Tuesday :: Jun 22, 2010

The general isn't the problem, the war is

by Turkana

What to do about insubordinate General Stanley McChrystal is not President Obama's only problem, in Afghanistan. The war is the problem. It continues to be the problem. And in a bizarre case of reverse logic, the worse things get, the more the hawks want to stay. As the Los Angeles Times explained, last week:

Recent setbacks in Afghanistan have intensified debate over the wisdom of the Obama administration's plan to begin withdrawing U.S. military forces next summer and highlighted reservations among military commanders over a rigid timeline.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees U.S. forces in the Mideast and Afghanistan, offered "qualified" support for President Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.

"In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines," Petraeus said under questioning by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who wanted to know whether he supported the plan.

It's not just McChrystal. And conditions continue to deteriorate. From the Washington Post:

Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated markedly in recent months, with a spike in roadside bombs, complex attacks and assassinations, according to a U.N. report released Saturday.

The report comes as the U.S. military is deploying an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan this summer in an effort to quell a rebounding insurgency.

The surge in violence has prompted U.S. lawmakers to ask pointed questions about the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy, while U.S. commanders have urged caution, saying that they are making progress under difficult circumstances.

What progress? A war that can't be won, in support of an Afghan government that can't govern, and an Afghan military that can't fight? And the Afghan people just continue to suffer. And it's even worse.

Ten NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, yesterday. A helicopter crash. Multiple attacks by insurgents. At this pace, June will be the deadliest month yet for NATO troops, in the nine years NATO has been fighting in Afghanistan. And then there's this story, from McClatchy:

Private security contractors protecting the convoys that supply U.S. military bases in Afghanistan are paying millions of dollars a week in "passage bribes" to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to travel along Afghan roads, a congressional investigation released Monday has found.

The payments, which are reimbursed by the U.S. government, help fund the very enemy the U.S. is attempting to defeat and renew questions about the U.S. dependence on private contractors, who outnumber American troops in Afghanistan, 130,000 to 93,000.

Even Joseph Heller couldn't have come up with this. The worse things get, the more the hawks say we have to stay. And we're actually paying private "contractors" who are paying the very enemy that they and our official military are supposed to be fighting. Millions of dollars. A week.


"This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others," wrote Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., the chairman of the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. "Not only does the system run afoul of the (Defense) Department's own rules and regulations mandated by Congress, it also appears to risk undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan."

Yeah. So it would appear. That is, if there actually were such things as a strategy and goals.

Meanwhile, Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan is done. According to The Guardian:

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has taken "extended leave", a spokesman for the British high commission in Islamabad said today. He has been replaced on a temporary basis by Karen Pierce, the Foreign Office director for South Asia and Afghanistan.

News of his sudden departure comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the 300th British fatality in Afghanistan, a widely anticipated yet grim milestone in the nine-year war.

Of course, we passed our own grim milestone, when we suffered our 1000th fatality, just last month.

Cowper-Coles, who also had Pakistan in his remit as special envoy, clashed in recent months with senior Nato and US officials over his insistence that the military-driven counter-insurgency effort was headed for failure, and that talks with the Taliban should be prioritised.

At this point, it's hard to discern the difference between being headed for failure and having already failed. Because after Bush, this war was not winnable. But it's no longer Bush's war. Tragically. On so many levels. It just goes on and on. There's no end in sight. A couple weeks back, Bob Herbert summarized:

In announcing, during a speech at West Point in December, that 30,000 additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan, President Obama said: “As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service.”

That clearly defined mission never materialized.

Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 G.I.’s have now lost their lives. If we don’t have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we’re unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we’re not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

Hebert's column was titled "The Courage To Leave." That it actually requires courage to leave a lost war should be worth considering. That we don't seem to have that courage should be, too.

The hawks won't ever make it easy for President Obama. Scolding or even firing one won't make a difference. At some point, he's going to have to confront them over the reality that they don't want to confront. The war is not winnable. It has to end.

Turkana :: 1:02 PM :: Comments (12) :: Digg It!