Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome Back To Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus

 Besides my computer crashing and taking care of nasty business in my drug coverage caused by cutbacks in California's Medicaid bankrupt system, I was effectively muzzled by weariness yesterday to file a column on Afghanistan.

So a day late and many dollars short, I think what I began to write still holds true. Here's the first part.

 By naming Army Gen. David H. Petraeus the new military commander in Afghanistan, Barack Obama is failing to take advantage of a crisis -- his chief of staff's term -- and taking his eye of the ball -- his words during his successful presidential campaign.

"This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Obama said in public comments after he accepted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's resignation.

"As difficult as it is to lose Gen. McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security."

First of all, McChrystal's disparaging remarks of NATO, diplomats and politicians were ill advised but spoken out of a frustration for a failed mission in Afghanistan.

It is based on nation building and not national security.

And the president should review the policy he crafted with Petraeus and do what President Nixon did in Vietnam.

I can define the new policy in two words.

Back Off.

Vice President Joe Biden had it right from the beginning. Conservative columnist George Will had it right. And Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, got it right Wednesday.

That's as far as I wrote until my little world crashed.

After sleeping on it, Obama's decision to remove a mouthy, almost insubordinate general was the correct option for it preserves the concept of civilian control over our military.

To "demote" Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan was a political necessity because the former has the chops to carry out the mission and the support of Senate Republicans to confirm as easy as a slam dunk as Sen. John McCain might have said. That support extends to the far left of the Democratic Party.

Obama has chosen not to second guess his policy for the Afghan/Pakistan theater. Fair enough. His new miracle worker is Petraeus.

Lots of luck.

Let's review the Obama policy which now stands dead center of when it was launched and when the targeted pullout begins next summer.

The counterinsurgency concept is failing to win the hearts and minds of Afghans because its government remains corrupt and feeble in the provinces controlled by the Taliban. If the U.S. jerked its billions of dollars in support annually, the government would fall immediately probably into the hands of the Taliban.

Since our intelligence teams suspect only 100 or less Al-Qaeda operating in country now, we are fighting only the Taliban which in itself is fragmented on its goals, depending upon the local enclave.

So what if the Taliban retakes control. It would impose no worse conditions on women, using just one example, as the Karzai government has rendered.

Here is how Ariana Huffington on her website Oct. 19, 2009 described concerns expressed by Sen. Diane Feinstein:

"I particularly worry about women in Afghanistan," Feinstein said, "acid in the face of children, girl children who go to school, women who can't work when they're widowed, huddled on the streets, begging, women beaten and shot in stadiums, you know, Sharia law with all of its violence."
This is indeed very tragic, and I share her concern. But missing from the discussion was the fact that "Sharia law with all of its violence" has just been made the law of the land by President Karzai -- you know, our man in Kabul. The Sharia Personal Status Law, signed by Karzai, became operational in July. Among its provisions: custody rights are granted to fathers and grandfathers, women can work only with the permission of their husbands, and husbands can withhold food from wives who don't want to have sex with them. On the plus side, if a man rapes a mentally ill woman or child, he must pay a fine.
Of course, even with America standing guard, only 4% of girls in Afghanistan make it to the 10th grade, and up to 80 percent of Afghani women are subjected to domestic violence. As one of the Afghan women interviewed in Rethink Afghanistan sums up the current situation: "The cases of violence against women are more now than in the Taliban time."
So can we please put to rest the nonsensical rationalization that we're there for women's rights?

 It was Joe Biden who preferred a strategy on fewer troops, using covert special ops and CIA teams to eliminate militant leaders and call in drones to carry out the kill. He lost and as a good soldier in the Obama camp has kept his mouth shut -- a minor miracle in itself.

But, Biden to World: That is the exact policy the U.S. is using in Pakistan with some additional success by convincing the Pakistan government fighting Al-Qaeda in their country is to their benefit.

Although Adrianna Huffington wanted Biden to resign at that time in October 2009, she did link to a Newsweek cover story at the time about a Sept. 13 national security meeting at the White House.
"Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent.
Well, said, Mr. Vice President.

My favorite conservative, because he's a sports nut as I am, is George Will, the brains behind that ideology. He stirred the Afghan policy pot with this assessment in late August 2009:

[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote shortly after Obama revised his Afghan/Pakistan policy:

"If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort," writes Haas. "It is not and does not. It is not certain that doing more will achieve more. And no one should forget that doing more in Afghanistan lessens our ability to act elsewhere."

As of Wednesday, he saw nothing to change his mind.

The United States has embarked on a policy of state-building in a country with little tradition of a strong state. Making matters worse is that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption and the Taliban has the benefit of a sanctuary in Pakistan, which remains as much of a problem as it is a partner. Such a policy offers little likelihood of enduring results that would come close to justifying the enormous costs -- all at a time the United States faces a looming fiscal crisis and mounting strategic challenges in Iran and North Korea.
The president was wise to act swiftly to replace his theater commander; he should act no less decisively in reviewing the policy. The focus should be on scaling back U.S. military presence, on what more can be done to induce some Taliban leaders and troops to reject working with al-Qaeda and join the Afghan political process -- and on what is to be done to those who refuse.

And that national security thing Obama proclaims is so essential to nation-build Afghanistan?

Consider this 2009 assessment by Robert Baer, a former CIA field operative but by no means an expert in foreign policy. It was quoted in the Huffington Post column I referred to earlier:

"The notion that we're in Afghanistan to make our country safer is just complete bullshit... what it's doing is causing us greater danger, no question about it. Because the more we fight in Afghanistan, the more the conflict is pushed across the border into Pakistan, the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is that a fundamentalist government will take over the army -- and we'll have Al-Qaeda like groups with nuclear weapons."

The only tangible evidence I see in the Obama Afghan/Pakistan counterinsurgency policy that military experts assured us would happen is the kill rate of our NATO coalition troops would increase.

Right they were. June is the bloodiest month in nine years in Afghanistan. With a week remaining, the death toll is 76 total forces, including 46 Americans.

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