Note: Readers will recognize this op-ed I wrote for my newspaper as a reworking of an earlier blog post. I’m posting it because, 1) I post almost all of my published op-eds as a way of filing them in a secure location, and 2) it shows the difference in styles between a newspaper column and a blog post.
The differences are due to space constraints, and the prospective audience. Writing op-eds, you are always struck by how many things you have to leave out. And you know that your audience is composed of a lot of people who don’t agree with you, so you have to take a certain approach just to get them to read it.
I’ll have more to say about that kind of writing later, after I figure it out myself. So:
I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan
I have a very, very, bad feeling about Afghanistan, and recent events are only making it worse.
General Stanley McChrystal, President Obama’s hand-picked commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is already in trouble with the administration for going public with disagreements over strategy.
Obama picked McChrystal, to replace General David McKiernan in May, 2009 less than a year after McKiernan took command.
Afghanistan is Obama’s “war of necessity,” as opposed to Bush’s “war of choice” in Iraq.
Certainly a punitive expedition to Afghanistan after Sept. 11 was entirely justified. The planners of the attack were there. The Afghan government said “Nyah, nyah you can’t have them” when we asked, so we went in and killed and captured as many of them as we could find.
Comb the history of civilization and find me one which would deny a legitimate cassus belli existed in this case.
But sticking around to practice nation-building on the Afghans strikes me as a long-term project with immense costs and problematic gains.
If you believe western civilization is engaged in what amounts to a long war against Islamic jihadism whether we like it or not, Afghanistan doesn’t look like the best place to pin down limited resources.
Whatever you think of that war, Iraq is an ancient civilization near the geopolitical center of Islam. Iraq is rich in resources, and in the hands of a hostile power capable of supplying money and resources to the jihadist campaign against the West.
Saddam Hussein for example was, as our “ally” Saudi Arabia still is, paying substantial sums to families of suicide bombers in Israel.
Afghanistan has always been peripheral to the ancient civilizations of the region. It’s importance to the jihadists is basically, that it’s a great place to hide.
For students of military science, the critical difference difference between them is the strategically important part of Iraq is pretty flat. Afghanistan… isn’t.
As a descendant of Scottish highlanders I can affirm that forcing civilization on mountaineers is very, very difficult. Mostly because they don’t want it.
I feel for Afghanis who have to live with the Taliban, especially women who aspire to a life as something more than domestic chattels. But our resources are not infinite, and we have every reason to believe this new kind of war is going to be a long and expensive one.
So at the risk of sounding heartless I have to ask, what’s in it for us? What do we gain by the enormous expense in the long term? And might those resources be better applied elsewhere?
Students of World War II might remember Germany lost two sizable armies in Africa and Russia, and possibly the war, because Hitler was unwilling to abandon any theater of operations once occupied by German soldiers.
Students of Vietnam remember that the justification of fighting for a democratic regime was rendered indefensible by a succession of about a half-dozen coups in rapid succession followed by strongman rule. Now it appears Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have rigged the last election.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.”
With Afghanistan we have an electorate not fully committed to the war effort, and an administration that has shown itself weak and vacillating on the issue.
If we stay in Afghanistan, the Russians can do to us exactly what they did to us in Vietnam, and what we did to them when they occupied that country. They can supply cheap arms to our enemies at no risk to themselves, while we expend immense sums of money and the valuable lives of our soldiers.
I say if the jihadists base themselves in Afghanistan, play whack-a-mole with them every time they stick their heads up. But unless we’re willing to commit to an all-out effort, with all of the resources our field commanders ask for, maybe it’s better to fight the jihadists another day, in a place where the outcome is more decisive.