Events of the past months have created a situation where Americans are close to having to accept defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, U.S. commander Odierno has pleaded with the Obama administration and its media acolytes “not to forget Iraq,” where General Petraus’s get-us-past-the-U.S.-presidential-election surge is unraveling and the Iraqi teams are forming-up for the inevitable Sunni-Shia civil war. In Afghanistan, General McChrystal and his lieutenants have laid out a dire situation, one in which a corrupt, drug-dealing government, a useless local army and police force, and a skilled, well-funded, and increasingly nationalistic insurgency is sinking the U.S.-NATO coalition. Defeat looms in both places, and each situation probably cannot be retrieved. Which defeat will be more damaging to America?
In Iraq, America would be wise to evacuate as soon as possible. As violence there increases -- note the nearly 700 dead/wounded in Baghdad on the weekend -- U.S. forces risk being drawn back into a war that Washington should never have started. Our departure from Iraq will be seen in the Islamic world as the defeat of the U.S. superpower, but that is simply part of the price we pay for fighting an unprovoked war for Israel’s interests. The up side of our withdrawal will be the start of a Sunni-Shia sectarian war that will draw much of the Muslim world’s interest, money, and surplus manpower. To an extent, the Muslim world’s focus on sectarian mayhem in Iraq will marginally reduce the Sunni Islamists’ focus on the U.S.; for Sunnis, Shias are the main threat to Islam, America is just in the way. The conflict may even temporarily stave off the destruction of Israel made inevitable by the Iraq war -- fomented by U.S.-citizen Israel-firsters – that created a westward highway that is moving jihadi forces from South Asia into the Levant. Although not even partial recompense for 5,000-plus dead, 35,000 wounded, and one trillion dollars spent, Americans eventually will see some justice done when Israel’s death warrant is signed by the disloyal U.S. citizens who – by prompting the Iraq war – consigned their country of first allegiance to history’s trash bin.
In Afghanistan, the story is not at all the same. Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, there is an Afghan military mission that has remained unaccomplished since 2001 – the annihilation of al-Qaeda, which Admiral Mullen truthfully says is capable of again attacking in the United States. This mission was well within the capabilities of the U.S. military, and should have been completed 12-to-15 months after 9/11. A highly destructive and unrelenting military campaign would have destroyed al-Qaeda, and the ugly, smoldering remnants of the group and its supporters would have long reminded Muslims not to court catastrophe by attacking America. Instead, Bush, his political advisers, and the U.S. general staff went nation-building, women’s-rights guaranteeing, and secularizing, keeping the military component of Afghan operations to Rumsfeld’s foolishly ineffective “small footprint” of limited “light and fast” forces, which he and his successors have constrained with rules of engagement that make them targets rather than killers. Thus a mandatory 15-month punitive expedition turned into a slow, agonizing, and even hallucinatory eight-year, bipartisan march to self-inflicted defeat and a political impotency so comprehensive that we have to fix a second presidential election to get our puppet re-elected.
With the advent of the Obama administration the race toward disaster in Afghanistan accelerated. Having appointed the arrogant but Afghan-ignorant Bruce Reidel and John Brennan as his point men on the terror war, the “new strategy” they produced for Afghanistan – which Obama blessed – lasted barely 5 months before General McChrystal wrote and submitted his properly Cassandra-ish call for yet another new strategy. But all Americans should beware of McChrystal’s sketch of a new Afghan strategy. In the midst of an accelerating and increasingly lethal country-wide insurgency, the general wants to do less fighting and instead “protect” the Afghan people. One must pause and ask what we are going to protect the Afghans against? The irrefutable rule of thumb in an insurgent war is that insurgents are defeated unless the people support them. Thus, when an insurgency’s trend line is steadily upward – as the Taleban’s has been for more than 3 years – it must be receiving substantial popular support. This hard and obvious truth is hidden by McChrystal’s use of a zany “strategy” based on a book called The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen. In the book, Kilcullen argues the Taleban and its allies are Takfiris – Muslims who kill all Muslims who do not meet their religious criteria – and their support comes only from Afghans who the Taleban intimidate or pay. This, to be kind, is nonsense. Takfiris are so hated in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world that if the Taleban was composed of Takfiris it would have been wiped out long ago – by the Afghans. And for anyone even marginally acquainted with Afghan history it is clear that the claim that Taleban support is based on intimidation and cash will not wash. The Afghan is the least likely man on earth to be intimidated – ask Alexander, Queen Victoria, and Gorbachev – and while an Afghan will always take your money, he will never do what he agreed to do – think of the lads we paid to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001.
So here we are. We have a president advised by Afghan advisers who are substantively ignorant and now certified failures; a general who wants a New Deal not victory in Afghanistan; and a still unvanquished enemy in al-Qaeda. What to do? First, face facts. It is, as I wrote in 2004, utterly impossible to change the Afghans' tribal and conservative Islamic culture to match a Western model, and so even in the most remotely foreseeable future in Afghanistan there will be no:
--Viable national military or police forces
--Reliable or sufficient tax revenues
--Food crops sufficient for nation-wide subsistence
--Ethnic and sectarian reconciliation
--Tolerance for U.S. and NATO occupiers
Though faced with this unhappy but accurate reality, America is also faced with the task it had on 9/11; that is, to eliminate al-Qaeda’s ability to attack in the United States. How to proceed? Well, the McChrystal-requested 40- or 45,000 more troops clearly will not do the trick; and any lesser number would be a lethal joke on the parents of America’s soldier-children. At most, 40-or-45,000 troops would give McChrystal 15,000 more combat soldiers, a number that would slow the insurgency, but would cost many more tens of billions, thousands of U.S. lives, and still would not stop the Taleban’s ultimate triumph. Unless Obama and McChrystal start talking about 400,000-to-500,000 Marines and soldiers and their intention be use them – ala the recent Sri Lankan victory over the Tamil Tigers -- to win the war by killing the enemy until it is eliminated or decides the game is up, Americans should resign themselves to defeat in Afghanistan and stubbornly oppose any half-way expansion of the conflict that will only delay calamity.
No American, I think, should expect any portion of the foregoing picture of Afghanistan from Obama, his advisers, or McChrystal and his insurgency theorists. We are much more likely to keep getting glass-is-half-full fantasies – General Jones has said that he and Obama see “progress” in Afghanistan” – until defeat can no longer disguised, which Obama will stall, if he can, until after the 2010 midterm elections. But when that day comes and we leave Afghanistan with al-Qaeda intact, we will be triple losers: (a) We will have validated for all Muslims bin Laden’s claim that Allah would allow Islam-in-arms to defeat the U.S. superpower more easily then the USSR; (b) Americans will be saddled with a government patently incapable of protecting their country and families; and (c) the U.S. military’s credibility as a fighting force will be nil due to the fecklessness of U.S. politicians and the absurd “strategies” of its generals-cum-social workers.
And beyond these losses, Americans will have the same bloody war to fight that we had on 9/11. Al-Qaeda and its allies will still be in the field, now buoyed by the praise, prayers, manpower, and money with which the Muslim world will inundate them for defeating the United States. Ending the Iraq and Afghan wars will momentarily staunch the waste of lives and money, but no one should be fooled. The Obama administration’s steadfast maintenance – with full Republican support – of Washington’s status quo interventionist policy in the Muslim world ensures U.S. military forces will again fight the Islamists in one or more overseas locales. And because we chose to lose in Iraq and Afghanistan, the next war will be the most bloody and costly we have seen and – given recent events in North Carolina, Denver, New York, and Dallas – may well feature a war front inside the United States comprised of American Muslims enraged by U.S. interventionism.
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