Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Frying Pan...Fire...and Now, Gasoline?

I've spent exactly zero time seriously considering options in Afghanistan. Plenty of people have spent countless days, weeks, months and even years contemplating strategy for the current U.S. scenario and beyond. There seem to be no good options, and its likely there never were. The best thing that could have happened would have been for Bush/Cheney to stay on task, kick Taliban and AQ ass and come back with Osama Bin Laden in the first six months there and pulled out.

That never happened obviously, and now our time there is approaching a decade and it is only worse, messier and more complicated, and somehow the stakes are raised exponentially. Obama campaigned on finishing that job by focusing on Afghanistan and winding down in Iraq. I don't think there is a plausible way to do either, and he is truly fucked politically and strategically as far as I can tell.

He's supposed to unveil the results of his long deliberation tonight, and I fear the pressure to double down on Afghanistan will win out and we will only dig ourselves in deeper.
It's a very difficult situation, and, after Bush's grotesque mismanagement, no options are anything but varieties of awful. But everything I hear sounds like conventional drift to me - Bush's policy with a much more interesting and intelligent discussion beforehand. So instead of staying in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with no real strategy, we will stay in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with lots of super-smart defenses of the indefensible. Great.

That's Andrew Sullivan, who also accurately laid out the political fallout from that (and any, really) scenario yesterday:
As Obama appears to be intensifying the lost war in Afghanistan, with the same benchmark rubric that meant next-to-nothing in the end in Iraq, he does not seem to understand that he will either have to withdraw US troops from Iraq as it slides into new chaos, or he will have to keep the troops there for ever, as the neocons always intended. Or he will have to finance and run two hot wars simultaneously. If he ramps up Afghanistan and delays Iraq withdrawal, he will lose his base. If he does the full metal neocon as he is being urged to, he should not be deluded in believing the GOP will in any way support him. They will oppose him every step of every initiative. They will call him incompetent if Afghanistan deteriorates, they will call him a terrorist-lover if he withdraws, they will call him a traitor if he does not do everything they want, and they will eventually turn on him and demand withdrawal, just as they did in the Balkans with Clinton. Obama's middle way, I fear, is deeper and deeper into a trap, and the abandonment of a historic opportunity to get out.

[...] I fear Bush's wars will destroy Obama as they destroyed Bush. Because they are unwinnable; and because the US is bankrupt; and because neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will ever be normal functioning societies in our lifetimes.

You want empire? Then say so and get on with it - with far more forces, and massive cuts in domestic spending to rebuild thankless Muslim population centers thousands of miles from home for decades into the future.

You do not want empire? Then leave.

Those are the presidential level choices.

And neither Bush nor, it seems, Obama has the strength to make them.

That sounds extreme, but I think it's more or less accurate.

At Obsidian Wings, I've been scrolling past Eric Martin's writings on Afghanistan for months, if not longer—solely because I haven't cared enough to bother reading it. I just stopped and read his post from yesterday, and I think it's the most cogent argument for getting the fuck out one could make. Here's a bit:
As discussed on this site on numerous occasions, one of the oddest arguments for escalating/perpetuating our military presence in Afghanistan is the stated fear that our withdrawal would destabilize Pakistan. Implicit in this formulation is the presumption that our ongoing military occupation of Afghanistan (and concomitant military/political activity in Pakistan) is having a stabilizing effect in Pakistan itself. This nostrum about the therapeutic value of large numbers of US forces pursuing US interests through force, like many of the widely accepted foreign policy myths, lacks supporting empirical evidence.

In fact, the empirical evidence is all pointing in the opposite direction. Pakistan today is far less stable than it was when we first invaded: there are raging clashes between the government and militant forces causing refugee crises numbering in the millions, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of domestic terrorist attacks, the Pakistani population is increasingly anti-American and increasingly radicalized, there is a crisis in leadership - with the current President, Asif Zardari nursing approval ratings in the sub-Cheney realm, etc.

[...] The fault lines along which Pakistan is being rended are in large part the result of Pakistan's own dysfunctional political culture and national security obsession with India. The latter has led to a hypermilitarization of society, a weak dedication to democratic rule, a warped economy made to serve the military class, skewed government spending objectives, a too-powerful intelligence apparatus and an unhealthy willingness to cultivate religious extremists as putatively useful proxies (in this, the US and Pakistan shared common cause in Afghanistan in the 1980s).

Eventually, Pakistan will have to reckon with these pathologies and find ways to normalize its own political culture. However, while the United States did not create these problems, by forcing Pakistan to accede to our agenda, against its own perceived interests and over the objections of a distrustful population, we are making it more likely that these flash points erupt rather than unwind according to a slower, more natural process.

Read the whole thing. And pray that Obama (or someone close to him) did too.


Toast said...

I'm confused. The same Sullivan post that you cited as having a "fucking stupid" premise and as being "almost not worth your time" you're now quoting from approvingly and at length?

Mr Furious said...


Sullivan can be maddening that way. I DID go back and read that post, and if one can look past his usual blindspots (such as assuming positive motives from Bush/Cheney, etc. where there was none, as I mentioned last night) he can turn it around and still make sense.

Toast said...

(such as assuming positive motives from Bush/Cheney, etc. where there was none, as I mentioned last night)

I just don't know if I buy the straight-forwardly cynical view that the surge was simply an attempt to kick the can down the road. I'm open to arguments on either side, and maybe someday a definitive tell-all will come out and we'll know. In the meantime, I'm not going to accuse Sullivan of being "fucking stupid" for giving Bush the benefit of the doubt there.

(I have plenty of opportunities to call Sullivan fucking stupid; for example any post he writes that bears on atheism, science and religion.)

steves said...

I agree with Sullivan. Sometimes I wonder if it is just me, but one day I agree with him and other days I vow to never read him again.

The more I learn about that region of the world, the more I am convinced that our current approach is wrong and will just not work.