It has been over 24 hours since President Barack Obama made his speech announcing our strategy in Afghanistan going forward. Conservatives, as could be expected, used the speech as another opportunity to bash Obama. The speech was not perfect and the plan it described less so, but in the usual brain-dead fashion Conservatives seized upon the dumbest of talking points.
Karl Rove said the President took longer to give the generals 75% of what they asked for than it took Bush to defeat the Taliban back in 2001. Karl has clearly lost his mojo since we wouldn’t be talking about Afghanistan right now if Bush had defeated the Taliban in 2001.
Another criticism is that we have announced an exit date, giving our enemy the time period in which they can sit tight and wait to re-emerge. More foolishness. We are going to have an 18 month target to achieve our objectives and then depending on conditions on the ground, we will turn over responsibility to the Afghans.
When it comes to military exercises, I’m more or less a regular Joe. I have to distill all the complexities down to the basics. If the Conservatives had half a brain they would be making their complaints based on the basics.
Here are the basics:
1. We will teach the Afghan army and police how to kick Taliban ass.
2. We will nation build. Yes I know Obama calls it a “civilian strategy” but let’s be frank. If you are helping a government behave like a democracy in the image of America, you are nation building.
3. Stronger ties with Pakistan, vaguely stated.
My average Joe perspective on this is that the strategy is muddled at best. First, we cannot afford to go into every country where a corrupt central government is unable to protect its people from the local thugs. The Taliban may be a scourge but how are they a threat to the United States? They want to oppress fellow Afghans. Disturbing, shameful but really not our problem. Our problem is Al Qaeda which has all but disappeared from Afghanistan.
Second, nation building only works in a country that cries out for our brand of democracy. The notion that we will turn centuries of tribal tradition into a united people who respect a central government within 18 months is a wild stretch of the imagination. I have seen no reports of Afghan soldiers particularly wanting to be trained by us. In fact, the situation looks quite grim:
General Egon Ramms, a German commander in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, warned last month that the current police force of around 68,000 is prone to corruption and training has been less than efficient.
Out of 94,000 Afghan soldiers trained so far, 10,000 have defected, he said, while estimating that 15 percent of the armed forces are drug addicts
Finally, the third leg in the stool is the wobbliest, the least well defined and yet to my mind the most important. Al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Pakistan has nukes. Pakistan seems more worried and paranoid about India than about the terrorist thugs within their own borders. The bold move and the most truly hawkish one would have been to issue an ultimatum to Zardari that either he cleans up the Al Qaeda mess in his country, including the capture of Osama Bin Laden, within a particular timeframe, or we will send troops into Pakistan and get the job done ourselves. Wonder what old Dick Cheney would have said about that?
As it stands now, we have to hope that the assumption that Afghanistan is a carbon copy of Iraq, just one surge away from stability is the correct one. It does not look like we will see the Afghan equivalent of the Sunni awakening to help us along. We have to hope that an illegally elected President with a drug kingpin for a brother will prove to be a reliable ally. We have to hope that Pakistan will act in good faith to combat the criminals in their own country.
To my average Joe mind, this seems like a lot of hope and not a lot of strategy.