2009/12/01

President's upcoming speech on Afghanistan

Reading the Inky's Afghanistan reporter's take on the issue of President Obama's speech on troop escalation there, one particular phrase jumped out at me "If the United States pulls out of Afghanistan precipitously, without ensuring the security of the population..." [emphasis added]. What Rubin ignores is the option of gradual disengagement.

This reminds me of people who defend George W. Bush's reaction to being told that the 9-11 attacks were underway and that Americans were burning and falling out of the World Trade Center towers at that very moment. "Well, you don't expect the President to jump up, look wildly about and then to run screaming out of the room, do you?" No, I expect our President to give the schoolchildren a quick, calm "Seeya" and to walk calmly out of the classroom, giving quiet instructions and then getting to a command post as quickly as possible.

No, there's no need for a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Rubin doesn't credit opponents of escalation with wanting a gradual, phased disengagement. It was also quite notable that a particular name was completely missing from the article, that of the former American Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.

Eikenberry is a former general and has extensive experience in Afghanistan. I don't expect a local newspaper to insist that their reporter pay attention to all kinds of different aspects to the story, but couldn't someone else have been assigned to provide us with the former ambassador's point of view and then placed that view alongside that of General Stanley McChrystal (as presented by Rubin)? Why are we limited to just McChrystal's point of view?

The projected plans for US forces in Afghanistan are also very hard to take seriously, "...more troops would make it possible to funnel more economic aid to troubled regions and intensify training of Afghan security forces," "The new troops would even improve the chances for a negotiated peace between Afghan leaders and top Taliban leaders...," "This could stabilize the situation sufficiently to pour in development funds and offer substitutes for poppy-growing...." These all sound like very good and positive developments, but they also sound like wishful thinking, like strategies that might work IF there were a real national commitment from the US and IF the US's whole population were engaged in the effort.

Instead, as Tom Engelhardt from TomDispatch.com points out:


7. Our all-volunteer military has for years now shouldered the burden of our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if we were capable of sending 40,000-80,000 more troops to Afghanistan, they would without question be servicepeople on their second, third, fourth, or even fifth tours of duty. A military, even the best in the world, wears down under this sort of stress and pressure.

Unlike during World War II, when pilots would perform so many missions and then go home, the US is sending troops back to the front time and again because there simply are no people in the pipeline to replace them. After the fall of Baghdad but before the guerrilla war in Iraq got going (May to July 2003), President Bush tried to get volunteers to go to Iraq, not even to fight, but to do administrative work. Virtually no one took him up on his request. US civilians in Iraq were pretty much limited to the "Green Zone" by September because they had completely failed to establish any real presence in Iraq as a whole.

What have been the effects of US efforts in Afghanistan so far?

3. Despite billions of dollars of American money poured into training the Afghan security forces, the army is notoriously understrength and largely ineffective; the police forces are riddled with corruption and held in contempt by most of the populace.

And we can't even count the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a solid friend and ally. After President Ahmadinejad of Iran "won" a highly questionable electoral victory, Karzai was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate him.

Bob Herbert of the NY Times points out that:

More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken — school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding — yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each.

The US is simply in no shape to conduct an imperial war halfway across the world. It's time to start the drawdown and leave that country to those who live there.

No comments: