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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

 
Whistling Past The Graveyard Of Empires

by dday

Sam Stein at The Huffington Post reports on "growing dissent" on the idea of moving troops from the "bad war" in Iraq to the "good war" in Afghanistan.

Sen. Russ Feingold launched a major salvo just weeks before the election, when he penned an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, questioning the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan. He was pre-dated by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who warned about the United States repeating the Soviet Union's ill-thought-out efforts in that region, during an interview with the Huffington Post. On Monday, the scales tipped even further, when the chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan warned that a re-intervention into the country would be pointless if not done with deep cultural sensitivities [...]

"There is a growing dissent," Caroline Wadhams, a Senior National Security Policy Analyst for the left-leaning Center for American Progress. "I think around town there is new thinking: 'Well, what do we actually want to achieve?' The fact that they are doing all those strategic reviews reveals we are suffering the symptom of the same [foreign policy] problems [of the past]: no one is sure what our objectives are and what we should do now."

The angst is driven by a variety of concerns: what a longer-term military commitment to Afghanistan could mean for Obama's domestic and foreign policy agendas, whether the Afghanistan has the capacity to improve itself, and whether U.S. military forces are best suited for the task.

"People are understanding now how difficult it is going to be," said Wadhams. "You realize, 'Oh my god, we have so much to do and are we any good at this? Are we any good at anti-corruption? We have never been good at counter-narcotics. And how do you improve government?' These are extremely difficult objectives."


That dissent is wholly justified given the realities on the ground. The Taliban, by one account, has a permanent presence in 72% of the country and is closing in on the capital, Kabul. Unlike Iraq, the militant groups here have a connection to the local tribal communities - they are not solely foreign fighters imposing their will - and they are determined not to make the same mistakes as Al Qaeda in Iraq, even loosening its doctrinaire extremism to accommodate the locals and multiple insurgent groups. The plan floated to "restart the surge" by enlisting tribal groups to fight the Taliban won't work with coalition forces targeting them at the same time:

They came in the night and shot Saeed Alam in his bed. His three-year-old son was crying at his feet and his mother had leapt on top of him to try to block the bullets. Both of them were hurled out of the way and an American soldier opened fire.

America's plans to enlist Afghan militias in the war against the Taliban are running into difficulties while still in their infancy. In eastern Paktia province, the white-bearded Afghan village elders who are crucial to the "Afghan awakening", are threatening to unite against the Americans unless such night raids by US special forces are halted [...]

An American press release claimed the raid helped "decimate" a terrorist network. It described Saeed Alam as a militant and said he was holding a grenade while using his mother and son as a human shield. "The force engaged the militant with small-arms fire, killing him while protecting the women and children," the statement said. "Coalition forces estimate they safeguarded 16 women and 31 children."

The elders swore Alam was innocent. At least five of those arrested during the raid have since been released, without charge. Contrary to the American statement, the elders said there were no Afghan troops involved, and they said they knew the soldiers were special forces because they had beards.

"Raiding people's houses and snatching people away creates a very negative impression in the communities," said a senior Western policy analyst, working in the region.


The response to additional troops in the region will clearly be additional violence. This is particularly the case if civilian casualties continue, increasing anger among the local population. The US plan appears to be to focus their troops in the Kabul region, which is incredibly ominous, suggesting that the countryside is being given up for the time being. And the supply lines connecting the region have been breached.

In one of the largest and most brazen attacks of its kind, suspected Taliban insurgents with heavy weapons attacked two truck stops in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, destroying more than 150 vehicles carrying supplies bound for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

The predawn attack on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar left the grounds of the truck terminals littered with the burned-out shells of Humvees and other military vehicles being transported by private truckers. At least one guard was reported killed.

Early today, a second attack on Western supplies was reported in the same area. A security guard said 50 containers had been burned and some vehicles destroyed by rocket fire [...]

The bold assault underscored the vulnerability of supplies moving by road through Pakistan. About three-quarters of the supplies bound for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan -- fuel, food and equipment -- travel by road through perilous mountain passes after being shipped to the port of Karachi. Afghanistan has no sea access.


If the supply lines are cut, even a strategy focused on reconstruction and economic growth for the locals is doomed to failure.

The Obama transition team needs to think about this, and I'm not sure there's anyone in the room reflecting the proper skepticism about adding troops into this conflagration, and the consequences for the other aspects of his agenda. Speaking at the Center for American Progress this morning, longtime historian Robert Dallek said it right:

War kills reform. Every time we've had a major commitment to a war, it has killed a reform movement. Progressivism was done in by the Spanish-American war. Populism by World War I. FDR said Dr. New Deal has been replaced by Dr. War. The Great Society by the Vietnam War. You cannot have guns and butter. If Obama escalates in Afghanistan, if he draws us into a broader war which takes many lives and much money, it will ruin his chances for reform.


That's not a small loss.

President Bush has left a score of landmines throughout foreign and domestic policy, but the worst by far is in Afghanistan. It could destroy everything.


.