Thinking about Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan


by Sunny
25th September, 2009 at 5:01 am    

Most of the commentary written on the Afghanistan war is quite poor, possibly because the British govt has little impact on what’s going on. It’s far more interesting to watch what the Americans are doing and saying. In addition to the regular stream of rubbish that gets out outputted on Fox News, there is also the more intelligent discussion.

The Sunday just gone, the US Department of Defense released a declassified version of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s assessment of the war in Afghanistan. The Washington Post published major portion of that assessment. But rather than wade through the stuff, you could read the excellent George Packer’s opinion at the New Yorker.

He says:

The only surprise is the impressiveness of McChrystal’s analysis. I was wrong in May when I questioned the appointment of a special-operations man to run this war. McChrystal’s report is written in plain English, it’s self-critical, and it shows more understanding of the nature of the fight in Afghanistan than most journalism and academic work. The U.S. military now believes that the Afghan government is just as much a threat to success as the Taliban. That’s a bold conclusion, one that our civilians have not been willing to reach, publicly at least. And the description of the different Taliban networks is as clarifying as it is disturbing.

So this is what the general whom Obama rushed into the field earlier this year has to tell his commander-in-chief: it will take time, it will take more resources, we will have to get smarter. Again, no surprise. The policy McChrystal is working within was set in March, by the President himself, and it called for a renewed counterinsurgency in Afghanistan in order to “dismantle,” “disrupt,” and “defeat” Al Qaeda. Obama’s strategy-review team didn’t want to go looking to get America deeper into the mess in Afghanistan—they looked at all the alternatives and decided that the narrower approaches wouldn’t work against an Al Qaeda network that’s so entrenched and interconnected with other groups in the region.

In many ways Obama now stands at a cross-roads. He doesn’t want to spend the money or deal with the public relations disaster that Afghanistan is turning into, while being unable to improve the situation.

But it’s also right to say that withdrawal would only strengthen the al-Qaeda and different Taliban groups, who would erupt in a massive fight for control (as they’ve done in the past).

No idea what decision he’ll make. But we do know that he’s approaching the situation in a far more intelligent way than Bush, and has people in place who are also very intelligent. And this is why I’m dismissive of the many people who think that Obama is simply continuing Bush’s plan in Afghanistan. The whole place is a lot more intractable than anyone thinks – and it’s surprisingly easy to destabilise the entire region. I know what I’d like to do (stay) but it’s still not an easy one to take.


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  1. pickles

    New blog post: Thinking about Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/5998




  1. platinum786 — on 25th September, 2009 at 9:10 am  

    The Americans took one bad apple and replaced it with another in Afghanistan, now they complain something is rotten. Anyone who dared to suggest a few years ago that Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance where just as bad as the Taliban was shouted down as an extremist and a Taliban lover, blah blah. Everyone chose to remember these guys as the “brave soviet defeating Mujahideen” and news reports on the Northern Alliance routinely included pictures of their dead leader, Ahmed Shah Mahsood. It’s ironic that when it suited US policy people like the Taliban were shown using the same imagery.

    Afghanistan cannot be resolved until you make peace with the people you call the Taliban. The Taliban is an umbrella title used right now, it’s not the collection of people it was in 2001, though it does include some of those elements.

    Two years ago when I suggested the Pakistani taliban (TTP) had elements within them who were Indian backed and RAW’s attempt at payback it was seen as BS, typical paki rantings. Today even General McChrystal is concerned about Indian involvement in Afghanistan and the reaction it may cause in Pakistan. Two years ago anyone suggesting that the TTP was a hardcore of terrorists rather than the population of the entire Tribal area, was laughed at. Today as the Pakistani army tears the TTP apart we can see the different groups, the war lords who run them, the fact they have no tribal support, the reign of terror they used to keep control of the tribal areas.

    It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but you will not win the war in Afghanistan. It is unwinnable. Until a people surrender to you, you cannot defeat them. Right now the “Taliban” have the support of the people. You have Afghan government officials for heavens sake who fight part time with the Taliban.

  2. falcao — on 25th September, 2009 at 9:34 am  

    Its clear militarily the brits and americans cannot win this war. So why are they there?
    With Eric Joyce defence secretary of Bob ainsworth resigning saying the excuse that this war prevent terror on streets of britain is nonsense, so what are the real benefits and strategic goals of this mission?

  3. Refresh — on 25th September, 2009 at 9:51 am  

    I object strongly to the notion that Bush and the bushmen were not intelligent (as if that is an excuse for mass murder) – rather they had their objectives and went all out to get it. Remember Full Spectrum Dominance?

  4. dave bones — on 25th September, 2009 at 9:57 am  

    I can see that withdrawal would be a shot in the arm for the global Jihad.

    the Afghan government is just as much a threat to success as the Taliban

    any suggestions?

  5. Random Guy — on 25th September, 2009 at 10:51 am  

    The shift in rhetoric regarding the Afghan Goverment was to be expected. The U.S. was not pushing Karzai as the main candidate this time around – partly because Karzai has rebuked them for the indiscriminate deaths of civilians arising from U.S. bombs, as well as his many independent political actions that the U.S. does not approve of (but he has realised he must do for his voter-base).

    So now they want to appoint a new “friendly” leader. Ah, isn’t Neo-Imperialism wonderful?

  6. Reza — on 25th September, 2009 at 10:54 am  

    “But it’s also right to say that withdrawal would only strengthen the al-Qaeda and different Taliban groups, who would erupt in a massive fight for control (as they’ve done in the past).”

    If Afghanistan harbours terrorist groups that threaten the US then it is totally appropriate for that threat to be neutralized by military means.

    However, once that threat is neutralized, the forces must withdraw. Even if it means they might have to return one day.

    The situation in Afghanistan can only be solved by the Afghans themselves. And it is inevitable that there will be a massive fight for control. So what’s new? It is not for outsiders to seek to change, through force, the Afghan government or the Afghan peoples’ will.

    Neither is it appropriate to seek to change, through force, the Afghan peoples’ values, morality or the way they treat each other.

    That’s cultural imperialism.

    However, and this is the crux of the issue, if the inevitable mess in Afghanistan creates a huge exodus of asylum seekers, then the West must make it a condition on accepting refugees that they leave those values and that morality in Afghanistan.

    Because unfortunately, “cultural imperialism” can be a two-way street.

  7. marie-odile — on 25th September, 2009 at 3:09 pm  

    An interesting development in the discourse surrounding the war has also been the portrayal of the war in Afghanistan as the “Good War”, as opposed to Iraq (after 9/11, had some international backing etc…) obv. also a lot of talk over here (US) on Afghanistan being Obama’s Vietnam; not his war, intractable, could destroy Obama’s plans the way Vietnam destroyed Johnson’s Great Society… Most people advocate training up the Afghan army, great article btw on that by Ann Jones in Mother Jones

  8. qidniz — on 25th September, 2009 at 5:28 pm  

    One of the commenters on Packer’s piece posted a link to this essay.

    Fair warning: definitely not for the multiculti peecee crowd.

  9. damon — on 16th October, 2009 at 12:07 am  

    dave bones @ 4 ”any suggestions?”

    I’ve just read this book by Rory Stewart about him walking between Herat and Kabul in 2002.
    http://www.amazon.com/Places-Between-Rory-Stewart/dp/0156031566

    He argues very strongly for a much lighter western military footprint in Afghanistan.

    Here he is talking on youtube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm9xR8G76kI

    But better is this page and radio interview with him on Open Source.
    http://www.radioopensource.org/rory-stewart-the-post-imperialist-poster-hero/

    He runs a charity in Afghanistan that is trying to save and regenerate the most historical quater of Kabul by working on the ground with local people in trying to promote local crafts and employment.

    His book is a great read, and have a look here: a university in America took it as a summer book for students to read, and then he came to the university and gave some lectures about Afghanistan.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct8IXPZLg7A

    He has Hilliary Clinton’s ear apparently.

    If that all seems fluff, have a look a bit closer to some of those accompanying youtubes.
    He may well have a point about the paternalistic imperialistic foriegner approach which might be doomed in Afghanistan.

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