Afghanistan: Will There Be a Debate?

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afghan war taliban.jpg
The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung has posted a story titled “Obama Envisions No Major Changes in Afghan Strategy.”
DeYoung writes:

Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public, the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.
This resolve arises amid a flurry of reports from outside experts and former officials who are convinced that the administration’s path in Afghanistan is unsustainable and its objectives are unclear. Lawmakers from both parties are insisting that they be given a bigger say in assessing the war’s trajectory.
The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year, with the approach of a July deadline President Obama has set for decisions on troop withdrawals and the beginning of the 2012 electoral season.

I don’t doubt that DeYoung, a top-connected correspondent, had a key White Official convey to her the message that no change was ahead as some in the national security establishment would like to puncture early a growing bubble of criticism of the Afghanistan War, the conduct of it, and the war’s objectives.
But similarly well-placed national security officials on the Obama team have told me that “a debate is coming.” They believe that the December review of the current strategy will be a serious exercise and that President Obama is not one to just stick to a course if it isn’t working. We’ll see.
DeYoung herself depicts growing tensions beyond a facade of resolve and current Afghanistan commitments. She writes:

Beneath the administration’s outward calm, nerves have been frayed this summer by the slow pace of military operations and paucity of uncontested gains against Taliban forces. Reports of Afghan government corruption have been unrelenting, as has the climb in U.S. casualties. Troop deaths have more than doubled since Obama took office – more than 330 this year by early September – along with the size of the U.S. force.
At a Monday meeting with his senior national security advisers, Obama displayed “particularly acute impatience” at “really astounding” casualty figures that are far higher than what was anticipated at the beginning of the year, the senior official said.
The near-collapse of the country’s leading bank and President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to stop U.S.-backed prosecutions of allegedly corrupt senior Afghan officials have overshadowed what the administration sees as signs of progress, the official said. Not only have the controversies opened the door to congressional efforts to condition funding, “you can’t fit them into a story that explains to the American people why we’re on a path to fulfill our goals,” the senior official said.

A recent senior White House official recently went out of his/her way to convey to me that President Obama was not the kind of person to allow himself to be cornered by the military into a bad or ineffective course of action. This person said the President was not cowed by the military and the December review would assemble all the key voices for a genuine review.
The person speaking with Karen DeYoung — and I can guess who it was — is engaged in posturing and is “negotiating” in advance. I understand that.
But the White House must be very careful of sending the signal that the December review is fake and the cards are stacked in advance. That would be a terrible loss for the country and this government.
There will be an Afghanistan War debate in December, if not inside the White House — then pounding on the door.
For those wanting to see one corner of this debate — though there are many more participaints in this debate coming forward every day with their own proposals and critiques — read the Afghanistan Study Group Report.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

30 comments on “Afghanistan: Will There Be a Debate?

  1. ThumsHesBum says:

    Good point, though sometimes it’s hard to arrive to definite conclusions

    Reply

  2. The Pessimist says:

    Oil. Gas. Pipelines. Military bases. Money. Protecting Wall Street profits. That’s what it’s all about.
    The only way to effect a change in the behavior of the national Democrats is to vote Republican.
    Without a viable third party we are perpetually stuck with the lesser of two evils, and they are both equally evil. So, let’s just swap them ALL out every two, four and six years.

    Reply

  3. JohnH says:

    “Absolutely Pakistan is important.” Um–kind of like the old Irish saying: “Is this a private fight or can anybody join in?”
    Well, the US doesn’t bother to ask the question, but then inserts itself into other people’s affairs, trying to find a way to make itself “indispensable” in the poorest, most remote corners of the globe.
    Obviously, this is nothing more than the military trying to justify it existence and its bloated budgets.

    Reply

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Absolutely Pakistan is important. I hit on one aspect of it above, which is the Pakistan/India situation. It is complex, including Afghanistan and also Kashmir. Then there is the geopolitical extension of this “P/I” relationship, which is that the US and Russia have long been allies of India whereas China and Pakistan have long been allies.
    The “necessary” war has made all of this more difficult and has destabilized Pakistan, where the majority of the people dislike the US.
    Obama in March 2009 said he would initiate a “contact group” including other nations but in spite of his promises to work multilaterally on world problems he continues the Bushy practice of being The Decider.

    Reply

  5. Dan Kervick says:

    I go on the assumption these days that the main reason the United States is in Afghanistan is because of its relationship to Pakistan. So any debate about our future course in Afghanistan should focus a great deal on US interests in and policy toward Pakistan.

    Reply

  6. Dan Kervick says:

    I go on the assumption these days that the main reason the United States is in Afghanistan is because of its relationship to Pakistan. So any debate about our future course in Afghanistan should focus a great deal on US interests in and policy toward Pakistan.

    Reply

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Obama had that position, escalation in Afghanistan, long ago. He didn’t acquire it as president. We have to help him shuck it, for many reasons.

    Reply

  8. John Waring says:

    “President Obama was not the kind of person to allow himself to be cornered by the military into a bad or ineffective course of action.”
    Lord have mercy, how can anyone say that with a straight face? What does this individual call our present course? I call it the McChrystal/Petraeus hope and a prayer, endorsed by the President.
    Read anything Andrew Bacevich has written on this topic and you may quickly see the limits of Mr. Obama’s supposed independence.
    I hope we have a real debate, for once. I hope we debate our core assumption of the utility of military force and of the efficacy of armed nation building in a place as FUBAR as Afghanistan. We assume we have legitimacy there and that we can be an agent for change. I think this core assumption is without foundation, having no support in the historical record. Afghanistan cannot be ruled, certainly not by outsiders.
    My fear is that, after all is said and done, a pretense of real debate will have transpired, and Mr. Obama will once again obey the Washington rules. I hope I am badly mistaken. I hope we can change course before a broken army or a bankrupt treasury forces us to stop.

    Reply

  9. Don Bacon says:

    Dan, we have only just begun. I’ve posted my rants on as many blogs as I could and also put up a webpage off my Smedley Butler site, which gets a lot of visits. I assume Steve isn’t idle on it, that besides putting it on TWN he’s working his contacts. Stephen Walt has been on it. I just wrote about it again on FDL/Emptywheel.
    The enthusiasm isn’t just laying there — we have to stir people up. You think people are going to say — hey, that’s just what I’ve been waiting for? No.
    Afghanistan has been “the war of necessity”–a given. That’s what we’re up against, and what we’re trying to change because it’s untrue. I differ with the ASG, but the main thing as Steve has recognized is to get the talk going, heat it up.
    Surrender is not an option.

    Reply

  10. John Waring says:

    Don,
    The massive trauma has occurred. I think the continuous deployments of the past decade have brought elements of our ground forces to the breaking point. Human beings, no matter how superbly trained, can only take a finite amount of battle stress. We are expecting one-tenth of one per cent of American families who have members in the military to bear the entire burden. We are going to wake up one day and find our all-volunteer force broken from demands it was never design to bear.

    Reply

  11. Dan Kervick says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems to me that the Afghanistan Study Group Report has landed on Washington and the broader policy community with a muffled thud, and even some of those who would have been expected to lend a supporting hand have been underwhelmed.

    Reply

  12. WarrenMetzler says:

    I don’t understand how Afghanistan can be discussed without some understanding of the true nature of that society. I suggest that a real democracy is a political system where the government creates a structure that facilitates each citizen pursuing his or her full potential. And that you can’t have that until the average citizen perceives herself as an individual, with motivations and goals that are not confined to the boundaries of her culture / family. And is willing to lose an election, because who is president or elected official is not really relevant to her pursuing what she wants to pursue.
    Afghanistan is a country where the majority of the residents are quite tribal, currently have no interest in being individuals or pursuing a personally chosen destiny; quite willing to suppress all individual goal pursuits that lie outside those accepted by the majority of his personal tribe. And certainly unwilling to lose to a person from another tribe.
    Hence the incapacity to form any national (non-tribal) identity : military, police, parliament, president, government agencies.
    In such a country a functioning democracy CANNOT exist. Even the president, who has had much western living exposure, is personally quite tribal. Otherwise he wouldn’t tolerate, much less facilitate and take advantage of, the massive corruption that arises in all multi-tribal, everyone is tribal, societies.
    How to get people who are tribal in consciousness to rise to individual consciousness and have democracy flourish? Let them stew in their juices, and experience the repeated misery and catastrophes that frequently present in all tribal societies.
    I recently learned that no one moves from limited consciousness to free consciousness unless three ingredients are present.
    One, a recognition that one is quite miserable.
    Two, realizing all of one’s current approaches lead to failure.
    Three, an internal sense there is more (better) out there.
    And all three can only happen within a person, as a result of that person’s observations and assessments of her daily experiences. None of the three can created by external forces.
    We need to get the hell out of that country; totally with perhaps a token embassy presence. And let them learn from life by themselves.
    If we stay, we only develop and severely restrict their growth potential.
    Once enough have advanced into individuality sufficiently to have a workable democracy, then we can collaborate as equals to facilitate them moving one to greatness, and fulfilling their national potential.

    Reply

  13. Don Bacon says:

    Then let’s try to bring on the massive trauma. We have to try.

    Reply

  14. Don Bacon says:

    I read words by chicken-hawk guys like Michael Waltz and I think of other, better guys like Tom Bagosy.
    Last year 160 active-duty soldiers and 52 Marines committed suicide; 28 have died of self-inflicted wounds thus far this in the Marine Corps. One Marine, Sgt. Thomas R. Bagosy, 25, of Newark, Delaware died in May after shooting himself in front of the base fire department near Cross Street and McHugh Boulevard on Camp Lejeune, NC.
    Prior to that, as he contemplated suicide, his wife asked “There is no way I can stop you from doing this, is there?” “No,” he replied.
    Here’s their photo:
    http://tinyurl.com/25f9ggv
    See, Waltz, these are real people, people who don’t need to be a part of your fantasies.

    Reply

  15. paul_lukasiak says:

    Don, I read as much of the Petraeus interview as I could stand, and it only reinforces my opinion that Petraeus will prevent any “serious” review of Afghan options in December. He’s obviously committed to the strategy, and that kind of personal investment in an idea requires years — or massive trauma — to overcome.

    Reply

  16. Don Bacon says:

    paul_l,
    I’m trying to be optimistic on Petraeus. I’m familiar with his history and how he first came to prominence as a Major General when he stuck his oar into the 2004 presidential race to make Kerry look bad. But he’s a smart guy and he is willing to buck the system as he proved with the Iraq surge.
    I’m hoping that on Afghanistan, where the situation is worse than Iraq, he’ll go in a different direction and I’m doing what I can to promote that possibility (reconciliation, negotiation and withdrawal). There is reason for hope. I hope.
    On August 25, 2010 Gen. Petraeus was interviewed by Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin: (extract)
    “They are, more than any element in society, concerned about what could happen if the Taliban ever regained control. They remember what life was like under the Taliban, when the girls’ schools were all closed, very really regressive social policies to put it mildly were practiced, and so on.
    “So again, I think there have to be very clear safeguards. But if those are there then certainly you would want to reconcile and you really want to fracture the Taliban and the other elements that are out there, the Hague among them, by the way.
    “This is a completely Afghan-led process [actually the Saudis are involved]. The U.S. is very much in the information loop and in a couple of cases has helped in a sense, but is not doing the negotiation. In some cases there has to be some safeguarding of movement or something like that, or at least assurances that we would not do something — . . .there’s certainly full awareness of what’s going on. There is support for, as it has been laid out. Actually in a couple of isolated cases there’s been a degree of facilitation, if you will.”
    read the whole thing
    http://tinyurl.com/2boco76

    Reply

  17. paul_lukasiak says:

    Don B writes: “There are two key factors that aren’t covered enough and they both say ‘stop it now.’”
    While I agree with your assessment that those two factors say “stop it now”, there is really only one factor that matters in this debate — the ego of American fetish object David Petraeus. Methinks that Petraeus will refuse to acknowledge a personal failure of his strategy in Afghanistan, and will either insist on ‘staying the course’ or doubling down (i.e. a super-surge). And nothwithstanding the claim of Steve’s source that Obama can’t be cowed by the military, the simple fact is that if Petraeus says “jump”, Obama says “how high”, because Obama is more afraid of GOP accusations of “losing the war against al Qaeda” than anything else.

    Reply

  18. Don Bacon says:

    mymy, you’ve never heard about Obama’s accomplishments because they don’t exist. The I/P talks are a charade, as has been well covered here.
    Iran, thanks to US policy, is in the cat-bird seat. The sanctions are a joke. Iran has the support of the whole world (except a six-nation US bloc) on its nuclear activities. India has been particularly supportive. As the world’s second-largest oil exporter, the higher price of oil coupled with Iran’s increased exports to Asian countries (Japan, China, India) haven’t been affected by Obama’s sanctions. China jumped on Japan for being a little anti-Iran (and Japan is Iran’s largest oil customer!).
    Iran has close ties with Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon (through Hezbollah) and Iraq, where the US deposed Iran’s enemy Hussein government and now it looks like Iran’s guy will become the new PM of the new Islamic Republic the US created.
    As Juan Cole wrote today: “Ahmadinejad comes to New York, not as a wounded leader under internal and external siege, but as the confident representative of a fiercely independent Iran, the hydrocarbon treasures of which allow it to withstand Washington

    Reply

  19. mymy says:

    The NYT had a long review of Obama’s positive accomplishments in
    foreign policy a week or two back. Never heard anyone mention it.
    But they were pointing out not only the Israeli-Palestinian talks, but
    the fact that the pressuring of Iran has been effective that it is Iran
    that is begging for resumption of talks. I never heard anything
    about this anywhere else …
    Obama surely has to walk on eggs with this overly fundamental-
    Christianized military. But he may well have the focus and strength
    to see through their multiple schemes to keep us locked in eternal
    war…

    Reply

  20. Don Bacon says:

    Hey, the ASG guy is hefty, square-shouldered and square-jawed, too, sort of, with size fourteens to boot. Plus he’s not a chicken hawk like Waltz.
    If Waltz “can’t stand it any more” why doesn’t he waltz his chicken ass over there and serve with a civilian contractor, an aid agency or the US State Department — there are so many choices — and contribute directly to the

    Reply

  21. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Perhaps this is a more appropriate thread on which to place this than that I originally chose…..
    The Other Side of the New American Foundation: The Afghan ‘War of Necessity’
    Robert Dreyfuss
    September 14, 2010
    Anxious, it seems, to dispel the idea that the New America Foundation supports peace in Afghanistan, today the NAF scrounged up a former adviser to none other than Dick Cheney to spew nonsense about the failing occupation of Afghanistan as a

    Reply

  22. Don Bacon says:

    Afghanistan is not a purely American problem and the US president should no be the Decider (sound familiar?). Other people and other countries are involved, particularly the Afghans and their government, and the Taliban, but also Pakistan, India, China, Russia, the neighboring -stans and Iran.
    So we need negotiations plus withdrawal.
    I go into more detail here.
    http://tinyurl.com/3akmzps

    Reply

  23. JohnH says:

    I foresee Democraps taking the initiative…after the election, of course…culminating in the promise of a major review or debate to culminate on 9/11/2011. Soon after they will deliver a strategy to “end combat operations” by 2014.
    How can I predict this with a fair amount of certainty? It’s exactly the play book Democraps used in Iraq in 2007.
    Problem is, there are still 50,000 troops plus tens of thousands of contractors in Iraq, killing people during “non-combat” operations.
    By now, the US has expunged the ghosts of Vietnam, demonstrated its “firm resolve” along with a total inability to articulate any sensible goals or accomplish much of anything by military means.
    And for this we spend a $Trillion a year?

    Reply

  24. Don Bacon says:

    We don’t need a debate we need to leave.
    There are two key factors that aren’t covered enough and they both say “stop it now.”
    1) The US Army is becoming a broken force. Repeated deployments of the same people have resulted not only many deaths and physical injuries but also a crisis in mental health. Suicides are up and military mental facilities are overwhelmed, resulting in affected troopers being sent to civilian facilities. And it’s never enough because the problems run so deep. It’s time to stop taking advantage of brave American soldiers and Marines (and Navy and Air Force, they’re dying too).
    2) The current US policy is to partner with Pakistan, a country that is supporting America’s enemy the Taliban. This is unacceptable, or should be. General McChrystal a year ago assessed that Pakistan was probably supporting the Taliban and wikileaks has provided further evidence. Yet the US considers Pakistan an ally (even as it rockets its northern villages) and is giving Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars. Pakistan’s actions are understandable. India, Pakistan’s arch enemy, is gaining increased influence in Afghanistan. Understandable or not, a US partner supporting a force which is killing US troops? It’s time to leave.

    Reply

  25. erichwwk says:

    well, yes JohnH.
    But this problem of the military running the US national policy is such a long standing problem, that it is not clear to me what an effective squeal would sound like. My tactic for now is to push for that “genuine review” and see what his actions look like. I am hoping (yes, perhaps more like wishful naivete) that come January we see some different actions.
    I see the USAF attempt to claim resources in northern NM and southern CO as perhaps an attempt to make “uncornering” more difficult for Obama.
    I can so no other reason for investing so much political capital in what has such strong opposition and imposes such severe costs within the flight zone (Granted our two Senators (Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall have flip flopped here, a tactic I hope they will come to deeply regret).
    see some of this at http://dailytaosnews.com/

    Reply

  26. JohnH says:

    “President Obama was not the kind of person to allow himself to be cornered by the military.” Um–Obama’s actions speak louder than his words.
    He’s already been trapped with barely a squeal on his part.
    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/09/13/trapped

    Reply

  27. erichwwk says:

    JohnH-
    That too was my view until I read this post.
    Steve wrote:
    “A recent senior White House official recently went out of his/her way to convey to me that President Obama was not the kind of person to allow himself to be cornered by the military into a bad or ineffective course of action. This person said the President was not cowed by the military and the December review would assemble all the key voices for a genuine review.”
    On a different note I just heard (on ANC News

    Reply

  28. JohnH says:

    Looks like Obama is about to suffer the same fate as LBJ. It’s what happens when political leaders get too arrogant and start ignoring the American people and their best interests.

    Reply

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