Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Musings On the "Graveyard Of Empires"

The more one looks at Afghanistan the more the jarring similarities with our effort in South-East Asia occur. Case in point: the farcical election result just voided out in our client state.

Granted Karzai is not yet as hopeless as the Thieu-Ky government that ran the operatically corrupt South Vietnamese government in the last days of that nations existence. But Karzai is starting to look a lot like Ngô Đình Diệm without Madam Nhu. Karzai is so incompetent he can't even properly steal an election.

Granted his opponent had his own special problems starting with his unimaginative parents. One wonders if the twice named Abdulla has the chops to run the epic mess that is Afghanistan.

One wonders if Obama is on a fool’s mission. The Bush Administrations neglect of Afghanistan to pursue its Neoconservative dreams in Iraq may have left the U.S. in a no-win position. It may be too late for any kind of successful operation in Afghanistan.

Our failure in South-East Asia began with a very sensible middle-road approach to the conflict, choosing neither to fully escalate nor get out of Vietnam. Johnson especially died the death of a thousand cuts because he could never decide to fish or cut bait. LBJ proved that the only thing one finds in the middle of the road is squished armadillos.

There is a way to "win" in Afghanistan. It is to really take the ideas of Petraeus to heart and go all in. It means a commitment of five hundred million troops for ten to twenty years to fully pacify Afghanistan. That is the Petraeus math. This is what is required to really and fully do it right. This is the real cost of Nation Building and security in Afghanistan.

We are dealing with the detritus of Bush Jr's attempt to one up his dad. We are dealing with the results of Bush Jr's go-it-alone foreign policy. The comparison to Poppy Bush's Coalition in the First Gulf War to the Son's Coalition in the Second speaks volumes about the Son's recklessness and incompetence. Poppy Bush would have easily gathered the forces required to run down Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Poppy Bush would have probably scotched the original 9/11 plot before it occurred.

For his own reasons Obama has decided to attempt to salvage the Afghanistan situation. Maybe he really does believe that Afghanistan is still the "good war." Maybe he is pursuing more cynical Realpolitik goals. Maybe he mainly fears the Domestic political blow-back if he pulls the plug on Afghanistan.

Ever since Carter flubbed the Desert One rescue Democrats have been branded as weak on defense. Conventional wisdom has decreed that Democrats have to prove their mettle and must be properly belligerent in their foreign dealings. Hillary Clinton has definitely taken this particular idea to heart. The former first lady's reputation as a hawk may have cost her the nomination during the primaries.

Not to be too dire but we are dealing with an epically failed state that has been in a state of constant war for thirty years and counting. Mullah Omar and his grumpy cast of characters were able to seize the reigns of power because the populous of Afghanistan wanted order imposed in the worst possible way. Little did they know that they would get just that--order imposed in the worst possible way. The Taliban tried to impose a reactionary Islamic theocracy on the land. No need to delineate how badly that worked out for the people of Afghanistan.

Whatever our policy ends up being we must realize two things. One is that the Taliban and other aspects on the ground in Afghanistan are merely symptoms of a people and culture that are profoundly broken. The second thing we must realize is there are limits to what we can do to make the Afghans whole.
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