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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A U.S. Foreign Service officer, Afghanistan, and his resignation

Matthew Hoh recently gained national headlines with his resignation last month from the U.S. State Department's Foreign Service officer corps over what he perceives as the lack of goals behind the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan.

He argues that "U.S. and NATO presence and operations...provide an occupation force against which the [Pashtun] insurgency is justified" and that "the bulk of the insurgency fights...against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul." While he is correct, no free person should ever suffer the indignity of occupation, though I would argue just how free they were under the Taliban, simply withdrawing will serve neither the U.S. nor the peace-loving Afghan people in the end.

Mr. Hoh goes on to mention his time in Iraq, but he so quickly forgets we faced a similar problem there with al-Qa`ida in Iraq (AQI) and the Ba'athists. The U.S. military, under Gen. Petraeus, turned the Ba'athists against AQI, not by leaving Iraq, but by instilling in them a desire to play a role in the rebuilding and ownership of their country.

Mr. Hoh makes many correct, justifiable statements about the failure of U.S. strategies and tactics over the past eight years; no one can legitimately argue that he does not have some very valid points. However, there are ways to fix the problems. Do we have the answer right now? No. Will it happen overnight? No. It will take time. Most of us that wish to see a peaceful Afghanistan that plays a role in the international arena understand that and are seeking ways to achieve that by participating in the efforts and not by abandoning them.

Mr. Hoh would do well to remember, that while we have been in Afghanistan for eight years, it took the United States of America from 1775 until 1789 to cobble together a nation of immigrants and establish some semblance of a republic, one that I would argue we are still building 234-years later.

Monday, October 26, 2009

An opinion: A bold, decisive strategy for Afghanistan

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those that do evil, but because of those that look on and do nothing.” Albert Einstein

President Obama has had Gen. McChrystal’s request for troops for almost two months. Two months in a war that has been going on for eight years; has his senior staff not had enough time to determine what tract to take? Did he not have answers for the war during the debates with Sen. McCain?

We have all heard the calls for President Obama to provide the necessary troops for Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan. We have also heard about the need to re-think the strategy in Afghanistan. I, for one, never criticize a strategy or plan without offering an alternative, so Mr. President, here it is.

First, and foremost, provide the troops, and possibly increase the number by another 10,000, for Gen. McChrystal. If the General feels we may still lose with 40,000 then give him 50,000 and be ready to give him more after that. You and your administration act as if we need to save our military for a rainy day; if the Taliban and al-Qa`ida take over in Afghanistan, it will be worse than a rainy day. You yourself said this was the “necessary war,” so act like it. I understand none of your administration, save possibly for Gen. Jones, possess the military acuity of Gens. McChrystal or Petraeus, therefore, it is they who you should turn for advice.

Second, establish some key, attainable, definable objectives for our military. Our military will fight and they will win; if you give them the resources and tell them exactly what you want. Instead, they are hearing ridiculous ideas, like those promoted by your Vice President, about how we need to separate the Taliban from al-Qa`ida and fight a counterterrorism war instead of a counterinsurgency one; pull back from the outlying areas to protect the bigger cities and simply rely on Predators and other stand-off weapons to take out key al-Qa`ida leadership. Maybe they need to ask the Russians how that plan worked out for them twenty-five years ago or better yet, ask former President Clinton and the widows, widowers, and orphans of the USS Cole attack and 9/11. You must have reliable sources on the ground to provide actionable information to our intelligence services in order to properly execute a strike. If you withdraw the military from the outlying areas and do not provide the requisite number of troops, you risk losing valuable gatherers of information.

Since before 9/11, when former President Clinton first shot cruise missiles into Afghan dirt, the Taliban and al-Qa`ida have been bedfellows. Mullah Omar and his bearded Talib would not give bin Laden up then, they did not vote him out of the cave after 9/11 or after we invaded in 2003, there is no way they are going to lose face and do so now just because you ask them nicely or stop killing their senior leaders with Predators. They will simply take that as a sign of weakness, like we know we cannot beat them so we are trying to cut our losses. I, for one, am glad VP Biden did not come into office after Kasserine Pass in World War II or we might still have to contend with a Nazi Germany.

Third, keep what we take. Our Marines in Helmand Province have remarked that there are places in the province that they have gone into three or four times, kicked out the Taliban, and then left, only to return some weeks or months later and do it all again. Unfortunately, this only makes us look like idiots. No one is ever going to cooperate with us if they know we are just going to leave and let the Taliban come back and kill everyone that collaborated with us; just read Stephen Grey’s article, “Morale dips for American Marines in Afghanistan.” If you or your aides ever bothered to study our first and only defeat you would know that’s Vietnam 101.

As I mentioned earlier this week, there are four objectives that need to be considered; secure the Afghan government, provide security for the Afghan people, deny the Taliban and al-Qa`ida space to operate and plan external terrorist operations, or completely eliminate the Taliban and al-Qa`ida. However, there is no way we can accomplish them concurrently. Therefore, you need to pick one; whichever one you and your military advisers think is the most crucial. Succeeding in one will ultimately lead to success in others. The problem with former President Bush’s strategy was that, like his other strategies, it was vague and tried to do too much at once. We must start small. Remember, no one has ever truly ruled Afghanistan. Maybe they owned the major population centers, but not the entire country. Afghanistan is a tribal culture built on villages and governed locally; we need to think small. Not in terms of troop strength, but in terms of building Afghanistan into a safe country that refuses to allow the Taliban and al-Qa`ida to operate anywhere in the country.

Friday, October 23, 2009

We need a new strategy in Afghanistan

The president needs to re-assess the current strategy for Afghanistan. In essence, the strategic objectives given to Gen. McChrystal when he assumed command in May are vague and unattainable without a change in resources on the ground. This is a key reason Gen. McChrystal is requesting additional troops; to implement the strategy outlined back in March. That strategy was doomed from the beginning. It asserts that our strategic goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa`ida and its safehavens. However, it does not define what those terms, disrupt, dismantle, defeat, mean nor does it says anything about the Taliban.

There are basically four, very different and very important objectives that need to be considered; secure the Afghan government, provide security for the Afghan people, deny the Taliban and al-Qa`ida space to operate and plan external terrorist operations, or completely eliminate the Taliban and al-Qa`ida. These are all very diverse objectives that require different configurations of military and diplomatic forces. Though achieving one objective can lead to the success of another, we cannot accomplish them all simultaneously. Clearly identifying which objective has priority is the first thing the president must do.

One of President Obama’s promises during the presidential campaign was a more transparent government. However, after Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s public comments on his need for additional troops in Afghanistan, we saw a flurry of activity, to include a speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates where he essentially admonished the General for publicly advocating additional troops and comments by President Obama’s National Security Adviser, retired Marine Corps General James Jones, who also came out against Gen. McChrystal’s comments, stating that military commanders need to respect the chain of command and provide any advice through it and not the media.

These statements and the failure by President Obama to immediately approve Gen. McChrystal’s request for additional troops are indicative of not only indecisiveness, but, more importantly, are reflective of the fact that the strategy outlined by the Obama administration back in March has not been successful due to a lack of resources and insight.

For example, it states, “we will fully resource our efforts to train and support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).” The way the strategy is written it makes one think these are both viable entities simply lacking some training and resources, which is completely inaccurate. Neither of these organizations is effective in either providing security for the Afghan people or taking on the Taliban. Also, like the rest of the Afghan government, they are completely corrupt. As a result, U.S. troops are needed to not only provide training, but also to execute the missions these organizations should be carrying out until such a time as they are dependably staffed and able to effectively conduct the missions. Unfortunately, most experts agree it will take generations to effectively root out the pervasive corruption in Afghan governmental organizations.

President Obama handpicked Gen. McChrystal back in May for a reason; because of the General’s vast experience in counterinsurgency and special operations. That is also a key reason why Gen. Petraeus was appointed the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Those two men alone have more military and combat experience than President Obama’s entire cabinet combined and for him to essentially ignore their recommendation on how best to achieve the current strategy is blatantly calling that experience into question.

The Afghan people, for the most part, are simple and hardworking people that only want to tend to their fields or go to their job, make a decent wage, return home at the end of the day, and raise their families, all in a secure and peaceful Afghanistan. They do not want to attack America, but at the same time they are not looking for a Western-style democracy or American values; they want to maintain their own culture and identity. Unfortunately, in order to provide some semblance of peacefulness, American troops are required to provide security for the fields, the cities, the State Department U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) workers out helping to build dams and roads and other infrastructure projects the Afghans sorely need.

President Obama’s March strategy made one other significant point; the “new approach will be flexible and adoptive and include frequent evaluations of the progress being made.” Maybe the president and his advisers need to go back and re-read that part of the strategy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

President Obama, listen to your Generals

The Obama administration needs to stop waffling and order the increase in troops that the commander on the ground, Gen. McChrystal, has requested for Afghanistan. We have heard the talking-heads making the arguments for and against the increase; however, their primary focus has been to criticize the military for supposedly leaking Gen. McChrystal’s assessment or on the alleged rift between Obama and the military instead of on the real issues at hand, the safety of American and allied troops and the security of the Homeland.

President Obama’s senior aides, such as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, claim he is weighing all the options and studying the situation before deciding to commit, or not commit, more troops to the fight in Afghanistan. That indicates that President Obama is not listening to those with the requisite experience and that are in the best positions to provide the most accurate recommendations; his chief military advisors, the Secretary of Defense and his handpicked commander on the ground. Considering the advice of anyone else, such as his Chief of Staff, who has never served in the military, or, even less reputable, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is simply preposterous since they do not have the background and are not in positions to provide the most accurate information to allow the president to make critical, military decisions in a timely manner.

Joe Klein stated in his blog, “a quick decision is not a good idea” until the Afghan elections are resolved to allow President Obama time to see “what the next Afghan governmnet [sic] is going to look like” as well as to see if our allies, the Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch, will remain steadfast. Unfortunately, our allies are waiting for President Obama to make his decision; if he wavers and fails to meet the requirements outlined by Gen. McChrystal, it will indicate to our allies that he is no longer stalwart in his support for the “necessary war” and they will see no need to continue their support for the mission. Furthermore, not only will it signal to our allies, rightly or wrongly, that we are no longer sure of the fight, it will signal the same to our enemies, the Taliban and al-Qa`ida, and to our main ally in the region, Pakistan.

This indecisiveness and, more importantly, the failure to provide the required troops, will embolden our enemies at a crucial time in the war. The enemy could care less who sits in the president’s office in Kabul; they will not put the war on hold until a run-off election is held. Furthermore, unlike the Obama administration’s running of the war, they are quite sure of their objective, destroy everyone not adhering to their violently radical version of Islam, take over Afghanistan, install an extremely violent, perverted version of shari`a, then take the fight to America.

The longer President Obama takes to reinforce Gen. McChrystal, the more indecisive he seems and the quicker the enemy will seize the initiative, thus giving the advantage to the enemy as they will interpret the president's lack of resolve as a reflection of American society writ large, much like the North Vietnamese did after 1968, and use it to drive a wedge between the military and the American people, with the Obama White House in the middle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Media bias and national security

As I was preparing my inaugural blog, on Afghanistan and the recent request by Gen. McChrystal for additional troops, I went to my Google page and typed in “Obama AND Afghanistan.” I assumed, with all of the recent media coverage about this topic, there would be numerous links to the current discussion. As expected, the very first link on my results page was about Obama approving an increase in troop levels for Afghanistan; however, it was a CNN article from February 2009. Why would an article from February be the number one result on my results page with all of the new talk about troop increases?

Then it hit me. It is an effort by the pro-Obama media to ensure the American people are aware that Obama has approved troop increases before, thus ensuring the American people are behind Obama when he denies this current request. Obama’s administration can point to the fact that he has approved a troop increase this year and try to make it seem as if the military commanders in Afghanistan and Tampa cannot manage the war.

There has been a lot of discussion about the liberal media and its pro-Obama bias, but this is outrageous. This is tantamount to psychological operations being used against a domestic audience in order to effect a desired outcome.

Since October 2001 our troops and the troops of our allies have operated at a tempo at which the enemy, the Taliban and al-Qa`ida, is unable to operate. Our troops keep them off-balance and unable to think about bringing terror back to the United States. If this leads to increased support for Obama and the military commanders’ warnings are not heeded, it could result in an emboldening of the enemy and cause further casualties among our troops we do have there or possibly allow them to operate at the level they need to in order to carry out another attack in the United States.