Martin C. Evans

Obama Decision Invites Long War

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Analysis of President Obama’s decision to double down in Afghanistan is beginning to take shape. The shape is certainly not a smiley face.

Defense Secretary Bill Gates said on the Sunday talk shows that Americans should expect to see big numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for at least another 2-4 years, and that “There isn’t a deadline” for troop withdrawal.

Although the president said troops would begin leaving Afghanistan by July, 2011, Gates said the initial withdrawal likely will involve relatively few troops.

Meanwhile, a number of commentators point out that Afghanistan’s vast corruption, which extends all the way from local village elders to family members of Afghan President Karzai, will make it almost impossible to build the popular support among Afghan citizens needed for a stable government there. Who is going to fight for leaders who not only can’t protect them from violence, but surround themselves with public servants who demand bribes for almost everything.

There certainly are analysts who say more troops can “win” the war in Afghanistan, including the authors of this article in Foreign Affairs magazine, who argue that stability can be brought about by “flipping” the Taliban to the side of the good guys, as a flip in Iraq led to the Sunni awakening.

But compared to Afghanistan, Iraq was a secular democracy. It had a brutal, autocratic, but functioning central government that provided security, education, roads and other services pretty much border to border. The Afghan government has never done that. So I don’t think comparing the countries is particularly instructive with respect to constructing a unified military.

Even the Sunni awakening has been questioned by none less than the Iraqi government itself, which has expressed grave concerns that Sunni militias could turn their guns on Baghdad when the U.S. withdraws and stops paying for militia cooperation.

My take? Expect a difficult war that bankrupts America at a critical point in history – swallowing with it the retirements of baby boomers plus key social infrastructures, like the University of California system – or an inglorious withdrawal from an Afghanistan that quickly devolves into chaos.

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