“We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war”

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“I think they (the Obama administration) thought this would be more popular and easier,” a senior Pentagon official said. “We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war.

I’m going to interpret this remark as a glimmer of independence in the White House regarding the future direction of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The quote comes from a McClatchy article yesterday, the Pentagon is worried about Obama’s commitment to Afghanistan.

The concern among members of the military leadership is that while U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recently submitted his assessment of the “deteriorating situation” in Afghanistan did not request additional troops, such a request could come from the Pentagon within weeks. Or, as the New York Times reported the Groundwork is laid for new troops in Afghanistan.

McChrystal’s report is classified, but in his public remarks he indicated he “would invest the United States more extensively in Afghanistan” and “he has emphasized protecting civilians over just engaging insurgents.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has already ordered a 21,000 more troops deployed to Afghanistan, and “the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment” to endless war. Obama said last month in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Afghanistan is a ‘war of necessity’.

Despite being open to committing more troops to the war, some in the Pentagon are concerned the Obama administration will not further escalate the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The NY Times said Obama “faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the war but also over national security policy, health care, gay rights and other issues.” And, according to McClatchy:

Vice President Joe Biden and other officials are increasingly anxious about how the American public would respond to sending additional troops…

Biden has argued that without sustained support from the American people, the U.S. can’t make the long-term commitment that would be needed to stabilize Afghanistan and dismantle al Qaida.

Biden is right to question whether or not the administration should continue to support a war without the public behind it. A new McClatchy/Ipsos poll out today finds most Americans oppose more troops for Afghanistan.

The survey found that 54 percent of Americans think the U.S. isn’t winning the war, while 29 percent think it is winning. Another 17 percent weren’t sure or had no opinion.

At the same time, 56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops. Another 9 percent had no opinion or weren’t sure.

This underscores other recent polls (WaPo/ABC, CNN) from in the past month that found that support by the American public for the ongoing war in Afghanistan to be at an all time low.

Three possible factors souring the war in Afghanistan for American public is war fatigue since the war is nearing its eighth year, August was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the invasion in November 2001, and the recent Afghan election is suspected to have been widely fraudulent. The election a little less than two weeks ago was being hailed by the White House as ‘successful‘.

According to the McClatchy article, McChrystal may request as many as 45,000 additional U.S. troops be deployed to Afghanistan. Sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is not straightforward. As the NY Times explained:

An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Obama’s entanglement with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the results are final.

The allegations against Afghan President Harmid Karzai of election fraud grow daily. Yesterday, the NY Times reported brazen ballot stuffing casts new doubt on Karzai. Where Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali – “the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan” – closed 45 polling stations and at the end of day sent 23,900 ballots to Kabul “with every one marked for President Karzai.”

Warmongers on the right are goading Obama to escalate the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney used the rightwing’s propaganda trumpet to claim Democrats soft on national defense (Fox). While not mentioning Afghanistan once, par for the Bush administration that left the country in this mess, Cheney did say he was “a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues”.

Robert Kaplan, a neoconservative Iraq war support, wrote in The Atlantic this week that Obama should “Be Like Bush“.

Obama is truly the great finesser: he has finessed his way through life…

Finesse alone will not get him through the challenges ahead. He’s got to become a bit more like Bush. He’s got to make clear that he fervently believes in and cares about certain things, and he has to communicate that belief starkly: the challenges of health care, Israeli settlements, and particularly the war in Afghanistan demand no less.

Kaplan suggests Obama needs to be stubborn like Bush and order a “surge” in Afghanistan. Kaplan overlooks that the “surge” was Bush’s strategy for escaping office with Iraq in a relative calm period leaving it a percolating cauldron for his successor to sort out. Kaplan suggests Obama may not send more troops to Afghanistan because it would be “politically difficult” for him.

McChrystal may well ask for many more troops, and that will be politically difficult for Obama to accommodate. For there is a belief on the homefront, not unfounded, that Afghanistan may be an unwinnable war.

For Kaplan, leaving Afghanistan equals defeat and “defeat would constitute a moral victory for Islamic terrorists worldwide, and would demoralize our own armed forces.”

Obama needs to make these points and more. To build the semblance of a stable Afghanistan, he needs to be all in on the issue, and to publicly communicate as much.

The path before the President is hard. To make his way, he will need to truly commit himself – even if that means taking a cue from his predecessor.

Kaplan is advocating that Obama take the Lyndon B. Johnson approach of escalating the war so he isn’t seen as “soft” by the Republicans. He wants Obama to fully make the war in Afghanistan his own despite that for most of seven years the war was largely ignored as an inconvenience by previous administration. (Which as Cheney’s weekend remarks show continues to status quo for the former Bush administration.)

George Will, for his part, tries to make a jujutsu move with his misleadingly titled column in the Washington Post, “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan“. While Will on the surface seems to be advocating for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, what he is really is doing is saying more troops are necessary. He wrote:

Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

That’s what Kaplan and some military planners have suggested is necessary to change Afghanistan. If an occupational force in the hundreds of thousands isn’t possible for Obama, then Will proposes increasing the use of airstrikes and possible expand the war even more into Pakistan.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

However the opposite, reducing the use of airstrikes that cause civilian casualties, is the top priority for Obama and the Pentagon in Afghanistan. Airstrikes are used propaganda by those opposing the U.S.-led occupation and serve as a recruiting tool for insurgents. Airstrikes further fuel the conflict.

Will, in his own way, is trying to get Obama to completely own the war that the Bush administration so bungled and make it his own.

So when I read that some at the Pentagon think “we are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war”, I am encouraged. Unlike Kaplan and others, I think there is more than “moral victory for Islamic terrorists worldwide” and military morale at stake in Afghanistan. Staying in Afghanistan is precisely the type of protracted war Osama bin Laden hoped to trigger with the terror attacks of 2001.

When asked in October 2001, “how can al Qaeda defeat America militarily?” Bin laden responded:

In the past when al Qaeda fought with the mujahedeen, we were told, “Wow, can you defeat the Soviet Union?” The Soviet Union scared the whole world then. NATO used to tremble of fear of the Soviet Union. Where is that power now? We barely remember it. It broke down into many small states and Russia remained.

Or allegedly in November 2004, bin Laden said:

All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa’ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers as we alongside the Mujahedin bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. All Praise is due to Allah.

So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.

According to Kaplan leaving is victory for Islamic terrorists, but according to bin Laden continuing the war is victory in itself.

If the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department are to be believed, not only was the United States at the point of collapse last year, but we nearly took the Western world down with us. Afghanistan has been described as “the graveyard of empires”. The Soviet Union collapsed, among other reasons, after ten years in Afghanistan. The United States has been fighting a war there now for nearly eight years.

I agree with Kaplan on one point – Obama needs to clearly state his and our country’s goals in Afghanistan and when we can bring our troops home. And I’m not alone wondering why we’re still in Afghanistan. “So far, Obama has not made the case and hasn’t explained what the end game is,” Juan Cole wrote, concerned that Afghanistan could make Obama into a one-term president. That would suit the Republicans just fine.

Adding more troops to Afghanistan, like the president did at the beginning of his term, has not been the answer. As McChrystal reported, the current Afghanistan strategy is not working.

I’m sure which ever Republican is running in 2012 against Obama will promise, just like Richard Nixon did, that “new leadership will end the war”. If Obama cannot explain to America why we should keep fighting this war, then we should leave and start redeploying troops this autumn. Must we need to match the Soviets and leave only once the country is completely broke and defeated to prove something?

We already have new leadership and Obama can end this war. Americans should not need to wait for a Republican to be elected president to declare ‘Peace With Honor‘ and end the war. Obama should be able to do that with finesse.

 

Cross-posted at European Tribune.

 

26 comments

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    • Edger on September 2, 2009 at 11:52 am

    This is a good thing:

    Vice President Joe Biden and other officials are increasingly anxious about how the American public would respond to sending additional troops…

    Hopefully it also means they are also starting to view it as more than just a political calculation… though I won’t count on it.

    I think you’ve got Will nailed, also.

  1. I think the President is going to work to win this war. I don’t know if that is do able or not, but one thing we have seen from him is a strong commitment to do what he said he was going to do. That alone makes me think he will send more troops there.

    That said, who knows what the outcome will be? While the government is surely corrupt the people there do not seem to want to live under the Taliban either.

    I think a decisive factor will be if the Afghan army can actually be stood up in the next 12 months. They are at about half the strength the US military believes they need to be at to control their nation, but they are growing quite fast. Unlike Iraq where the Army was riddled with factions, the Afghan army, for the most part, seems to be unified. Again, time will tell.  

    • Magnifico on September 3, 2009 at 12:30 am
      Author

    of this essay has now been published on planet orange. I’ve tried to shorten and tighten it a bit, while adding some of today’s news.

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