Disclaimer: This post is an unedited stream of consciousness—moreso, than others.
The “enduring truth” embedded in the Newspeak is that the Bush Administration “dropped the ball” Afghanistan as if there was ever a shot at running it into the endzone–to keep with the stupid metaphor. I don’t get it.
In Professor Noam Chomsky’s essay, “Democracy and Markets in the New World Order” from Power and Prospects (1996), “enduring truth” is used to describe assertions by the poli-intellectual class accepted as true—and consistently regurgitated as such—without facing scrutiny or the backing of empirical evidence.
I just caught McClatchy‘s Jonathon Landay on msnbc’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”, guest hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell for the night. (I’ll grab the video when it’s on YouTube and re-edit this post at that time for the exact quote.) Mr. Landay, who I read avidly and respect greatly, implied that what makes the president’s so-called “deliberation” to add more troops to the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan more difficult is that the Bush Administration ‘neglected Afghanistan 4-5 years ago’.
This assertion is rampant throughout the poli-intellectual class, but I’ve been puzzled for over a year with this seemingly ‘enduring truth’. It implies that: (a) an escalation of troops presence after Hamid Karzai became the Afghan president in the form of a full-scale counterinsurgency (COIN) operation; and (b) that “success” was achievable at some time after the invasion in 2001; both factors would have created a ‘more manageable’ or ‘stable’ situation, better setting the table for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
U.S. General Stanley McChyrstal’s 66-page assessment of the war in Afghanistan—“leaked” to Bob Woodward at The Washington Post September 20—stated that “the situation is serious” and not sending more troops “will likely result in failure”, but “success is still achievable.”
Mr. Landay and two other co-authors wrote in their McClatchy article reporting on this assessment: President Barack Obama “won’t be stampeded into a quick decision on more troops, saying that he first wants to make sure there’s a sound strategy in place to secure Afghanistan and make certain that it can’t be used as a haven for al-Qa’ida terrorists, as it was before 2001”. The lack of a “sound strategy in place” is uncontroversial across party lines and cable television drooling heads. This leads me back to the ‘enduring truth’.
If the Bush Administration “dropped the ball” on implementing a full-scale COIN operation years ago, it begs the question: to what end? If that can’t be answered now, what’s to say it could have ever been answered?
I’m not giving the Bush Administration a pass, but this recent COIN v. counterterrorism “debate” portrayed by the media as playing out in Washington acts on the assumed validity of Gen. McChrystal’s assertion that “success is still achievable”. “Still” means that “success” was ‘much more’ “achievable” before now, but times are worse now and—though, “success” will just be more difficult than it would’ve been in years before—“it” can be “achieved”.
Gen. McChrystal’s suggestion to boost the COIN operation with more troops is only to “reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (12 months)”, so is it so much for someone—anyone!—to answer: What could have been done 4-5 years ago for “achieving” this so-called, yet unidentifiable, “success”? I don’t understand how serious discussions are being had to identify: What’s different in 2009 from 2004 that the invasion of Afghanistan didn’t make inevitable? Is the ‘enduring truth” that massive “insurgency” wasn’t inevitable?
And if COIN is decided by the powers that be as a lost cause (or at least too near-sighted), why is the best way forward the Bush Administration counterterrorism strategy that was—uncontroversially—deemed as a failure?
How are the two “options” in the “debate” taken seriously at all when they can both be deemed as futile efforts? How is the only serious option not to get the hell out of Afghanistan as the U.S. faces the “fate of the Soviets“, as Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put it? There’s enough opposition to ease the political backlash for the Obama Administration with the loudest drum-thumpers invalidated by recent history.
I’m serious and trying to put on my Realpolitik hat—just to better understand the words spewing out of people’s mouths. I am a political scientist, by trade, who’s studied this school of “political realism” deeper than any other and I just don’t get the rationale being tossed around so freely on “both sides” which seem to lead to the same result: long-term, bankrupting occupation in a Vietnam-esque quagmire, at best. If someone has heard or read something to answer my question—or has access to someone who can at least make a good attempt to give me a lie in answering my question—please e-mail me.
The war in Afghanistan was doomed from the start. Prove me wrong.
Julian Barnes at the Los Angeles Times reports that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen agrees with Gen. McChrystal’s assessment saying, “We have to do more now, if we want to do less later,” in a speech in Washington, D.C., adding that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”—whatever the hell that means—and the ‘transition, he stressed’, couldn’t be done “on the cheap”.
“On the cheap” is a direct reference to Bush Administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was—and still is—frequently criticized for waging the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “on the cheap”. This criticism is repeated frequently by Pentagon and C.I.A. officials throughout Seymour Hersh’s Chain of Command (2004).
In other words, “on the cheap”, is a rebuttal to the suggestion that ISAF revert back to treating Afghanistan as a counterterrorism operation. Either way, without defining “light at the end of the tunnel”, Mr. Rasmussen shouldn’t be taken seriously.
From six of the first seven e-mails I’ve received, I should clarify that I’m well aware of what COIN is; that Gen. McChrystal is very clear that “winning the hearts and minds” of the Afghan population is crucial and to that end, ‘it is important to avoid the appearance of being an occupying force‘. But, with military sources estimating 500,000 troops are needed on the ground between ISAF and the Afghan National Army, led by the U.S.
COIN is more of a political strategy incorporating military tactics than vice versa. Gen. McChrystal’s own assessment states the COIN will fail without significant political gains. The U.S. leading 500,000 troops to back—what’s increasingly seen as—an illegitimate president in Mr. Karzai against “insurgents” has “occupying force” written all over it.
COIN in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai as president will always fuel the -IN in COIN—hence my assessment of anything short of withdrawal to be a “long-term, bankrupting occupation in a Vietnam-esque quagmire, at best”.
Also, even if we’re going to accept—for shits and giggles—that the Iraq Surge was a success, the tribal divisions erupted as a product of the U.S. invasion. Iraq’s territorial borders in 2003 were exponentially closer to rational than Afghanistan’s have been in at least 115 years. More importantly, the dissidents in Iraq were dissenting the overthrown power for decades. The power in Afghanistan is new, unpopular, and so are the dissidents. There are no “Sons of Afghanistan“, but only to unite against one common foe: the current Afghan government and its collaborators of the U.S.-led ISAF.