Monday, August 2, 2010

Obama's senseless Afghan policy

David Wood, a chief military correspondent traveling with the 1st Platoon in Afghanistan recently quoted Sgt. Eric Price in one of his dispatches as telling him, "If we go out tonight and kill some Taliban, it will make every minute of this deployment worthwhile.''

Wood went on to report that, far from combat with the Taliban, the 1st Platoon's next assignment after meeting with some local Afghan elders was to help build a retaining wall next to an irrigation ditch which could be used as a male restroom. After latrine duty, the 1st Platoon's next assignment was to help dig a well for an Afghan village.

Here lies the fundamental problem in the strategy. And why the policy will fail. The soldiers deployed to Afghanistan want to go out and kill Taliban. The American people think the job of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the only reason they are there is to defeat the Taliban. It was the Taliban who gave safe haven to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda both before the 911 attacks and after. It was the Taliban that protected Al-Qaeda and gave them land for their training camps. It was the Taliban who threw acid in the faces of 8 year old girls who defied Taliban law by going to school.

Americans see the Taliban as a violent enemy of not just the United States but of human rights and both the American people and the soldiers themselves think their job in the defense of the United States is defeat them.

The Administration on the other hand has given their stamp of approval to a strategy deploying American soldiers to build restrooms and dig wells the purpose of which is to win over the people in Afghan villages. And the problem with that is, it's the "hearts and minds" strategy tried in Vietnam and applied to Afghanistan. It failed miserably in Vietnam for a lot of logical reasons, and there is no indication it will or can be any different in Afghanistan.

There might be good reasons why the American people would support American soldiers in Afghanistan. Building retaining walls for restrooms and digging wells for Afghan villages isn't included. This is Peace Corps work, not what American soldiers should be doing in the name of national defense. But it is the major part of the Afghan strategy.

What these soldiers are doing is what American soldiers did after WWII, after the enemy was defeated when America helped rebuild Germany and Japan. During both wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, the American military defeated the enemy militarily then left.

Unfortunately, in spite of all of Obama's endless shortcomings, the reason we are still there is because the Bush Administration (Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld) blew it by ignoring Afghanistan when it mattered most, when Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were cornered in Tora Bora, when the target for America retaliating for 911 should have been Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda not Iraq. And that should never be forgotten. At one point we had the Taliban defeated. Bush diverted troops to Iraq and the Taliban made a come back which is why we are there now.

We were never there to nation build. And the hearts and minds strategy which failed in Vietnam and which Obama is embracing shows not only a lack of imagination but, as we have seen before from Obama, a lack of judgement and an ignorance of history. And one big reason for that is that domestic politics rules almost every decision Obama makes and it always blows up in everyones face.

Obama's original decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was politics not policy. Announcing the addition of 30,000 troops while at the same time announcing their withdrawal and a date for their withdrawal was a Groucho Marx "Hello, I must be going" strategy.

Giving McChrystal 30,000 more troops satisfied the right and at the same time, by announcing when they'd be leaving, Obama tried to satisfy the left and predicatably angered the right ( when you make decisions based on trying to please everyone, even people who shouldnt have to be pleased, you please no one).

Biden tried to defend the policy of announcing the withdrawal date by saying it sent a message to Karzai that the commitment was not open ended and there was a deadline. That is nonsense. Obama could have made that point privately in a phone call to Karzai. He didn't have to announce it at West Point. The purpose of the announced withdrawal date was all politics. And making decisions of this magnitude based on politics never works and always results in disaster.

One of McChrystal's biggest complaints with Obama which led to his dismissal when it was made public, was the feeling that no one at the White House was in charge, a complaint the news media, still in Obama's pocket, virtually ignored. But it was the same complaint congressional Democrats made about Obama during the healthcare fiasco when the only thing that mattered was getting a public option and Democrats complained Obama showed no leadership. And we know how that turned out.

There is only one reason to be in Afghanistan -- to defeat the Taliban to prevent Al-Qaeda from regaining a base from which to plan more attacks. Defeating the Taliban by having American soldiers build restrooms and wells is not going to work because it has never worked.

If we are not there to destroy the Taliban militarily,then the soldiers should come home and let drones carry on the attacks while letting the Taliban know if they commit any acts of terrorism we are capable of coming back and finishing the job. What Obama is doing now, and which has failed up till now,will continue to fail as it did in Vietnam.

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