Read between the lines: The real meat of the mission is in Pakistan
So, President Obama is on the verge of making the decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan this week. A new Pentagon report, as described at Politico.com, wisely seeks to narrow our objectives. But even if the recast goals Obama adopts are (as the new recommendations allegedly suggest) focusing on regional stability and clearing out ...
So, President Obama is on the verge of making the decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan this week.
A new Pentagon report, as described at Politico.com, wisely seeks to narrow our objectives. But even if the recast goals Obama adopts are (as the new recommendations allegedly suggest) focusing on regional stability and clearing out Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan, it seems highly likely that this will largely prove to be an exercise in futility. Besides the fact that no one since Alexander the Great has won a lasting victory in that part of the world, despite whatever wisdom we may have gleaned from Rudyard Kipling and the Russians about what not to do, besides the fact that it was our own short-sighted efforts there that led to the emergence of Osama bin Laden as a threat, this is a part of the world that makes the similarly asymmetric conflicts in Vietnam and Colombia look like a piece of cake.
Do we really think we can permanently snuff out the Al Qaeda and Taliban threat in the mountains? Aren’t we really signing up for a hugely costly and never ending game of whack-a-mole? Do we really think that any number of U.S. troops will be a stabilizing force in the region? And, given the challenges associated with even these narrower missions: What’s the exit strategy? If the disease is chronic, are we really willing to become an extended-care stabilizer?
No, those goals aren’t really achievable (which is not to say we can’t achieve periodic triumphs, rather that they are likely to be short-lived). So is the real goal something different? Is it really just to send the message that as the U.S. withdraws from Iraq we are not disengaging completely and in fact, are willing to use force somewhere? Or is it that we think it’s probably a good idea to keep a decent size deployment of special forces not too far from the Pakistani border for when the balloon goes up there and we are scrambling to put a lid on their nukes?
History is against us, the terrain is against us, many of the people are against us, the corruption of our local allies is against us, the constraints on our own power are against us, the likely patience of the international community is against us — we are just being carried forward on the residual waves of anger over a terrorist attack that took place almost eight years ago. We shouldn’t forget it, but unless we are willing to adopt and fully own the evolving strategy of missiles and unmanned aircraft being sent after suspected bad guys wherever we find them without regard for borders while we all the while inflame the locals, our “allied governments”, and periodically produce very unfortunate collateral damage — this will be bloody, costly and frustrating.
Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s stop kidding ourselves about the most basic elements of how we think about this war. We call it Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is only the front porch of this conflict. Read between the lines in the summary of the Pentagon report: The real meat of the mission — whether it is hunting down Al Qaeda or the Taliban, combating destabilizing forces in the mission, or keeping a lid on nukes — is in Pakistan. As we escalate, it is worth keeping in mind that what we are really doing is getting deeper and deeper into a conflict in a nuclear nation with more than 170 million inhabitants, four-fifths of whom have decidedly anti-American views and whose country is locked in a 60-year-old conflict with the billion-person nation on its other border.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
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