J.B. Sivanich

The Washington Post published Monday a leaked version of Gen. McChrystal’s “Initial Assessment of the Afghan situation,” a memo that was notable for its request for 21,000 more troops to be deployed.
The president already had the memo for weeks, and had read it, but the leak, as well as McChrystal’s threat to resign if he does not get the troops he asked for, was meant to tie Obama’s hands behind his back.
As Foreign Policy writer Peter Feaver writes, “the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post.”
McChrystal’s report should draw suspicion for other reasons. First, it was written by a decidedly hawkish crowd. Foreign Policy writer Marc Lynch points out, “The ‘strategic review’ brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking.”
The circumstances of the memo, however, are somewhat secondary to its contents. While the memo did say that “mission failure” was imminent if more resources are not given over to Iraq, McChrystal readily admitted deployment is no sure bet to achieve victory in Afghanistan. The request for more troops is the most striking part of the memo, but McChrystal emphasizes that only focusing on troop requirements “misses the point entirely.”
McChrystal uses the memo to stress that Afghanistan requires “a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign” which writer Fred Kaplan elaborates as a strategy in which “the main objective is not so much to destroy the enemy but rather to protect the Afghan people — to provide them with security so that the Afghan government can deliver basic services.”
This is a hard strategy to put forward since the government we are trying to prop up is one of the difficulties in achieving our goals. The recent re-election of President Hamid Karzai was largely seen, especially in Afghanistan, as fraudulent — there are YouTube clips of the election chief stuffing ballot boxes.
To pull together a victory, he aligned himself with warlords and drug traffickers, some of whom helped settle Osama Bin Laden into the region years ago. His vice presidential candidate is a drug trafficker, as is his brother. In a recent leader, The Economist described his government as “inept, corrupt and predatory” and reported that the government is so distrusted that “residents have sometimes hankered for the warlords, who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”
When this is the team you have to rely on, success becomes even more of a question mark. But the difficulties of the situation extend far past the government. How messy is Afghanistan right now? Well, a Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province recently said that walking through the region is “like walking through the Old Testament.” Two-thirds of Afghanistan is deemed by aid agencies as too dangerous to reach. Despite billions of dollars in international aid, the capital city of Kabul only got regular electricity this year.
Military analyst Ahmed Rashid predicts that American forces will need two or three years to turn the situation around, while a higher-up in the British army predicted that British forces might be around for a decade. All of this begs the question, “For what?”
In a recent interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the President said that his first priority is protecting Americans from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. This is another snare.
Gen. McChrystal himself said, on the recent anniversary of Sept. 11, that he saw no “indications of a large al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan.” Most arguments for the war take this into account but mention that the main focus is preventing the Taliban from re-taking power, providing a haven for al-Qaeda, or for keeping the region somewhat stable with an eye on Pakistan and it’s near-failed state status and nuclear arsenal.
This is a hard line to hold since terrorism stretches so much farther than this area of the globe. As Washington Post columnist George Will asks, “If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases — evidently there are none now — must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?”
Last week American law enforcement agencies arrested an American citizen in a suspected bomb plot who received training in the tribal regions of Pakistan. The week before American commandos killed a leader of a Kenyan al Qaeda cell responsible for the bombing of an Israeli hotel in 2002 in a raid in Southern Somalia.
These cases show the far reach global terrorism; cases like these should be our real focus instead of drawn-out occupations and nation-buliding missions — we have now spent 50 percent more in Afghanistan than U.S. involvement in both world wars.
There are many legitimate moral arguments for preventing Afghanistan from going to the wayside: human rights, the pottery barn rule, etc. They do not take into account, however, the dim prospects for success and the realities on the ground. Good intentions and hard work are not going to fix everything, and I think it is clear that Afghanistan lies in the category of “beyond repair.”
With the deaths of 47 service members, last month was the deadliest month for American soldiers since the beginning of our Afghanistan campaign almost nine years ago. Up to 51 percent of Americans, including 70 percent of Democrats, say “the war is not worth fighting” and only 24 percent approve of a troop increase according to an Aug. 20 *Washington Post-ABC News poll.
President Obama should acknowledge these facts and decide not to prolong the war in Afghanistan as it only wastes American lives and resources and binds our hands in a hopeless situation.