, in the 1980s to counter the Soviets and again in 2001. The mess is partially our fault, the cleanup partially our responsibility, period.

    2. The Taliban were deposed because they harbored Bin Laden prior to 9-11-01 and refused to turn him over afterward. That their overthrow was botched and Bin Laden allowed to escape were tactical errors. Nonetheless, if they are allowed to return to power, the message to other governments and terrorists will be that you can get away with such things if you are patient. That cannot be allowed.

    3. The real problem, as always, is, as in the Middle East, an artificial British imperial border drawn to reflect colonial interests a century ago. Neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan will give up its side of the Durand Line, nor govern it, and they cannot do the latter. The only solution is to declare it a separate country or no man’s land, isolate it politically and militarily, and then treat it as a country… leave it alone if it behaves, attack it if it does not.

    Accommodating these items will not take half a million soldiers… much of it is not military at all, but political. Perhaps over time these issues will surface and be dealt with, as it seems to me they are what is essential, no more and no less.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: We’re talking about justifications for war. What is this moral obligation you see to wage war in their land to “help” them, until we’re shaped their society into a form pleasing to us? They are people in Afghanistan, not stray dogs.

    Like

  5. 13 August 2009 12:56 pm

    Golden Horde: Nice to see Lao Tzu having a reception on another side of the world. Too bad it’s easy to preach his ideals but difficult to practice.

    Like

  6. 13 August 2009 12:58 pm

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

    Like

  7. mclaren permalink
    13 August 2009 6:46 pm

    Greg Panfile remarked: …The message to other governments and terrorists will be that you can get away with such things if you are patient. That cannot be allowed.

    Excellent point! The northern U.W. states must immediately invade the southern American states and wage war on their inhabitants, for I’ve heard there have been numerous sightings of confederate flags down there…

    Like

  8. 13 August 2009 7:01 pm

    FM, I am not sure where this is coming from. Yes, over the last couple of weeks the momentum has switched to your side of the debate. But that does not mean much. Mass protests against American involvement in Vietnam were widespread seven years before we pulled out. The public and the elite turned against the Iraq war circa 2005- we are still there today. What makes you think this will be any different?
    .
    .
    Fabius Maxius replies: You might be correct. I said something similar at the end of the post. But hope is easy and costs nothing.

    Like

  9. anna nicholas permalink
    13 August 2009 10:40 pm

    I wwonder if the end of the Afgh misadventure , will be another crisis , man made , natural or supernatural, that dwarfs 9/11 .

    Like

  10. 13 August 2009 10:52 pm

    Nonetheless, if they are allowed to return to power, the message to other governments and terrorists will be that you can get away with such things if you are patient. That cannot be allowed.

    If only we were omnipotent.

    Shelly’s Ozymandias is what you are trying to deny.

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    For all of bin Laden’s guilt, pride is the greatest of all sins; and American imperialists, like Ozymandias, are proud.

    Like

  11. anna nicholas permalink
    14 August 2009 10:11 pm

    This is what we need to study , this is one ( just one ) of the keys to peace. The antique lands werent always desert . How can we turn back the sand tide ?

    Like

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  1. वसुधैव कुटुंबकम - Of Foreign Wars, CNAS, CENTCOM, And Andrew Exumed

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