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November 15, 2010

Let's Just Make Afghanistan the 51st State and Call It a Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last week, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai gave another in his series of "helpful" and instructive interviews criticizing the current US military strategy in Afghanistan. Every time he does this it's only further evidence of the disconnect between the Afghan government and the United States on long-term objectives in Afghanistan.

But today's article in the Washington Post recounting General David Petraeus's reaction to Karzai's words, is simply stupefying:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coalition military commander in Afghanistan, warned Afghan officials Sunday that President Hamid Karzai's latest public criticism of U.S. strategy threatens to seriously undermine progress in the war and risks making Petraeus's own position "untenable," according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Officials said Petraeus expressed "astonishment and disappointment" with Karzai's call, in a Saturday interview with The Washington Post, to "reduce military operations" and end U.S. Special Operations raids in southern Afghanistan that coalition officials said have killed or captured hundreds of Taliban commanders in recent months.

In a meeting Sunday morning with Ashraf Ghani, who leads the Afghan government's planning on transition, Petraeus made what several officials described as "hypothetical" references to an inability to continue U.S. operations in the face of Karzai's remarks.

Officials discounted early reports Sunday that Petraeus had threatened to resign. But "for [Karzai] to go this way, and at that particular stage, is really undermining [Petraeus's] endeavors," one foreign diplomat in Kabul said

Forgive for me asking, but who exactly is in charge in Afghanistan - the President of the country or the commander of US and NATO forces? Maybe we should change General Petraeus's name to Proconsul Petraeus?

Seriously, why go through the exercise of having an election, or pretending that Afghanistan is a democracy or maintaining the fiction that somehow the Afghan government is in charge of or even contributing to the war being fought in its name? What you have Petraeus saying here is basically that when it comes to determining Afghanistan's future, the judgment of David Petraeus should trump that of Hamid Karzai.

This isn't even to say that Karzai's judgment is better . . . but my gosh how can the United States hope to possibly conduct a true counter-insurgency operation when the president of the country is bad-mouthing it to his own people?

I suppose on some level articles like these - clearly leaked by Petraeus's staff -- are intended to put pressure on Karzai to be more supportive of US operations, but what they really serve to do is demonstrate the weakness of US policy. It's hard to imagine a greater indictment of US strategy than to have the president of Afghanistan basically argue that that strategy is counter-productive and flawed.

At the very least, this should give lie to the argument that what the US is doing today in Afghanistan looks anything like the counter-insurgency doctrine described in FM 3-24. After all that notion of COIN relies, in large measure, on host country support; how can the US argue that we have anything even resembling that?

If Karzai thinks there should be a smaller US troop presence in Afghanistan then fine . . let's do that. After all why should US troops be dying for a strategy that the president of the country we are nominally defending doesn't even support? It seems instead that for US military officials, military escalation follows a pattern all its own completely divorced from any kind of larger Afghan reality.

Consider what is happening today: we are in Afghanistan, supposedly to fight a war against al Qaeda even though no al Qaeda cells have been in Afghanistan for nearly nine years. Instead we are waging an actual war against Afghan insurgents who have no interest in attacking the United States and even if they were to take power in Afghanistan would pose a nominal and easily containable threat to the United States.

This war that is predicated, in large measure, on strengthening Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan even though that country is actively supporting the insurgents that are killing American soldiers (oh and we are also giving that country, which happens to be home to the man who killed 3,000 American on 9/11, $1.5 billion a year in aid). And finally, we are spending billions in national treasure on state building in a country that is completely tangential to long-term US interests and whose own government doesn't appear to want us there in the first place.

Does any of this make sense to anyone not serving in the upper echelons of the US military (or Peter Bergen and Max Boot)?

We are very, very far down the rabbit hole in Afghanistan.


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10 years in, and we still don't have a strategy worthy of the name. I mean, our war plan is OFFICIALLY AD HOC ("conditions-based").

I think a lot of that failure is tied to the fact that the war doesn't really affect Americans, en masse. After a solid decade of intense U.S. military action, what sacrifice have you, personally, had to make? I don't know about you, but I still go to the mall every weekend and piss away my paycheck without giving a second thought to the conflict overseas.

There are no food rations, rubber rations, or scrap drives. There are no war bonds being bought. I'm not at all nostalgic for a time of real national scarcity, but when the country doesn't have to sacrifice for the fight, it obviously won't require that it be a fight worth fighting, or even that it have a reasonable strategy behind it.

The citizens of the U.S. have no skin in the game in Afghanistan, other than the desire to see the U.S. military's reputation stay strong (which, ironically, is a goal that becomes harder to achieve the longer we flail about helplessly in Afghanistan).

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This isn't even to say that Karzai's judgment is better . . . but my gosh how can the United States hope to possibly conduct a true counter-insurgency operation when the president of the country is bad-mouthing it to his own people?

I suppose on some level articles like these - clearly leaked by Petraeus's staff -- are intended to put pressure on Karzai to be more supportive of US operations, but what they really serve to do is demonstrate the weakness of US policy. It's hard to imagine a greater indictment of US strategy than to have the president of Afghanistan basically argue that that strategy is counter-productive and flawed.
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