Monday, September 14, 2009

JMO - Afghanistan

This is an obvious personal opinion post. I'm no smarter than anyone who reads the news and listens to the experienced analysist (not the political pundits), except I do listen to a broad range of people and experts on the area and the war, including Middle-East experts from the area long respected for their experience and expertise, the BBC, ITN, PRI and other alternative news sources, even Al Jazera English when I can find it, and books by journalists with extensive experience in the area.

This does't make me anymore smarter on the issue, but at least it's not a single focused view, like many get from Fox News. And even then it's only what I gleen and understand, which is far short of being anything more than just another opinion. Just mine. And that said, it's clear to me while there are many differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam and Afghanistan and even Korea and Afghanistan, there are similarities which doesn't bode well for the outcome.

Afghanistan is a hybrid war, both of history and geography. It has it's own circumstances and situations which make it unique, especially when tied with Pakistan and to a lesser extent Iran. But it also has all the earmarks of Vietnam essentailly being a long, protracted war and in the end unwinnable. Yes, we won't and can't win.

We can't win not because of our military superiority, but because to win requires a Vietnam sized committment which we're not prepared to do. But different than Vietnam, it will require a very long stay, not years, but decades like Korea. Are we prepared to keep 80-100,000 troops and (contract and civilian) personnel there for a generation? Are we prepared for the weekly casualty reports for 2-3 generations of soldiers who have served there and will be serving there?

I say this because after 8 years now, we haven't gained very much or advanced beyond just being there. Yes, I know the stupidity of invading and occupying Iraq since 2003 took away much of the resources which should have gone into Afghanistan, but that didn't happen, and now we're stuck getting out of one war and getting stuck in another.

This isn't new to us, but it is new under that light of these wars with the indeterminate enemy. But Afghanistan has the problem of its neighbor Pakistan who we can't fight because we're supporting them for reasons we don't really know except they're not doing what we ask and what we gave them the money for. But that's not their fault.

It's ours for not really understanding they wouldn't do what we wanted and they'll take the money and do what they want. We knew that and know that, and all the diplomacy won't change it. We, in short, screwed ourselves by making a deal with them we know wasn't good. And while they will help when and where they can, we know they won't fully commit to our cause and effort because it would mean a civil war there too, and are we will to be involved in a third war?

The problem with Afghanistan is that like Vietnam, to achieve any reasonable goal there, it take troops, lots of troops. But unlike Vietnam, these troops will have to be stationed throughout the country simply to defend and stablize it. The logistics of that opens up all sorts of problems. How much money and how many troops is the American public willing to accept for years on end to accomplish this?

Because that's the real issue. The country is more disjunct and disorganized than Iraq. There is no central government which works. No national military beyond what we train and support. All local governments are corrupt for themselves, for the Taliban, for war lords, and so on, but not for their own people. And that's the key here, while there is a national identity, there is no national unity to base anything on.

And that's much of its history, either occupation (British, Soviet and now NATO/US), control by select factions (War lords, Taliban, etc.) or corrupt local and regional governments. You can't build a country and nation which hasn't known one let alone operated under one that represented the whole nation and all the people. And that's the problem.

And that's why I don't have any answers. Only a lot of questions, but also a lot of concern. It's not about why we're there, but the issue that we can't leave, not without leaving the place which will be a 2000 all over again. That's the crux of the issue, we can't stay and we can't leave. We aren't committing the resources to win and we're barely committing the resources to keep from losing.

And that's my view. We can more or less win there, but it won't be short, easy or assured. It will be long, expensive and uncertain. That's not because of us but them. We can provide everything they need to achieve a nation but it's not what they want as a nation and not what want from us. And that's sometimes the bigger war.

So we have to decide what we really want there, not just for ourselves, because that will make is the next occupanying force, but for ourselves for them with something they'll accept. And we have to understand it won't happen in a few years, but decades. Because if we don't, we'll and they'll be back to where it started.

In short, we are and will be the relative who overstayed their welcome, except this time we're holding the wallet and the gun. They need us to keep the Taliban, and most likely Al Qaeda, from taking over. Are we willing to provide military, financial and political support to a puppet government? And for how long?

Because we know one thing from the country's history. We can chase them away, but we can't leave or find them back. It's their homeland. They can simply wait us out and play irritating insurgent for years on end, even using Pakistan for their land, resources and support. Pakistan wants a government there friendly to them, and they don't really care if it's controlled by the Taliban, a warlord or whomever, just friendly.

After all that, that's all I understand so far. Winning in any form or manner there will have a very high price. I hope I'm wrong, but I also fear the opposite if only a little. We had to do something after 9/11 and we didn't do enough when we had the chance, and now we're facing our own failures and seeing the prospects aren't what we like.

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