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January 26, 2010

The Eikenberry Cables
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is not much I can add to the publication of Ambassador Eikenberry's cables in the New York Times, other than if you want the best explanation of why counter-insurgency will not work in Afghanistan . . . read what our man in Kabul has to say.

The Afghan government is fundamentally uninterested in governing and believes the US will stay forever; sending troops will only increase their dependence on US forces; there is no corresponding civilian surge, either by the US or the Afghan government to hold and build; the Pakistanis aren't going to take out the Quetta Shura and I could go on. Basically what you have here is a searing indictment of the military's fetishized dreams of doing counter-insurgency in Afghanistan from a guy who has some credibility on the issue.

With that in mind, I'm gobsmacked to read my friend Spencer argue that the president "clearly" integrated Eikenberry's warnings into his Afghan policy. What? Even if you buy Spencer's notion that the US and NATO is circumventing the Afghan government because the "bulk of U.S. development and governmental support will occur outside of Kabul" (which for the record, I don't), this is a small-bore tactical argument. Eikenberry's thesis is a strategic one . . as in the US strategy is f'ed up and won't work for all the reasons I've mentioned above. Spencer's argument is the geopolitical equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.

Crikey, if you don't have Afghan Army support to "hold" areas cleared; if you don't have Afghan and US civilian support to "build" in those same areas; if you don't have Pakistani buy-in to take out Afghan Taliban safe havens then who cares if you have located development and governance initiative outside of Kabul or you are trying to improve the civilian structure of US and NATO . . . because your overall strategy is incoherent and destined to fail. This is the point, by the way, made so brilliantly by Harry Summers in On Strategy

Personally I'm amazed that Eikenberry is remaining in his position; not only because I have to imagine that his relations with Kazai are a tad frosty . . . but also because he so clearly believes that our policy in Afghanistan is doomed to fail.


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Great comments! You are so nice, man! You never know how much i like'em!

As far as I know Eikenberry was challenged early about the memo by HASC chairman Ike Skelton, and the ambassador replied that “through the very vigorous review of our strategy, all the participants…were encouraged to state their assessments and recommendations,” and his cables were no more than that.

Yes, that's cool. The device is amazing! Waiting for your next one!

The Eikenberry cables were timed to influence the latter part of President Obama's reappraisal of the American military role in Afghanistan. They may have meant to serve as a counterweight, also, against the schedule of troop requests which Bob Woodward had published seven weeks earlier in the Washington Post.

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