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Afghanistan Setbacks May Lead to Pre-Election U.S. Exit

Mopeder 2012/03/19 19:52:18
Maybe it's time to go
It's worth the effort / Let's keep on fighting
It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
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A month ago, the one sure thing about Afghanistan was that the U.S. would not withdraw troops before November 2012, staving off potential disaster until after the elections.

Now that assumption is no longer certain.

In the last month, the American effort in Afghanistan hit a grim trifecta: inadvertent Koran burning; the killings of Americans inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry in Kabul; and the horrific Columbine-comes-to-Kandahar murder of 16 civilians, allegedly by an Army sergeant. The Pentagon will probably still be able to hold on for while. But let there be no mistake: America’s hold on Afghanistan is unraveling, and the troops may come home as quickly as military logistics will allow.

hold mistake americas hold afghanistan unraveling troops home military logistics

The basic logic for keeping large numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan began with the surge in 2010. The idea was that a technique that had worked for General David Petraeus and President George W. Bush in Iraq might work in Afghanistan as well. The odds were never good -- much worse than they had been in Iraq, partly because unlike Iraq’s Sunni Muslim insurgents, who are a minority, the Taliban belong to Afghanistan’s dominant Pashtun ethnic group.
Trying a Surge

But for President Barack Obama, it was worth a try. A withdrawal then would have been perceived as a victory not only for the Taliban but also for al-Qaeda and a still-living Osama bin Laden. And on the campaign trail, Obama had committed himself to the “right war” in Afghanistan. This had locked him into trying to win that struggle at a time when it was possible for his rivals to argue that the surge had made the Iraq war winnable.

Once it became clear to the Obama administration that the Afghan surge would not generate a clear victory over the Taliban, however, it moved to a fallback position: The continued offensive pressure by the U.S. would give the Taliban incentive to come to the negotiating table. No one would dream of describing that goal as “peace with honor,” but the strategic aim closely matched that of the U.S. in the later phases of the war in Vietnam.

Indeed, much of President Richard Nixon’s expansion of that conflict reflected Henry Kissinger’s judgment that although the war certainly could not be won, it would be impossible to negotiate meaningfully with the North Vietnamese in Paris unless the U.S. had some leverage. Increased force, then as now, was supposed to provide the incentive for the enemy to come to the table.

Yet, by last summer, that fallback position had itself fallen away, and little was left to keep the U.S. in Afghanistan except domestic politics. The Obama administration announced a speeded up withdrawal process, complete with target dates.

Strikingly, that final withdrawal date was planned for 2014, not this year. Clearly, the Obama administration did not want to risk a Saigon-like collapse and the rapid return of the Taliban before the election. Eventually, President Obama might have to confront the reality that the right war was ending even more disastrously than the “wrong” one. So the plan was to put off that historical re-evaluation until at least after the votes were cast and counted, when he had already been re-elected -- or when he had lost, and had nothing to worry about except his legacy.

There was nothing especially unusual about this caution. During the Iraq war, the Bush administration regularly made crucial strategic decisions informed by the timing of U.S. elections. The Iraqis took it in stride -- and themselves have been happy to subordinate American interests to their own domestic political concerns.
Chain of Tragedies

Yet we are now faced with another possibility entirely: a scenario in which, despite wanting to keep Afghanistan in check for a while longer, the Obama administration decides it cannot wait any longer and must begin to withdraw major numbers of U.S. forces ahead of time, no matter the consequences.

We have reached this point thanks to a staccato chain of events, any one of which was predictable individually, but which mean something vastly more significant taken as a group.

Any war gamer worth his salt would have modeled Afghan popular reaction after the desecration of the Koran by U.S. personnel. After all, the U.S. faced serious retaliation in Afghanistan and elsewhere when a minister in Florida simply announced plans for a book burning. A similar event, in-country, was sure to have worse results, even if the burning reflected gross negligence rather than intent.

Slightly less predictable was the breaching of security in the fortress of the Interior Ministry -- not by an attack from the outside but from within, by a ministry employee. The message was not simply that the Taliban could infiltrate the innermost chambers of government. Worse, it suggested that people who might originally have taken jobs out of loyalty to the government were now potential killers. The response, also predictable, was to withdraw all NATO personnel from ministries -- in effect ending the governance aspects of the U.S.-led mission before the military ones could be wound down.

Most predictable of all was the horrific spectacle of an American soldier gone rogue, killing women and children in a door-to-door massacre. Hundreds more people died at My Lai in Vietnam in 1968. And 24 died at Haditha, Iraq. But both of those tragedies arose from routine operations gone haywire. Kandahar was truly an example of the lone gunman, both totally deviant from the goals of military discipline and also symptomatic of what can happen when a body of men is under unimaginable pressure and looking defeat in the face.
Calm After Massacre

It is notable that the Kandahar massacre didn’t have anywhere near the public reaction of the Koran burnings. From the standpoint of many Afghans, it would seem, innocent civilians are killed all the time in their country. The moral distinction between collateral damage and intentional murder seems stark to us, who must bear the responsibilities of the use of force on a large scale and from the air. But for the person whose family is killed, the difference may seem less salient.

Nevertheless, the American position in Afghanistan becomes more tenuous each day. Large crowds of angry Afghan civilians would make a sustained presence harder and harder. President Hamid Karzai last week called for coalition troops to end patrols in villages and retreat to bases, while the Taliban, who have known since last summer that it was all over but the waiting, shut down nascent negotiations with the U.S.

In terms of U.S. politics, concern with losing American lives is coming to outweigh desire for salvaging some sort of victory. Should the Obama administration decide to abandon ship this year, it is not even clear who will object. Yes, it will be a black day for Afghanistan women, human-rights advocates and all those who bravely and perhaps a little foolishly took the side of democracy and hope. But it is hard to imagine any very great criticism of Obama, even from a Republican candidate in a heated election.

The American public knows the war is over. The Afghan public knows it. The tragedy, unfortunately, is just beginning.

Read More: http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/should-an-en...

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  • Steve 2012/03/20 16:06:32
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Steve
    "Get out now" is the closest answer here. But the withdrawal needs to be orderly. And serious attention needs to be paid to getting the Afghan army "up to speed" as an effective, professional force.

    Of course, the fact that it's taken a decade and they're still not there is a real indictment of Bush administration incompetence. We'll know if Obama has done better by how long the government there stays in place after we leave.
  • Ira 2012/03/20 12:39:46
    Maybe it's time to go
    Ira
    But the administration made it quite clear the timetable already in place will remain. There is no may lead to.
  • findthelight2000 2012/03/20 02:58:57
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    findthelight2000
    I certainly hope so. It's obvious they no longer want us there, and we don't know who the enemy is, and our trusted Afghans are turning against us.
  • bob h. 2012/03/20 02:10:24
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    bob h.
    Should not have been there in the first place.
  • Lester 2012/03/20 02:05:15 (edited)
    Maybe it's time to go
    Lester
    Obviously, from a strategic point of view, increasing US forces levels in 2010 accomplished nothing. Interestingly though, if you look back at the polling in 2009-10, Republicans supported the increase at that time--so there would have been a gigantic political fight if Obama had not decided on an escalation. At this point though both Republicans and Democrats (for slightly different reasons) want out. For a President who seems to find it difficult to do anything unless he has 80% support, the current polling should help him make a decision to leave.

    Despite what I just said though, it seems clear that there is still a problem with the generals in the Pentagon. They don't have a plan to win and see leaving as defeat, so they take their traditional course of arguing for more time. I worked in the defense sector for a while, and it is a big mistake to not realize that the Pentagon is an extremely powerful special interest group. My best guess then is that the President will take the position that there is a plan in place to leave in 2.5 years, and that it will be nearly impossible to get him to either speed-up or slow-down that timetable.
  • Adakin Valorem~PWCM~JLA 2012/03/20 01:32:19
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Adakin Valorem~PWCM~JLA
    "The American public knows the war is over. The Afghan public knows it. The tragedy, unfortunately, is just beginning."

    No, the tragedy is that war has become their culture and their way of life... and death.

    We, Americans celebrated when the Mujahadeen drove the Soviets out of their country in the 1980s. We not so covertly supplied them with weapons and tactics to undermine the Soviet's will to fight. And the same lesson is now being taught to the instructor...

    Yes, just like the Russians of thirty years ago, it is out turn to leave the Afghan people in with the 12th century poverty, bigotry and cast system for which they demand to become re-accustomed.

    I just feel bad for the many miles of clean water and sanitary sewer systems that my close friends constructed in and around Kabul... and how that one component of civilized infrastructure had provided hundreds, if not thousands of women with many, many extra hours in their daily lives to pursue other possibilities that now will be banned, hidden and driven to extinction.
  • Pat 2012/03/20 00:03:00
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Pat
    I would get them out NOW if I could.
  • clasact 2012/03/19 23:54:42
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    clasact
    hell get out now their is no reason in the world why we are still their
  • Sinpac 2012/03/19 23:12:29
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Sinpac
    I offer this! Maybe we want the rare earth elements that they have so much of.
    That's enough to supply the world's rare earth needs for 10 years based on current consumption, points out Robert Tucker, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist who is the lead author on a report released on September 14. And from clues his team gathered during three high-security reconnaissance missions to the site, he suspects the deposit is actually much larger.
  • sjalan 2012/03/19 22:16:39 (edited)
    Maybe it's time to go
    sjalan
    +1
    I don't have all the information necessary to make a competent answer to this question, but I do lean towards an overnight pullout. Do is now and do it quickly. Destroy any and all materials that would help either the existing government or the al-Queda or the Taliban.

    There is an old card playing saying, "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" I personally lean towards "fold 'em"
  • Luis 2012/03/19 22:03:44
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Luis
    Yea lets get out of that backward Hell Hole.
  • Ron in Oregon 2012/03/19 21:21:02
    It's worth the effort / Let's keep on fighting
    Ron in Oregon
    +1
    Vietnam redux anyone?
  • Anonymo... Ron in ... 2012/03/20 22:19:04
    Anonymous Coward218
    Have we really accomplished anything there?
  • Final Reminisce 2012/03/19 21:14:22
    Maybe it's time to go
    Final Reminisce
    +1
    it may be time to leave... but i don't believe that we'll be safe once that happens i feel if we leave now we'll be making a big mistake, even though i have family and friends in the army ... and i want to see them... it feels like the job is half finished...
  • Jayfeather 2012/03/19 21:12:11
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Jayfeather
    +2
    HELL YES! We should've left after we killed bin Laden.
  • Mopeder Jayfeather 2012/03/19 21:20:44
  • Anonymo... Jayfeather 2012/03/20 22:19:31
    Anonymous Coward218
    Bin Laden was holed up in Pakistan...
  • Jayfeather Anonymo... 2012/03/20 22:56:31
    Jayfeather
    Yes, but we were in Afghanistan looking for him at the same time as we were spying on Pakistan, trying to cover as wide an area as possible.
  • scbluesman13 2012/03/19 20:08:29
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    scbluesman13
    +1
    That gunman was not alone. It was a group of US soldiers that went house to house killing those innocent Afghans. This insane and disastrous war has gone on far too long, it's time to get everyone home. Karzai wants to continue burning both ends of the candle because he is afraid if the US leaves entirely, that he will be overthrown. If Karzai has anything to say about it he'll continue criticizing US military policy publicly, while privately begging Obama to continue holding some thousands of troops in key cities that were former Taliban strongholds.
  • Mopeder 2012/03/19 19:54:52
    It's time to stop / Let's get our troops out now
    Mopeder
    Now is the time to get them out of there. Bring them home.

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