More failed thinking on Afghanistan

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President Obama announced last week that the United States would not pull out of Afghanistan this year, but would keep 9,500 troops in the country late into 2016. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in his first news conference after the announcement, mentioned the need to continue training and equipping Afghan soldiers, and to pursue the ever-present counterterrorism mission. Then he quietly slipped in the extra mandate that U.S. troops would insert themselves into situations where Afghan troops that are supposed to carry all the fighting find themselves in deep trouble.

{mosads}The significance: American troops are going to die. Forget about the expenditure of dollars that are needed at home. We will lose people trying to salvage a situation that did not improve when we had over 100,000 troops in country.

When asked why we are persisting and what would be the endpoint, administration officials said that we wanted to leave a stable democracy. This overlooks the question of whether Afghanistan is even a single country. People in the south can’t converse with people in the north. There are at least 15 clearly recognizable ethnic groups. Many hate each other. Every discussion of negotiated peace includes the Taliban as a party, and it is naive at best to think that the group will settle in the long run for a constitutional democracy. Worst of all, corruption is at the same terrible levels that existed under former President Hamid Karzai.

Militarily, Pakistan continues to provide a safe haven and assistance for the Taliban. Nothing we have done in the past 14 years has improved the outlook for Pakistan changing its position, which is a recipe for our failure. It has no reason to do so. It sees India with an ever-larger presence in a stable Afghanistan, putting India on both sides of Pakistan. It sees Iran with a larger role, putting Shiites on Pakistan’s western border. The easiest way to address such possibilities is to keep Afghanistan in chaos.

The Afghan army continues to struggle. We have gotten into the terrible habit of making exuberant claims of success whenever we train troops, whether in Asia, the Middle East or Africa. The performance of our proteges repeatedly belies these claims. Our own troops have sometimes struggled against the Taliban when fighting during the day and deprived of artillery and air support. (Do not take my word for this, but don’t listen to generals testifying before Congress; talk to the young men and women below the rank of major who actually did the fighting.) Why should we be surprised when those we train do so much worse?

The obvious question is: Why we would continue to pursue a course that has not worked in 14 years? A president, assisted by what is arguably one of the most untalented national security teams ever, simply has no idea what to do, and is willing to listen to the only forceful argument, that which emerged from the Pentagon and was echoed by congressional hawks. Everyone wheels out the standard bromide about preserving and extending the gains we’ve made. Yes, it is laudable that girls are getting educated. Does that guarantee them a better place in their society, which continues to look upon female equality as anathema? In the developing world, one is unlikely to find proof that women rising from the proletariat have taken substantial roles in society. Meanwhile, most areas of infrastructure remain underdeveloped as many local contractors line their pockets and do substandard work.

The fact is that the Obama administration has followed the George W. Bush administration with a whole new litany of failures. The United States continued to ignore history and topple dictators that, however nasty, at least held their artificial countries together. Under Obama, Libya is the most egregious example. We helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and Hillary Clinton trumpeted the free elections that followed. Since then, we’ve had embassy personnel killed and the country descend into failed status. We’ve done nothing helpful in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Ukraine or the western Pacific, and have signed what may turn out to be a rotten deal with Iran. So why would we expect insightful thinking on Afghanistan?

We worry about terrorists training in an unruly Afghanistan. The world is filled with ungoverned territory, and terrorists always find places to train. Are we to chase them into every godforsaken place on Earth? Why not spend the money at home? Beefed-up border security, biometric screening and improved visa and visitor tracking are just a few of the things we should be doing with our money. Let’s stop sending our people where we must worry about them and get little in return. We’ve done enough of that since World War II.

Blady, M.D., is a former program officer for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and senior analyst for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Tags Afghanistan Afghanistan War Hillary Clinton Pakistan Taliban

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