Sunday, September 6, 2009

Whither to Afghanistan?

“There’s nothing to win there. . . . What do you get for it? What’s the return?"

George Will’s recent column, “In Afghanistan, Knowing When to Stop” (September 1, 2009) has drawn quite a lot of heat from fellow conservatives, such as Bill Kristol, who wrote: “Will is urging retreat, and accepting defeat.” With very little NATO support our troops slog on there, in a rather hopeless attempt at nation-building, according to Will: “The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.” After all, we won the war there, what else could we be doing? Will wonders: “Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one.” As David Harsanyi has said, in support of Will, “Or is victory achieved when we finally usher this primitive tribal culture, with its violent warlords and religious extremism, from the eighth century all the way to modernity? If so, we’re on course for a centuries-long enterprise of nation building and baby-sitting, not a war. The war was won in 2002.” Haven’t we learned anything from the failed Soviet attempt to control this tribal culture on some of the most inhospitable terrain imaginable? Will wasn’t the first conservative to raise the issue of whether or not we had overstayed our rationale for being in Afghanistan. Diana West wrote in, “Let Afghanistan Go,” on April 23, 2009:

This is not to suggest that there is no war or enemies to fight, . . . there most certainly are. But sinking all possible men, materiel and bureaucracy into Afghanistan, as the Obama people and most conservatives favor, to try to bring a corrupt Islamic culture into working modernity while simultaneously fighting Taliban and wading deep into treacherous Pakistani wars is no way to victory — at least not to U.S. victory. On the contrary, it is the best way to bleed and further degrade U.S. military capabilities. Indeed, if I were a jihad chieftain, I couldn’t imagine a better strategy than to entrap tens of thousands of America’s very best young men in an open-ended war of mortal hide-and-seek in the North West Frontier.

West, by the way is an outspoken critic about the dangers of Islamic jihadism, so she’s definitely not a pacifist or defeatist. West interview retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely who said: “There’s nothing to win there. . . . What do you get for it? What’s the return? Well, the return’s all negative for the United States.” Vallely went on to recommend a strategy of the using...

“The maximum use of unconventional forces,” such as Navy SEALS and other special forces, who can be deployed as needed from what are known in military parlance as “lily pads” — outposts or jumping-off points in friendly countries (Israel, Northern Kurdistan, India, Philippines, Italy, Djibouti … ) and from U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups.’ Such strike groups generally include eight to 10 vessels “with more fire power,” the general noted, “than most nations.” These lily pads become “bases we can launch from any time we want to,” eliminating the need for massive land bases such as Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, by now a small city of 20,000 American personnel who continuously need to be supplied and secured at enormous expense.

“There’s no permanent force,” the general said. “That’s the beauty of it.” We watch, we wait and when U.S. interests are threatened, “we basically use our strike forces to take them out, target by target.” This would work whether the threat came from Al Qaeda, Pakistani nukes or anything else.

He continued: “This idea that we’re going to go in and bring democracy to these tribal cultures isn’t going to work. If we have a problem with terrorist countries, like Iran, it’s a lot cheaper to go in and hit them and get back out.”

In other words, don’t give up the battle; just give up the nation-building. “It’s up to somebody else to build nations,” the general said. “Not us.”

While, like most Americans, I was in favor of invading Afghanistan after 9/11, it might be time to reassess our strategy there, and in the rest of the Middle East. American capabilities have been badly wounded by the financial collapse and we don’t seem to be learning from history: Most great empires (including reluctant empires like the USA) collapse after overextending themselves militarily, like Rome and Great Britain, and by living off past productivity and going into debt. While I thought the Iraq War was a strategic mistake, things change. Iraq seems like a more feasible location for any hubris of nation-building. Maybe


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