I must confess that the clever "surgelet" title belongs to George Will in his overly pessimistic reaction to President Obama's December 1, speech at West Point. My general premise that the region should be looked at from the perspective of Pakistan rather than Afghanistan is contained in my March 20 blog. (See archives to the right.) As much discussion as there has been of Obama's third Afghan strategy - one for the campaign; one in March when he appointed General Chrystal; one now - most observers seem to have missed important points.
First on the substance:
1. Relative to Afghanistan: We can succeed if the objectives are limited. If we need to purge governments of corruption, we should start in Louisiana, New Jersey, or Chicago. If we need to stop the flow of drugs, we should focus on Mexico and Columbia. Schools? - we can start here in California. If we just want to deny a safe haven to al Queda, we can do that with a secure government in Kabul which allows us to "search and destroy" as necessary.
2. Relative to Pakistan: I hear pundits talking about how we need to convince the Rawalpindi government of the seriousness of the need to engage the fundamentalists. They have had two prime ministers assassinated and suffer frequent suicide bombings of civilian targets and military headquarters. They get it. What they don't need - and which our media and politicians regularly give them - is embarrassing calls for governmental change attached to aid agreements, publicized discussions about violations of their sovereignty with drone attacks, and discussions about cooperative plans to secure their nuclear weapons in the event of Taliban attacks. We have been on Pakistan's side since the Cold War (when the Russians picked India); their military leaders have attended American schools; they use American military aircraft. Vagueness is necessary for internal Pakistani sensitivities - and a strategy of pushing the terrorists across the border into Pakistan makes no sense.
3. Relative to Iraq: It is good to hear the grudging realization that the Petreus/McCain surge worked there and that the strategy of isolating extremists who abuse the population is to be copied. In a way, Iraq was harder with the Sunni/Shiite division, and the prospect of Arabs from throughout the Middle East coming for their chance at Eternity. The Afghan problem is Pashtun and largely limited to the South and East. Even there, there are not many folks wanting to die to help al Queda. (Again, limited objectives.)
4. Relative to Vietnam: (I served there in 1967-68, and worked on Southeast Asia stuff at the Pentagon in 1970-72.) Some justify the Afghanistan mission as a result of "but they attacked us and the Vietnamese never could", but it wasn't the Afghans who attacked us and al Queda could just as easily move to Yemen or Somalia. Ironically, the true risk becomes one of a "domino theory", with failure in Afghanistan leading to disaster in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
5. Relative to the Budget: An annual "all-in" cost for Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11 has been about $940 billion. If we are to criticize the environmental crazies for not caring about the cost of their ideology, the Bush-era practice of carrying the cost of the Iraq War "off budget" should be avoided, and there should be a debate about guns, butter, and taxes. (Overall, we spend about 4 % of GDP for defence and 17% for health care.)
And on the politics:
1. There is little risk in the "begin withdrawal" date of July 2011. Aside from the Gates/Clinton/Jones tour to calm frayed nerves in the region and in the military, there is no way that Obama will create a Dunkirk-like collapse of his war a year before his reelection bid.
2. The New York Times had an excellent, long article on the White House's deliberations, which had two messages - there are more leaks than discussions, and the law professor asks a lot of good questions, but doesn't know how to bring it to a decision. Why he excluded General McChrystal from the discussions is anybody's guess.
3. Chris Matthews spoke from the heart for many on the Left when he called West Point the "enemy camp." These intelligent, educated, disciplined young patriots signed up well into the Iraq War and know what service awaits them. To many on the Left, this is unfathomable.
Instead of a You Tube, this week's humor comes from a conference on governmental transparency put on by the new Office of Government Information Services. George Orwell would be delighted; the Daily Show should be. The conference at the Commerce Department was closed to the public and the media.
bill bowen - 12/11/2009