Friday, October 30, 2009

Wish harder

David Brooks offers no suggestions for political reform in Afghanistan, no ideas on how many troops would be needed to protect aid workers, no thoughts on who we are actually fighting there, but he does offer a key insight: Obama may be a sophisticated thinker but he lacks the "tenacity" to "be a war president" and "win in Afghanistan."

No, that's not "shorter David Brooks."

For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

I'm thrilled he's doing what "journalists are supposed to do," by that I guess he means attributing anonymous quotes to "experts" known as "they." And like many "journalists" during our current endless war, the "experts" he speaks to "follow the war for a living," meaning they rely on constant war to make a living. Well played, sir.

Obama's "determination" won't do anything to overcome the lack of a coherent strategy for ending what Matthew Hoh, in his resignation letter, calls a 35 year civil war, nor will it overcome the lack of legitimacy of the country's political leadership.

Ah, but back to Brooks as he tells us how "winnable" the war would be if only Obama would squeeze his eyes shut and wish harder.

Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

No mention of China? Cambodia? Laos?

Shit, the Karzai government is not the only one who's been cutting deals with the warlords, the U.S. has been doing it since October 2001. Your mileage may vary.

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that counterinsurgency is “an argument to win the support of the people.” But it’s not an argument won through sophisticated analysis. It’s an argument won through the display of raw determination.

For chrissakes, the U.S. has displayed "raw determination" just in my lifetime in more benighted countries than I can count on two hands. Usually it comes in the form of an overwhelming military presence, predator drones, hellfire missiles, and "stress positions."

Our eight years of "tenacity" in Afghanistan has made the U.S. military the ideological underpinning of the Pashtun "insurgency." Writes Hoh, who resigned as Senior Civilian Representative in Zabul Province,

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known a more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has evern been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II,but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannish misadventure. Similarly, the United States has a dedicated cadre of civilians, both U.S. government emplooyees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

I hope Obama thinks about that as he looks in the mirror, not a contemplation of his own manly "determination" and "tenacity." We had seven years of that self-admiration and Brooks cheered on that "War President" even as he took our focus off of Afghanistan to level Iraq in The Great Hunt for old chemical weapons. Brooks cheered him on right up until it was no longer possible to cheer and be considered sane in polite company.

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