Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why the Obama Surge is Doomed to Failure

Think of it this way. If you have a project that requires a thousand bricks but you have just one hundred, adding another thirty or forty really isn't going to help. Now consider that an analogy for the West's bungled 8+ years in Afghanistan. We went in with a force a small fraction of what was required and the Obama/McChrystal surge is the extra 30-bricks. Just what did we expect?

Word is leaking out that "the surge" isn't working. The Americans believed it would work but that's because they childishly believe it has worked in Iraq. It didn't? No, it didn't. There were real improvements in sectarian violence in Iraq but that resulted from several reasons that had little or nothing to do with the Petraeus surge. In any case, not one of the major flashpoint issues that have plagued Iraq since Saddam danced at the end of a rope has been resolved - not the fate of Kirkuk, not the Kurdish mini-state, not what to do with the Sunni minority, not what role the Shiite majority will choose in forging Iraq's relationship with Iran. All of these things have been put on hold until the Americans di di mau.

The Obama Surge was even less likely to work. Afghanistan is even more of a failed state than Iraq. Afghanistan is like a patient with a variety of cancers, each of them lethal. It is afflicted with a terminal mix of tribalism, warlordism, corruption, weakness and criminality. You can't ignore those realities and somehow imagine throwing in an extra 20 or 30-thousand troops to fight a rebel force is going to make any difference. It won't ...and it isn't.

This ambitious business kicked off in February when a record force of 15,000 US, Afghan, Canadian, British and French soldiers were sent in to clear the Taliban out of the city of Marja in Helmand province. Marjah (also spelled Marja) was supposed to be the main Taliban stronghold in Helmand believed to harbour a thousand Talib fighters.

Marjah was supposed to showcase the new "clear, hold and build" approach to counter-insurgency warfare in Afghanistan. The military forces did manage eventually to clear the place, at least somewhat, but Kabul was a dismal failure at the hold and build part. Last month, General McChrystal referred to Marjah as a "bleeding ulcer."

The Taliban know they have one weapon we don't - time. It's their greatest strength and our Achilles' Heel. They have essentially got us tied down in their backyard. Not only are they draining our treasuries and killing our soldiers but they're preventing us from doing anything else with those resources. And the passage of time without clear result is utterly corrosive of public support at home.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Western coalition last week that we're running out of time:

"The one thing none of the [alliance's] publics ... including the American public, will tolerate is the perception of stalemate in which we're losing young men. All of us, for our publics, are going to have to show by the end of the year that our strategy is on the track, making some headway."

How long can the insurgent/rebels hold out, how long can they fight us? The safe answer is as long as it takes. The Chinese occupied Vietnam for ten centuries without ever consolidating their hold on the place. Nationalist insurgencies persisted until the final war (that lasted almost a century) sent the Chinese packing. After the Chinese came the French followed by the Japanese, the French again and then the Americans. Each in turn was uprooted and dispatched.

A lot of our leaders - political and military - like to frame the Afghan war in misleadingly simplistic terms. They posit it as a struggle between Western forces and the Taliban. In reality, that war is simply one facet of much larger, more complex struggles underway in this region. You cannot take the measure of the Afghan war without taking into account the interests and rivalries of Iran, Pakistan, India, China and even Russia. There's no making sense of the Afghan war without factoring in the reality of Pipelinestan and the Caspian Basin fossil fuel resources. Every one of these externalites bears on and complicates the Afghan war and, together, they may have the decisive role in shaping the outcome.

Here's another thing to chew on. If the Afghan war was winnable this year or next year or the year after that, do you believe Harper wouldn't jump at the chance to see it through and don the victor's laurel wreath?

1 comment:

double nickel said...

This can't possibly be true. I keep reading on The Black Rod that things are going swimingly.