Green Room

Keeping to the President’s Right on Afghanistan

posted at 2:49 pm on September 7, 2009 by

In an open letter signed by a broad swath of conservatives and fellow travelers – from old warhorses like Robert McFarlane to younger ones like Sarah Palin – the non-isolationist right lays out a unity position on the war in Afghanistan, with an eye to requests for more troops expected soon from Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Unlike George Will and other war skeptics across the political spectrum, the members of this Afghanistan victory caucus intend to 1) stay to the President’s right, and 2) stick close to the generals – a key paragraph:

Mr. President, you have put in place the military leadership and sent the initial resources required to begin bringing this war to a successful conclusion. The military leadership has devised a strategy that will reverse the errors of previous years, free Afghans from the chains of tyranny, and keep America safe. We call on you to fully resource this effort, do everything possible to minimize the risk of failure, and to devote the necessary time to explain, soberly and comprehensively, to the American people the stakes in Afghanistan, the route to success, and the cost of defeat.

The letter is unqualified in its support for the President’s Afghanistan decisions, up until now, but lays out a basis for potential future criticism, even separation. If Obama fails to display greater public leadership (“devote the necessary time to explain…”), if he gives in to any significant extent to those who have already turned on the war and are calling for withdrawal timetables or even immediate pullout, and if the situation in Afghanistan and beyond begins to deteriorate, support of this type could quickly turn into fierce opposition.

An early turning point could be a decision by the President to give McChrystal less than he says he needs. In comments otherwise highly supportive of the Administration’s war policies, Senator McCain also recently warned against splitting the difference – reflexively choosing the middle rather than the best option for matching resources to tasks. Yet every deployment or appropriation beyond what has already been committed will increase pressure in the other direction from the left, the isolationist/defeatist right, and a war-weary, domestically focused public. It’s widely believed that such pressure has already been building within the White House – as McCain put it, “not from the President but from people around him.”

The dangers for the President are obvious, but whether there will be much political profit for conservatives in this kind of positioning, now or later, will depend on unpredictable factors. At the very least, however, it enables the right to maintain consistency both on the Conflict Formerly Known as the War on Terror, and on long-standing commitments to win the battles we fight, support the troops in the field, and provide the widest possible latitude to military professionals in adapting means to ends.

cross-posted at Zombie Contentions

Recently in the Green Room:

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Cross-posted from another entry on this site:

Here is my issue with Afghanistan …

What makes our situation different from the Russians? Let’s take the partisan bickery out of this debate for a minute and focus on the actual situation.

We have been fighting there for about eight years now. Why are we not winning?

Is truely just increasing troop levels going to do the trick?

How do we avoid a repeat of Russia’s fate in that region?

In Iraq, at least they weren’t in tribal rule. Saddam was brutal but there was a State. In Afghanistan there is little more than loose tribes that are connected more by basic needs than a cohesive government.

I just don’t see how simply boosting resources and manpower is going to do the trick. This shit seems like it will take decades.

And with that, I don’t see how anyone (democrates, republicans, etc.) can stomach a never-ending conflict.

ckoeber on September 7, 2009 at 9:06 PM

CK Macleod,
I used to read your comments over at Commentary blog – you posted great stuff there and continue to do so here.

I dont think this is merely a question of troops – the US is now fighting the war with one hand tied to its back – it’s so called ally in this war theater is actually a haven for terrorists and has a military jihadi complex who are plainly in bed with the enemy. They do not want to fight the Taliban/AlQaeda because they are natural allies of Pakistan military and state establishment.

Also Pakistan wants Aghanistan to be its client state and wants the Taliban to go back to being the power that it was pre-9/11. It has played an effective double game – the US knows that but cannot do much about it. Not when its supply lines run through Pakistan.

After 7 years of war, one has to ask WHAT EXACTLY has been going on in there ? How did the Taliban even manage to re-surface after they were supposed to have been defeated ?

I think what needs to happen right now is that the President needs to level with the public. The chances of “success” are close to NIL with the current strategy of fighting only in Afghanistan and drone attacks on Pakistan.

This is truly sad. The US knows why exactly it is losing the war – and is unable to do anything about it. And good men are dying for this charade.

nagee76 on September 7, 2009 at 9:14 PM

What makes our situation different from the Russians? Let’s take the partisan bickery out of this debate for a minute and focus on the actual situation.

We have been fighting there for about eight years now. Why are we not winning?

I just don’t see how simply boosting resources and manpower is going to do the trick. This shit seems like it will take decades.

And with that, I don’t see how anyone (democrates, republicans, etc.) can stomach a never-ending conflict.

ckoeber on September 7, 2009 at 9:06 PM

Our belief systems, Islam’s and the West’s, are so diametrically opposed that our interests cannot intersect. Left and Right in this country, however, scrub this truth and its centuries of confirming history from all policy — an antiseptic way to view conflict in the world that will always miss the cure by ignoring the germs. – Diana West

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 9:16 PM

Also Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be its client state and wants the Taliban to go back to being the power that it was pre-9/11. It has played an effective double game – the US knows that but cannot do much about it. Not when its supply lines run through Pakistan.

nagee76 on September 7, 2009 at 9:14 PM

Quick facts: Pakistan’s army’s motto is “Faith, piety and holy war in the path of Allah.” Seventy-eight percent of its people, the latest Pew Poll tells us, support the death penalty for leaving Islam. Not exactly our ideal match.
- Diana West

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 9:22 PM

I say we surge in Afghanistan with a hundred thousand feminists. If they could destroy traditional America, surely they could have the same effect there.

Connie on September 7, 2009 at 9:23 PM

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 9:22 PM

We are not talking about an ideal match – we are talking about keeping Iraq and Afghanistan from returning to Islamic extremism and becoming terrorist training grounds again.

At worst – Afghanistan and Iraq represent a “meat grinder” into which Islamo Fascists pour their resources into with little return on investment. At the very worst – we’re keeping them busy with our trained soldiers **THERE** so they are unable to launch attacks on our kids in kindergarten **HERE**. The advantage of this cannot be denied.

At best – Afghanistan and Iraq could become become examples of benign Islam in the middle east. There HAS BEEN success in Iraq and many say this success has spilled over into Iran. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani – based in Iraq, had been silenced by Sadaam and his teachings had no impact on Iraq or Iran. Now that Sadaam is gone – Sistani’s teachings are now having an impact and may point the way to a more civilized, democratic, and responsible Iran.

There is no denying that leaving Vietnam was a disaster for the Vietnamese.

There is no denying that REFUSING to leave Korea was a godsend to the South Korean people who have become a beacon of hope and economic prosperity while their siblings to the North have lived as Serfs. Had we abandoned Korea – the entire peninsula would be as dark as North Korea is now.

Sometimes winning means just sticking it out.

We lost 4,800 men on the beaches of Normandy in one day. We have not lost that number in Iraq yet – for what? Six years of effort? I hate to lose soldiers but they are enthusiastic about this mission and want to see it to completion.

No quitters.

HondaV65 on September 7, 2009 at 9:34 PM

I just don’t see how simply boosting resources and manpower is going to do the trick. This shit seems like it will take decades.

And with that, I don’t see how anyone (democrates, republicans, etc.) can stomach a never-ending conflict.

ckoeber on September 7, 2009 at 9:06 PM

All we have to do is drive the Taliban to the southeast, and Iran to the southwest, and keep them from re-entry while Afghanistan builds its own army. Not much different than Iraq, except in Iraq, we only had to keep the Iranians out.

Vashta.Nerada on September 7, 2009 at 9:38 PM

Vashta.Nerada on September 7, 2009 at 9:38 PM

BTW, everyone keeps forgetting the important fact that having troops in Iraq and Afghanistan keeps our real enemy in the region surrounded.

Vashta.Nerada on September 7, 2009 at 9:39 PM

MB4,
I am Indian and am pretty well aware of what Pakistan is – it is and always has been an Islamic fundamentalist state that is based on Islamist supremacy.

Pakistan in Urudu translates into ” Land of the Pure” as in the land that is cleansed of Hindus, Sikhs who by the way the are the original sons of the soil.

Zia-ul-Haq (remember him ?) formalized the Islamization of their military and with the Afghan war in the 80′s made jihadi terrorism an official instrument of Paki state policy – with the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI for short) carrying that policy out.

Along with Saudi help and US indifference they established Taliban rule in the 90′s after the Cold war was over.. their strategic interests STILL remain.

9/11 changed that for a while – but we are going back to the pre 9/11 days unless a miracle happens.

nagee76 on September 7, 2009 at 9:41 PM

Sometimes winning means just sticking it out.

Well, what exactly is winning here ? Karzai just agreed to a Sharia based law in Afghanistan that would give men the right to rape their wives if they did not accede to their sexual requests..

http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2009/04/02/sharia-for-shias-legalised-rape.html

If winning means not giving enemy control of Kabul ( they already have control of remaining parts of Afghanistan), let the President come out and say iy.

If sticking it out means Doing Nothing about Pakistan providing safe havens to terrorists save the occasional drone attacks which kill terrorist leaders, how long will this sticking it out policy remain in place ? at what costs?

If winning means waiting till the Afghan Army picks up the slack, what is the estimate of how long this will take ?

Please define victory and its time estimates – after doing so ask for American people’s support – no chickening out as you ppl did in Iraq – initially 60% supported it and then many of the same ppl turned against it.

nagee76 on September 7, 2009 at 9:51 PM

I may do a follow-up post (maybe two, three, many follow-ups!), but I’ll say here in reply to some of the Afghanistan-skeptics: I share your concerns, but for now I don’t see a viable alternative other than “keep to the president’s right” + “stick close to the generals.”

There has been much written elsewhere on the mission and why the generals and civilian experts believe it’s doable – as a surge/bridge to adequately self-policing Afghan and Pakistani states (we’re state-building, more than nation-building). Even if the likes of Fred Kagan and David Petraeus are wrong, however, that doesn’t lead inevitably to the conclusion that the current policy is worse than the alternatives. Even if we are destined for Vietnam-level failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq, there would be strategic justification for holding them as long as practicable, for bleeding our main enemies as long as possible, and for setting the absolute justification for as yet undeveloped follow-on strategies.

In the meantime, it’s politically impossible, and in my view could be very destructive, for the President, the conservative right, and the military establishment suddenly to reverse themselves. Time and events may set them all at each other’s throats anyway – with the left joining in, of course – but we’re not there yet.

CK MacLeod on September 7, 2009 at 10:15 PM

No quitters.

HondaV65 on September 7, 2009 at 9:34 PM

One must be as a lion to frighten off wolves, but as a fox to recognize traps.
- Niccolo Machiavelli

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 11:44 PM

There has been much written elsewhere on the mission and why the generals and civilian experts believe it’s doable

CK MacLeod on September 7, 2009 at 10:15 PM

Generals who don’t tell a President what he wants to hear usually don’t stay in high positions for very long.

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 11:49 PM

“An hour after General Cody’s talk at Fort Knox, several captains met to discuss the issue over beers. Capt. Garrett Cathcart, who has served in Iraq as a platoon leader, said: “The culture of the Army is to accomplish the mission, no matter what. That’s a good thing.” Matt Wignall, who was the first captain to ask General Cody about the Yingling article, agreed that a mission-oriented culture was “a good thing, but it can be dangerous.” He added: “It is so rare to hear someone in the Army say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But sometimes it takes courage to say, ‘I don’t have the capability.’ ” Before the Iraq war, when Rumsfeld overrode the initial plans of the senior officers, “somebody should have put his foot down,” Wignall said.”
“When McMaster’s book was published in 1997, Gen. Hugh Shelton, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered all commanders to read it — and to express disagreements to their superiors, even at personal risk. Since then, “Dereliction of Duty” has been recommended reading for Army officers.”
- Fred Kaplan

It’s stunning. Go get Dereliction of Duty, a blistering and scholarly expose.
- Rush Limbaugh

Red hot. Brilliantly shows how the American people were conned.
- Col Davis Hackworth U.S. Army (retired)

If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, then H.R. McMaster has done the Pentagon and the nation a favor. He has good advise for readers, especially high ranking military ones. Like all good history books, it unlocks the past and guides an understanding of the present.
- Ernest Blazar

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 11:52 PM

Afghanistan can be defended easier as ‘the good fight’ as we were attacked on our own soil from plans made there. They have no oil or other critical resources for us to ‘plunder’.There is better multinational support for this war. Pakistan is now much more active in denying the terrorists places of retreat and training in their country. Finally, the people of Iran are pretty fed up with their current regime; while a western style democracy is not the likely outcome of a revolt there it would still be a vast improvement over the status quo. Our actions in two surrounding countries must give them some hope of success.

For these reasons we should persist in Afghanistan for at least a couple more years. If more troops are recommended, that decision should be supported. Yes I have skin in this game as an adopted son & a friend are in Iraq right now.

GnuBreed on September 8, 2009 at 12:12 AM

Generals who don’t tell a President what he wants to hear usually don’t stay in high positions for very long.

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 11:49 PM

In this particular case, these generals have much more credibility than this president. Popular dissatisfaction with the course of the war might allow Obama to overrule the generals, but he and his party would completely “own” every bad thing that happened everywhere in the world from that point to the end of time or until, likely somewhat sooner, a shift in popular passions.

For now, the very last thing Bamster wants, if he’s sane, and isn’t really some fiendish revolutionary Samson aiming to bring the whole temple down, is to risk a breach with Gen. David Petraeus – and then take possession of a retreat under fire in what was portrayed as an unnecessary loss. As for Petraeus, my reading of him is that he’s not about to sacrifice his credibility and his soldiers in order to keep his chair warm and provide cover for Barack H Obama. I could be wrong, but that’s my take on him.

CK MacLeod on September 8, 2009 at 12:26 AM

One must be as a lion to frighten off wolves, but as a fox to recognize traps.
- Niccolo Machiavelli

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 11:44 PM

Nicolló Machiavelli was an asshole.
- Walter Slovotsky

MikeZero on September 8, 2009 at 1:13 AM

For now, the very last thing Bamster wants, if he’s sane, and isn’t really some fiendish revolutionary Samson aiming to bring the whole temple down, is to risk a breach with Gen. David Petraeus – and then take possession of a retreat under fire in what was portrayed as an unnecessary loss

CK MacLeod on September 8, 2009 at 12:26 AM

Well, that’s the gist of the issue, isn’t it?

Fletch54 on September 8, 2009 at 6:15 AM

Our belief systems, Islam’s and the West’s, are so diametrically opposed that our interests cannot intersect. Left and Right in this country, however, scrub this truth and its centuries of confirming history from all policy — an antiseptic way to view conflict in the world that will always miss the cure by ignoring the germs. – Diana West

MB4 on September 7, 2009 at 9:16 PM

I find it interesting that you would quote someone who is against the current surge, as evident by her recent blog entries.

In any case, my opinion is that while our original reason for being there is noble our approach is wrong. I just don’t see how replicating what the Russians did with massive troop deployments is going to be any different this time around.

Iraq, as mentioned before, is far different.

ckoeber on September 8, 2009 at 8:25 AM

ckoeber asked this question:

…What makes our situation different from the Russians? Let’s take the partisan bickery out of this debate for a minute and focus on the actual situation?…”

I think I can answer that by repeating to you the words of the Afghan Area Commander spoken to me at Herat, Afghanistan in December of 2001.

“We are so glad to see you Americans. The Russians destroy but you Americans will build.”

MB4 cites Diana West from Jewish World Review:

“…This assumption, based in the fallacy that U.S. forces are simply fighting an army called “the Taliban,” rather than struggling with a culture called Islam shared by enemy and civilian alike…An infidel nation can indeed fight for the soul of an Islamic nation. It just can’t win it…”

That cuts right to the heart of the matter. What are trying to accomplish? Our original goal was to overthrow the Taliban Government complicit in the Al Qaeda attack on 9/11. We did that. Then we decided to stay until a representative government was installed. We did that. What is the goal now? Is it to turn Afghanistan into a clone of Nebraska? Sorry, no can do.

I’ve been to Afghanistan. I like the people. I’d be happy to stay there for a thousand years if I thought we’d be doing any good. But what is unclear at the moment is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.

potkas7 on September 8, 2009 at 9:39 AM

But what is unclear at the moment is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.

potkas7 on September 8, 2009 at 9:39 AM

I don’t think it’s very complicated conceptually: Build a professional army large enough and well enough trained and equipped to protect the state and enforce its writ, in particular against non-state actors (Al Qaeda), revolutionary movements (Taliban), and foreign meddlers. Unlike the Soviets, we have support in this effort from a majority of Afghans as well as from the international community. It also helps that we’re not trying to impose a Communist system (though that was only one of the Soviets’ problems). All we’re really trying to do, and in fact are compelled to do as the main sponsor and main beneficiary of the global system we established and began promoting in earnest 60-some years ago, is bring Afghanistan (and Pakistan) up from failed state to minimally responsible state.

Contrary to ahistorical claims, this model has worked well enough in numerous countries around the world, including grindingly poor and extremely backward ones, as well as advanced ones, under dictatorships and democracies, Islamic, Christian, and other, with and without active revolutionary insurgencies. The benefit for us is an independent Afghanistan that won’t harbor terrorists and won’t destabilize Pakistan, and that will advance the cause against Islamo-fascism. It doesn’t win the whole war, but the alternative is to take a big step backward, now.

CK MacLeod on September 8, 2009 at 10:26 AM

CK MacLeod wrote:

“…I don’t think it’s very complicated conceptually: Build a professional army large enough and well enough trained and equipped to protect the state and enforce its writ, in particular against non-state actors (Al Qaeda), revolutionary movements (Taliban), and foreign meddlers…”

I think we run into difficulty when we try to define the Afghan “State.” It’s really a collection of tribes – Uzbek, Tajik, Pashtun, Hazara and a few more. Yes, the army is a good way to keep young, unemployed men out of mischief and, if body-count is your metric, we’ll easily roll up the biggest score. But simply creating an Army doesn’t over-ride tribal realities and ethnic divisions. And don’t forget this: the Taliban is not an outside revolutionary force. EVERY member of the Afghan Army shares their core beliefs – a strict and conservative confession of Islam.

Lee Kwan Yew – the man who created Singapore from scratch – has suggested that peace will not be forthcoming until we find a way to co-opt the Warlords, even if that means making a deal that allows them autonomy in their districts. He’s probably right.

“Islamo-Fascism” has no meaning outside of the US. The people of Afghanistan are “Islamo” to begin with and “Fascist” is one of those words that has lost its meaning in contemporary discourse. I think Jonah Goldberg has shown that not one in a hundred people has any idea of what the term actually means.

General Petraeus is on the right track when he says we have to take into account the historical and cultural realities of the places we operate. Our cultural ignorance certainly worked against us in Somalia. But if there is one lesson to be learned as a legacy of Viet Nam it is that we can only HELP a people build up their country, in conformity to their wishes and hopes. We can’t do it FOR them substituting our values for theirs.

As I said before, I’ve been to Afghanistan. I very much want the Afghans to succeed and to live in peace and prosperity. I am not against devoting whatever resources it takes to help them. But, at the moment, I cannot hep but feel we’re drifting off course.

potkas7 on September 8, 2009 at 11:32 AM

potkas7 – as far as our interests are concerned, the religious beliefs and character of the Afghan state and its constituents are secondary. If the army is big enough and efficient enough to prevent potential competitors from hijacking the state or carving out precincts from which international non-state forces export terror and revolution, then our interests will have been served. The adequately secured state will have multiple overlapping survival interests in fulfilling that basic requirement.

As for the specifics of what we’re attempting to do in Afghanistan, I leave that to the experts. In general terms, as I said earlier, there’s plenty of precedent for that formula working well enough. If it can’t work for some reason any longer, then it’s worth finding out for sure, because the measures that we would presumably be forced to resort to would make the entire War on Terror to this point look like a fender bender.

CK MacLeod on September 8, 2009 at 12:40 PM

The only “outs” I would give myself and all conservatives in supporting the President’s effort are:

1) if Attorney General Holder or other forces in the administration go beyond their authority to investigate particular irresponsible criminal actions and pursue actions and policies that put our intelligence assets at risk.
This would include a politicized investigation of the CIA or capitulation to radical legal efforts. Releases of information not only endanger the ongoing viability of our own intelligence operations, but would quickly bring to a crawl any cooperation of international intelligence from both our Western partners and from those nations in the region.
This would not only put our agents and their contacts in an impossible situation, but make the prior sacrifices and further sacrifices of our troops meaningless and most certainly put them at greater danger

2) One theme of Obama and other Democrats is that the Bush administration “took our eye” off the Afghanistan situation with Iraq.
Even if that point is taken, American foreign policy even within one region is never about one thing only. And so Obama could do what he accuses Bush of, with even more dire consequences if he ignores the malignant perspective and intentions of the current leadership of Iran.
Iran’s role in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and thruout the Islamic world) in providing aid and comfort to our enemies, both Shia and Sunni, is proven and ongoing. It must not be allowed to increase, nor can it be ignored even as we seek a resolution to Iran’s other standoffs with world councils.

robertb on September 8, 2009 at 6:10 PM

As Mr. Cordesman noted, the Bush administration “blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid. It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear … that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did tolerate al-Qaida and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.”

President Obama didn’t create the mess. But we’re still pretending that Hamid Karzai is competent, that Pakistan is friendly and that NATO troops (other than the Brits, Canadians and Aussies) are useful. And Mr. Obama has imposed new, restrictive rules of engagement that are more likely to get our troops killed than the enemy.

I share the view of my friend Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer, that Afghanistan is rapidly becoming Vietnam redux:

“The core reason we failed in Vietnam was our largesse. We poured in so much wealth that we corrupted the Vietnamese leadership, from presidents down to battlefield commanders.”

To continue on as we have in Afghanistan will be to suffer defeat at maximum possible cost, as we did in Vietnam. To win, we must either do counterinsurgency right, as we eventually did in Iraq, or shift our focus to killing the enemy. We can “win” in Afghanistan if we deny the Taliban control of the population centers, which is a lot easier and cheaper to do than trying to turn it into a Western-style democracy.

Lt. Col. Peters recommends reducing our forces by two-thirds, abandoning all but Bagram Air Force Base and a few satellite bases from which special forces, aircraft and drones would strike at the terrorists.

“Stop pretending Afghanistan’s a real state,” he said. “Freeze development efforts. Ignore the opium. Kill the fanatics.”

I agree. I hope the president does.

- Jack Kelly

MB4 on September 9, 2009 at 12:15 AM