Monday, July 05, 2010

The Moving Afghan Goalposts

Far be it for me to support Michael Steele, but here is hoping his ill-chosen words on Afghanistan will lead to a much needed debate over what the hell we are doing there now. Our goals in Afghanistan have evolved faster than a fruit fly inside a nuclear containment field.
  1. Destroy al-Qaeda. The initial goal, supported by Americans across the political spectrum, was the destruction of al-Qaeda. This ended in defeat for the United States at the Battle of Tora Bora where US Gen. Tommy Franks allowed al-Qaeda leadership and many of their fighters to escape into safe haven in Pakistan.
  2. Overthrow the Taliban. The fall-back position after failing to defeat al-Qaeda was to punish their soul mates and enablers the Taliban government of Afghanistan. At this we were successful. Had we stopped there, telling the rebels now in charge that if al-Qaeda ever returned to their country we would return wreaking bloody vengeance upon all who helped them while offered aid to our new allies, the Afghan War would have gone down in history as quite the success.
  3. Nation Building. Unfortunately, the neo-cons whispering in George Bush's ear told him to convert every Muslim nation in the Middle East, one by one, into Western style democracies. The new goal became to install the perfect Muslim democracy in Afghanistan. By that we intended Afghanistan to have a strong central government with universal suffrage ruling a unified country closely allied with the United States. However, Afghanistan has a long history as a feudal society with numerous petty warlords commanding personal fiefdoms. The governmental system we tried to install was a foreign to the Afghans as Wonderland to Alice. This attempt has been an abject failure.
  4. COIN - counterinsurgency doctrine. The current approach. The failed nation building program, which looks like colonial occupation to Afghans, led to the return of the Taliban. General Petraeus is proud papa to COIN. The doctrine foresees a decades long program spending multiple billions building roads, schools, industry, and good paying jobs that the Afghan people will slowly realize is a wondrous Utopia. In essence, the US federal government will do more for Afghanistan than it would do for California. Some people have dismissed COIN as a resurrection of the old failed Vietnam War "hearts and minds" strategy but that is unfair. It is really more akin to the British Raj in India - a massive noblesse oblige approach where we teach foreigners to be just like us, only subservient.
  5. Withdrawal. President Obama's official goal, withdrawal by July 2011, is in direct competition with the Petraeus COIN program and its open-ended commitment. Petraeus reconciles this by calling withdrawal a "process" that will only begin next year. He implies the end will be many years away.
The official mission statement of the Afghan occupation (How weird is it that wars now have mission statements?) is so vague as to be meaningless. It is also one fucking long run on sentence. I suspect if the British Raj had a mission statement it would have been similar, if far better written.
We shall support friendly maharajas and engage rebels in deadly combat. We shall train and arm native troops and a native police force. We shall train natives to handle routine governmental operations. We shall bring to the natives the blessings of our civilization and they shall be eternally grateful for the peace and prosperity we bring.
Afghanistan as envisioned by Gen. David Petraeus.
(art source)

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