Spinney and Buchanan on Afghanistan
With most in the nation showing less and less support for the war in Afghanistan and with no one in Congress showing any glimmer of leadership that reflects the national sentiment, the national security elite in Washington has reduced the debate about Afghanistan to two options: escalate the war with more US ground combat forces or escalate the war with more bombing from drones in neighboring Pakistan.
While I am oversimplifying, it nonetheless seems correct that President Obama has limited himself to one of these two unhappy options, or an equally unpromising middle-ground between the two. He is being boxed in by a US military leadership determined to have its own way and by political advice primarily focused on the appearance of being strong on national security - but without the substance.
Retired Pentagon insider Chuck Spinney has written an introduction to a commentary at Antiwar.com by pundit Pat Buchanan. Taken together, these two short pieces define the current boundaries of the narrow, unhappy debate.
These two pieces follow:
From: Chuck Spinney
Sent: Wednesday, October 07, 2009 10:49 AM
Subject: Groupthinking Apparat Moves to Finish Off Obama
Groupthinking Apparat Moves to Finish Off Obama
The attached article, "Generals Open New Front in Washington," by Pat Buchanan describes how the time honored practice of Versailles Groupthink is now closing in to circumscribe President Obama's strategic options in Afghanistan and Pakistan, much as it did to Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam.
Note how the "strategic" options for Afghanistan are boiling down to a consensus view of an either/or decision. Either a large escalation of US ground forces or an escalation of destabilizing Predator attacks, particularly in Pakistan, or a compromise on some combination of the two. In all cases, there will be a large increase in the size of the Afghan Army. That questionable enterprise is taken as a given by the emerging consensus view. If Buchanan is right about this either/or choice ... Obama is being set up big time by advisors, because, as near as I can tell, Obama has no access to outside or dissenting views. There is no third or fourth way, because there is no one in the role of George Ball to just say no (who LBJ ignored much to his chagrin), and there is no one on Capital Hill with political or military smarts or the stature to shape a third, more practical alternative.
Obama’s strategic review, therefore, has all the ingredients for a disaster, and if it plays out like Buchanan implies it will, nothing can save Obama or, what is more important, the U.S. from a horrendous humiliation with enormous economic as well as political ramifications. Consider please the following:
The Afghan Army currently stands at 90,000 soldiers, and it already costs $8 billion per year. The current approved plan is to increase it to 134,000, which will increase its budget further. The Afghan GDP is about $11 billion per year. Quickly expanding the Army to 240,000 under the MacChrystal plan virtually guarantees that the Afghan army will cost more than the Afghan GDP. Moreover, as I indicated here, there are serious questions about the effectiveness of this Army, and MacChrystal's plan does not even acknowledge, much less analyze the impact of these questions. Finally, almost tripling the size of even a super effective, highly educated military organization in a short time guarantees a reduction in soldierly quality. This effect will be magnified greatly in an army having the kind of problems that exist in the Afghan Army (corruption, illiteracy, tribal and clan loyalties, etc.).
So in terms of practical economics, the Afghan government and Afghan Army can never stand on their own feet, even if they clean up the massive corruption and incompetence, which is most unlikely. Both will remain heavily dependent on continuing US monetary aid and a US military presence, possibly including US military reinforcements, for as far as the eye can see. Add in the political-economic effect of an escalation of US forces by as much 40,000 troops, together with the virtual certainty that the escalation will be perceived as an intensifying occupation by a majority of the Pashtuns (who comprise 40% of the population and almost all of the Taliban), and the bottom line becomes inescapable: Neither groupthink option being served up to Obama has even a fig leaf of a formula for the stabilization of an independent Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.
Since there can be no light at the end of the tunnel under either option, the logical implication is that American forces and political-military aid must stay in place indefinitely. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that Obama’s strategists can not define an end state that permits a reasonable definition of a successful exit strategy -- a fact that is now in the open. Last August 13, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a card carrying member of the Versailles apparat, said as much, when asked about the nature of victory in Afghanistan, by answering glibly, "we'll know it when we see it."
Holbrooke's hogwash was tantamount to admitting we don't know what we are doing, and that we either stay in Afghanistan forever (which is impossible) or until events overwhelm us, and we are forced to leave in a panic against a background of a compete collapse. That is the real choice the groupthinkers like MacChrystal, Clinton, Jones, Holbrooke, Biden, et al, have served up to Obama.
Generals Open New Front in Washington
Posted By Patrick J. Buchanan
October 5, 2009
The Pentagon’s preemptive strike came with the leak of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s confidential review of the Afghan war to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.
McChrystal’s painting of the military picture was grim.
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) – while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
If I don’t get the troops to reverse the Taliban gains, said McChrystal, we face “mission failure.” A Saigon ending to the Afghan war. Word was quickly out that McChrystal wanted 40,000 troops, to bring U.S. force levels to 110,000 and coalition forces to 140,000.
Last week, a three-hour review was held at the White House. McChrystal participated by teleconference. His strategy – fight a counterinsurgency against the Taliban by taking and holding population centers, protecting the Afghan people and building up Kabul’s army, economy, and government – was challenged.
Among those urging a smaller U.S. footprint and a strategic shift from fighting the Taliban to killing al-Qaeda in Pakistan with drone and Special Forces strikes was Joe Biden.
McChrystal answered Biden in a speech and Q-and-A session in London, all but saying Joe ought to stick to the rubber-chicken circuit and leave war to the warriors. A “counter-terrorist focus” like the Biden strategy, said McChrystal, would lead straight to “Chaos-istan.”
Would he support it?
“The short answer is no,” said McChrystal. “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support” – a shot at what critics are calling Obama’s dithering in deciding on McChrystal’s troop request.
Obama, said to be “furious,” called McChrystal to Copenhagen for a 25-minute face-to-face on Air Force One.
Yet McChrystal is now quoted in Newsweek about any half measures to reverse a deteriorating situation. “You can’t hope to contain the fire by letting just half the building burn.”
Sunday, National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said of the McChrystal-Obama meeting, “I am sure they exchanged direct views.”
Jones went on to suggest McChrystal’s recommendations were merely the general’s “own opinion” of “what he thinks his role within that strategy is.” Other factors must go into the final decisions on strategy and force levels. Among them, said Jones, is the election debacle in Kabul that made Tehran’s vote look like Iowa.
Jones tossed ice water on McChrystal’s urgency. Afghanistan is “in no imminent danger of falling to the Taliban,” and al-Qaeda has “less than 100″ fighters in the country, “no bases, no buildings to launch attacks either on us or our allies.”
As for McChrystal’s public campaign, said Jones, “It’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”
Concentrating the minds of all on Sunday was news that 10 U.S. soldiers were killed, two by an Afghan soldier, eight when their remote outpost near Pakistan was attacked by hundreds of Taliban.
As Obama approaches the pivotal decision of his presidency, here is where the major players seem to be lining up.
McChrystal believes so strongly in the need for 40,000 troops he could resign his command if denied them. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen seems to be in the McChrystal camp.
Gen. David Petraeus, regional commander for Afghanistan and Iraq, has yet to commit himself. But as architect of the surge in Iraq, he would seem to support McChrystal. What Petraeus will do, if the McChrystal request is denied, is the big question in Washington. For Petraeus reportedly sees himself as a presidential candidate.
From her own words, Hillary is with McChrystal: “Some people say, well, al-Qaeda’s no longer in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan were taken over by the Taliban, I can’t tell you how fast al-Qaeda would be back in Afghanistan.”
This challenges what Gen. Jones said Sunday when he minimized the al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan and the Taliban threat to Kabul.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be a key player. It was he who relieved Gen. David McKiernan of his command in May, saying we need “fresh thinking,” and turned Afghanistan over to McChrystal, whom he described as a soldier who shared the perspective of Petraeus. Can Gates come down against the general he appointed only months ago?
Yet Biden is not alone. Jones is receptive to his views, as are a majority of Obama’s party on the Hill, as are White House aides who see Afghanistan as Obama’s Vietnam, as is most of the nation.
Obama is thus being told by the McChrystal camp: If you do not send the 40,000, you lose the war and the presidency. He is being told by the Biden camp: If you send the 40,000, Afghanistan will be your Vietnam; you will not win it by 2012; and you will lose the presidency.
Look for Obama, not a natural Decider, to split the difference and send a few thousand U.S. troops to train the Afghan army.
Winslow T. Wheeler
Straus Military Reform Project
Center for Defense Information