Wednesday, June 10, 2009

THOUGHTS ON AFGHANISTAN

AFGHANISTAN: CAN WE WIN?
C.D. (Mac) McIntosh submits the following thoughts about Afghanistan for discussion. Please give him some feedback and let us know what your thoughts are on this important subject.


Dear Salty Sam,
I've wondered what the majority of our surviving classmates, now long retired from the military profession, think about our continuing campaign in Afghanistan. Unlike in Iraq, even a faltering framework of reform and governmental control of the country has not taken root and started to grow.
The history of the country provides a pretty clear look at the reasons for our lack of success thus far. Numerous invaders over past centuries have tried to conquer but ended up departing in defeat. Britain and the former USSR are only the latest to fail, even using their large, well armed and trained armies.
In each case what defeated the invaders were at least five immutable factors. First is that Afghanistan has never been a nation. It is a collection of individual tribes, fiercely independent and led by war lords. Connected to this situation is the second factor, that the highly variegated populace have not, and never have had any slightest wish to, be united under some sort of collective government (our preferred kind being called democracy).
Third is the topography, high, rugged mountains providing superb defensive positions for them, but terrible attack positions for any invading troops.
Fourth is the economy. The country is best suited for the cultivation of poppies, not corn or wheat or spinach or even pastures for cattle. Were there to be a strong central government that forbade the cultivation and processing of 90% of the world's heroin, the people would starve and the tribal leaders would topple. So, that's not going to happen. Just look at the U.S.- backed government. It "governs" only one city. The billions we give that government cannot be traced to results, so a major percentage goes to maintaining individuals in comfort and pleasure.
Fifth, though our annual expenditure of many, many tens of billions in cash (and possibly even more in troop support, arms, and munitions), our campaign is essentially at a standstill. The stream of American deaths, cripplings, and blindings continues steadily. Osama Bin Laden remains in some secure mountain cave. We do not have the hearts and minds of the people, but quite the opposite. Not only the Afghans hate us, but most of the middle east view us as capitalist demagogues and heathens who consider them inferior and fodder for exploitation and control.
Now I come to my first question. Can we leave aside for the moment our pride in invincibility (as we were forced to do in Vietnam)? Can we also admit that, regardless of why we are there or what we hope to accomplish both for the Afghan people and world security, that we are . . . not succeeding? Further, does there appear any path, either simple or complex, in which as a practical manner we can with some assurance "win" the stated political and diplomatic goals?
The second and final question is: if by some final rationality the military decided (to their immense embarrassment) to announce that the war in Afghanistan is in fact a lost cause, then how on earth would it be possible to obtain the backing of the American people, now that such gigantic sums have been spent, and so many battlefield casualties incurred? The Afghans will not overrun us, as the North Vietnamese did, and physically chase us out of the country.
I am not a defeatist, but I do claim to be, perhaps only at long last, a practical man. By my reckoning, those of the Class of 1951 left alive, apparently about half of us, must be between the ages of 79 and 83. At our age, passions have mostly faded, life's experiences have seasoned and calmed us, and now we enjoy the invaluable capability to consider the realities of our modern existence without fever or temper, or the blinders of youthful education and orientation.
I am curious as to what my classmates, my peers, think about this Afghanistan morass, and whether any of you have further ideas-even ideas contrary to mine-as to what course we should and could take from here on to rid ourselves of this dangerous and mind-sapping situation.
Charles McIntosh, USNA Class of Yore

4 comments:

Salty Sam said...

Mac, Afghanistan is indeed a hard problem for all the reasons that you presented. But because it's a hard nut to crack, does that mean we shouild abandon the effort? We went into Afghanistan to destroy Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network that used Afghanistan and their affiliation with the Taliban as a sanctuary to plan terrorist attacks against us and other Western nations. We did that; now the Taliban is attempting a comeback. From the viewpoint of our national security, it would be wrong to allow the Taiban to reconstruct what we demolished five years ago to make Afghamistan once again a sanctuary for Osama and al Qaeda. Also, keep in mind our overarching foreign policy objective of bringing democracy to the Middle East. We want democracy there for our national security, not because of some noblesse oblige sense of moral duty to bring Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan. It has long been an objective of American foreign policy to spread democracy throughout the world because democracies ultimately bring governments that allow freedom to own private property, freedom to participate in the political process, and protection under the rule of law. Such governments embrace free market capitalism, which brings prosperity to its citizens and to the government through taxes and other such revenue generating assessments. Democracies compete in the global market place, not through military conquest. The principal terrorist threat comes from the Arab world; therefore, it is necessary to bring Arabia and the larger Muslim world into 21st century democracy. Can this be done? I believe so, but it won't be quick. Read Francis J. Fukuyama's book, "The End of History and The Last Man." There will always be "the crazies" who hear messages from The Prophet to kill infidels, but our goal is to reduce these to the point where they become law enforcement problems that can be handled by the national police of the parent country. So view our efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world as fundamental to our national security objectives and you will see that we can't abandon these efforts just because they are hard. D-Day 6 June was one hell of a hard nut to crack. We didn't give up there even though we lost more troops in the first morning than we lost in Afghanistan and Iraq in six years. The Taliban is no Whermacht. The only reason we can fail is if we fail in our resolve, as we did in Vietnam when Congress withdrew our financial and military support to South Vietnam. We were not defeated by North Vietnam. We were defeated by the U.S. media that convinced the American people that the Vietnam game was not worth the candle, and a Democrat controlled Congress followed the demands of their constituents. It was a faikure of resolve. But that is another story!

Anonymous said...

Well said! The State Department needs you.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Afghanistan and our involvement there Mac has put together a well-thought out and cogent thought-piece. I personally thank him for taking the time to do so and congratulate him on his effort; however, I do believe there are some other considerations before we declare victory and pull out as we did in Vietnam.

First, it’s true that the Brits and the Soviets met their match in Afghanistan, but somehow many centuries prior to that the Greeks under Alexander managed to subdue the tribes and kept them that way for even a good while after Alexander’s death. Less well known, but the Persians didn’t do a bad job of conquering the tribes either. Our generals don’t marry Afghan princesses as did Alexander nor do we execute rebels as freely as did the Persians, but they both did prevail, at least for awhile.

History aside, the question we must ask, and ask continually, is, “Why are we there?” At first, the answer is easy: we were there to punish the planners and perpetrators of 9/11. That game has pretty much run its course now, of course, what with bin Laden and his closest allies holed up somewhere and apparently not doing much more than writing a few blogs and inciting their fringe members to blow themselves up. That leaves the question, “Why do we stay?”

Much of what Mac wrote about why we shouldn’t stay is absolutely on the mark, but there are other reasons to stick it out too: some are altruistic; some have to do with our own long-term defense.

On the altruistic side, the Taliban are as much an anathema to the Afghanis in general and the tribal leaders in particular as they are to us. If the Taliban could be voted out of Afghanistan or if the tribal leaders could ever learn to put a modicum of trust in one another the Taliban would be gone in a heartbeat. Before the Taliban, Afghani girls went to school. Other religions were tolerated. (Remember the statues)? Sharia law was in effect but the most egregious provisions were widely ignored. We do owe some support to the Afghanis who want to rid themselves of the Taliban and return to what they see as “Normalcy” for Afghanistan.

As for our own long-term defense, consider the geography of Afghanistan. Former Soviet republics to the north are quiescent for now, so probably not of any immediate concern; but Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west and China not far off are indeed current concerns. Then too, there’s the restive population of Baluchis in the south of Afghanistan itself.

The Baluchis, including that part of Pakistan know as Baluchistan are ripe for mischief by the Iranians as they seek more dominion over the Arabian Sea. Already they have an agreement with India for development of a port in western Baluchistan, not far from Iran. In that connection, India itself is not innocent of mischief, meddling in Pakistani Baluchistan itself.

To the west, we read daily of anti-Pakistan Taliban and other non-Paks stirring up trouble on Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier. In other words, an Afghanistan run by, or heavily influenced by non-democratic forces, including the Taliban, could lead to the fall of Pakistani democracy, such as it is. Then, what becomes of the Pakistani nukes? One shudders at the possibility.

No, we cannot unilaterally withdraw from Afghanistan; however, I do agree that our current strategy make little sense. We’re trying to do with military power what should be done with diplomacy, Peace Corps and AID. I would not propose eliminating military effort, but it’s well past the time to try a less threatening approach. Perhaps it’s time for the State Department, Commerce and Agriculture people to shed their K-Street suits and head for the hills: the Afghan hills that is. On the other hand, perhaps a handful of Illinois politicians (let ‘em out of jail) would be even better prepared to work with the tribal leaders. (My Chicago upbringing leads me to this).

Bob Dunn

Salty Sam said...

There is a well researched blog on Afghanistan at http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/. Check it out.