Insanity trumps common sense in Afghan policy fight

by Alexander Cockburn

The ripest moment of absurdity last week wasthe spectacle of Pentagon officials berating theWashington Post for publishing the supposedlyconfidential assessment of the situation in Afghanistan,prepared by General Stanley McChrystal, America’sMan in Charge of that doomed adventure.The Pentagon asked the Post to cut certain passages on theground that they would compromise national security.Since the document is commonly supposed to have beenleaked to Bob Woodward by either McChrystal himself or one ofhis retinue, it seems silly to start whining about the irresponsibilityof the press. The record for willful indiscretion is probablyheld by Henry “Hap” Arnold, the only five-star general to holdthe grades of General of the Army and later, during World WarTwo, General of the Air Force.Arnold’s leak was a famous one. During WWII someone gavea Chicago newspaper the entire order of battle of the US Navy.The newspaper published it in what was undoubtedly one ofthe most serious security breaches of the era. The identity of theleaker remained unknown for many years. Finally, my brother,Andrew, discovered it a few years ago. It was Arnold, pursuingsome ferocious bureaucratic struggle against the Enemy —which was, of course, the US Navy.Anyone wanting to understandhow JFK plungedinto the Vietnamesequagmire and how LBJ gotin even deeper has only tofollow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlesslytrumps common sense.By common agreement, the situation is rapidly getting worse.In terms of military advantage, the Taliban have been doing verywell, helped by America’s bizarre policy of trying to assassinatethe Taliban’s high command by drones, thus allowing vigorousyoung Taliban commanders to step into senior positions.Ahmed Rahid writes in a savage and well-informed piece inThe New York Review of Books:“For much of this year the Taliban have been on the offensivein Afghanistan. Their control of just 30 out of 364 districts in2003 expanded to 164 districts at the end of 2008, according tothe military expert Anthony Cordesman, who is advising GeneralMcChrystal. Taliban attacks increased by 60 percent betweenOctober 2008 and April 2009.“In August, moreover — as part of their well-planned antielectioncampaign — the Taliban opened new fronts in the northand west of the country where they had little presence before. Onelection day in Kunduz in the far northeast of the country, consideredto be one of the safest cities in Afghanistan, the Taliban fired 57rockets. The US military has acknowledged the gravity of the situation.‘It is serious and it is deteriorating.’ The Taliban insurgency hasgotten better, more sophisticated’ in their tactics, Admiral MikeMullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on August 23.

“Yetif it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistanneeds a serious long-term commitment — at least for the next threeyears. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year’scongressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible.Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats’ timetable. WithObama’s plan the US will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the firsttime since 2001; if it is to be successful, it will need not only timebut international and US support — both open to question.

“AfterObama’s injection of 21,000 troops and trainers, total Western forcesin Afghanistan now number 100,000, including 68,000 US troops. It islikely that Gen. McChrystal will soon ask for more. Obama’s overallplan has been to achieve security by doubling the Afghan army’sstrength to 240,000 men and the police to 160,000; but these are tasksthat would take at least until 2014 to complete, if indeed they can becarried out. Meanwhile the military operation in Afghanistan is nowcosting cash-strapped US taxpayers $4 billion a month.

“Acrossthe region many people fear that the US and NATO may start to pull outof Afghanistan during the next 12 months despite their uncompletedmission. That would almost certainly result in the Taliban walking intoKabul. Al-Qaida would be in a stronger position to launch globalterrorist attacks. The Pakistani Taliban would be able to ‘liberate’large parts of Pakistan. The Taliban’s game plan of waiting out theAmericans now looks more plausible than ever.”

Aftermonths of derision about Iran’s “faked elections,” President HamidKarzai’s fakery in the recent Afghan election was too blatant to permiteven pro forma denial and can no longer be concealed. The corruption ofKarzai’s regime is the staple of every news report. CounterPunchersshould read the admirable dispatch on this site this weekend by EhsanAzari.

Theoft-announced goal of training an Afghan army and police force isfaring no better — in fact, considerably worse — than the efforts at“Vietnamization” 40 years ago. Once furnished with a few square meals,some new clothes and a weapon, the recruits — some of them having beensent by the Taliban to get some basic training — promptly desert.

Theexpedition to Afghanistan is not popular, either here or in Europe. Itis also very expensive. But it has powerful sponsors, starting withObama, who made it a campaign plank and now may or may not be havingsecond thoughts — but who is showered daily with demented counsels to“stay the course” by his secretaries of state and about 80 percent ofthe permanent foreign policy establishment. So the involvement will getdeeper and the disasters will mount and powerfully assist in thedestruction of Obama’s presidency, starting with major reverses for theDemocrats in the midterm elections next year.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the book Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, available through find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by othercolumnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage atwww.

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