Thursday, December 03, 2009


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Obama: Afghanistan not lost, remains challenge

Declaring “our security is at stake,” President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night, but balanced the buildup with a pledge to an impatient nation to begin withdrawing American forces in 18 months.

In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president said his new policy was designed to “bring this war to a successful conclusion.” The troop buildup will begin almost immediately — the first Marines will be in place by Christmas — and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone.

“We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven,” Obama said in articulating U.S. military goals for a war that has dragged on for eight years. “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum. ... And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government.”


He said he was counting on Afghanistan eventually taking over its own security, and he warned, “The days of providing a blank check are over.” He said the United States would support Afghan ministries that combat corruption and “deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable.”


Okay, but how on Earth can we get Afghans to take over their "own security" while combating corruption? This was always, and still is, the problem in Iraq, which many strategists argue is a much less complicated situation than the one in Afghanistan. While I don't think everything President Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski says about global conflict is worth even listening to, he's got
some good observations about President Peace-Prize's plans for the mountainous "nation" that neither the British nor the Soviets could conquer:

Brzezinski also cautioned that it would be hypocritical and counterproductive for America to stress that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government be purged of corruption.

"Who are we to seriously be preaching [such] a crusade?" he asked. "We have a financial sector that is voraciously greedy and exploitative, to put it mildly. We have a Congress which is not immune to special interests. And we have an electoral system that is based largely on private donations which precipitate expectations of rewards. The notion of us going to the Afghans and preaching purity is comical... I think we should just quit that stuff."

Brzezinski also expressed reservations about a counter-insurgency strategy that is too reliant on bolstering national institutions, noting that there is "a very complex" mix of different ethnic and tribal groups that have historically opposed foreign or even central authorities.
Of course, Brzezinski goes on to assert that what we need to do is work more closely with local authorities, rather than with the US created national government, which seems sensible enough, until you consider that we're talking about some twenty ethnically-controlled autonomous regions. That is, Iraq is tough enough, what with Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds: Afghanistan, with seven times the number of Iraq's factions, doesn't even come close to what we in the West would consider to be a nation state. And it never has.

So what Obama's talking about is good old fashioned "nation building," but the rub here is that he wants to build a nation where one has never existed. Maybe the conservatives have gotten to me, but I'm really starting to buy into one of the Bush II platform planks from the 2000 campaign: the US should not be in the business of "nation building," especially in places where such a thing is virtually impossible.

Iraq, as a nation state, may yet succeed, but only if the US decides to tolerate a dictatorship as brutal and despotic as the one it replaced, which is no doubt happening right now. Afghanistan, however, is quite literally a Forbidden Zone. There's just nothing we can do there.

If we were really serious about ending Islamic terrorism, we'd get serious about ending our support for Muslim dictatorships, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which enrages the entire Islamic world. And we'd tell Israel to get it's shit together on Palestine, or no more billions to fund its war machine. Of course, we'd have to reevaluate the role that oil plays in the global economy, too, so I don't expect this to happen anytime soon. But it is the only way.