Back to Bagram?

It seems the President has been swayed by his military advisors (both in and out of uniform) that it’s time to “surge” in Afghanistan again:

…shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.

I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.

Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.

Third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.

For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict….

Surging troops (particularly only 4,000 more) is not a strategy.  Killing individual terrorists is not a strategy.  These are but tactics.   What is the desired end state?  It’s proven to be extremely difficult to build a competent, effective Afghan government and army.  Only when those exist is there any chance of us offloading this burden without creating the vacuum Trump references.  So why isn’t there more emphasis on that?  I’m not just talking about training troops (who have a tendency to run away — even when training in the U.S.!).  I’m talking about identifying real leaders, people Afghans are willing to rally around, that provide another pole of power besides the Taliban.  We may not like the leaders we find; they’re hardly likely to be Jeffersonian types.  But if they are committed to fighting the return of the Taliban and ensure Afghanistan doesn’t return to being a terror sanctuary, that should count most.

I really wish our leaders would pick up a book series I’ve recently been reading.  It’s written by a disaffected former U.S. Army Lt. Colonel who pulls no punches about the flawed premises under which we’ve operated since 9/11.  It’s not easy to read — using a science fiction story as allegory he frequently and graphically lays bare the moral quandaries of this type of war.  But as distasteful as some of his recommended approaches might be, one has to wonder if letting this festering sore drag on for 16 years is far worse.  Respect for U.S. power has waned, even as our forces have worn down from years of constant use.  Maybe it’s time we simply left, and made clear that any nation from which a future attack is launched against will find us, in Kratman’s title quote, making “A Desert Called Peace.”  There are easy ways to do so without “boots on the ground.”  And in the meantime, we should be hardening our borders and entry processes into America immediately.  It’s already long overdue.

Half-measures haven’t gotten us anywhere.  We’re too forceful to be loved, but not forceful enough to be feared.  Sooner or later we’re going to have to choose one or the other.

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Quote of the Day

While listening to Trump’s address last night my overall impression was favorable, with a couple of concerning objections (more on that in a later post).  But since there’s a lot of talk in the air about increasing defense spending, and expanding the war on ISIS and related groups, this quote in Foreign Policy magazine is well worth pondering:

As a soldier, I welcome additional funds for training, personnel, and equipment.

But as a citizen I have concerns. Money will not fix what ails our military. ((emphasis added))  We don’t have a supply problem, we have a demand problem created by poor strategy. We have a military doing missions often beyond its purview, acting as the lead government agency in areas it is not qualified to do so, bearing impossible expectations in the process. As military professionals, we fail if we don’t achieve national goals (end states); the corollary to this is simple, we must demand clear and achievable goals. Our lack of both skews defense decisions.

The entire piece is deserving of your time and attention.

The domestic consequences of weak foreign policy

This article is very well written and articulates concerns I’ve had for some time:

Because of the reckless abandonment of duty in Washington I’ve watched as many of us are now forced to reconsider limited government stances to offset this abandonment. This administration created ISIS by withdrawing troops and leaving no residual force in Iraq. They enabled it to grow with a hands-off approach as ISIS consumed Iraq bit by bit…

We failed to act earlier when risks were smaller and fewer lives were on the line. Now that ISIS has festered, risks are higher and more lives are at stake. I am not pro-war, I am pro-eliminating threats. I am pro-minimizing risk.

The reason we’re even having this conversation about domestic surveillance, Muslim databases, any of it, is because we failed to contain the infection over there and now it’s spread to here. If it’s a purposeful strategy to convince Americans to sign away their own liberties for the shaky assurances of a little safety, it’s a brilliant one. However, if it’s a purposeful strategy to protect the growth of a death cult by appealing to limited government sensibilities, using political correctness and inaccurate analogies, it’s also brilliant.

Either way, it’s an appeal to fear, both justified. Which one is it?

I suspect it’s a little of both, in the sense of “heads I win, tails you lose” and we lose a little more of our freedom every day.  Far too many of our would-be rulers know government power is best increased in a climate of fear.  So why not implement policies that sound appealing at the time, but that create economic uncertainty and hardship, social disruption among competing demographics, and security threats within and without?  While I don’t charge our entire political class with ascribing to this approach, I have no doubt there are a significant number of them that see the current climate as a feature, not a bug.

And so, many of us are conflicted.  I, too, believe strongly in minimalist government, and on the individual level, the need for compassion for the distressed and the dispossessed.  But the irresponsibility of the past two decades now leaves us with threats, such as radicalized Islamic congregations in Europe and the United States, that are beyond the ability of individuals to remedy.  Hence, the reluctance of many Christians — including me — to sanction continued importation of hundreds of thousands more from the Muslim world, and the flirtation of some, like Trump, with what Loesch accurately refers to as fascist tendencies.  (Note that I’m mentioning these in the same sentence, NOT lumping them together…)  In the case of Trump, it’s another instance of proposing more government to solve problems government created in the first place, kind of like the TSA after 9/11.   And we all know what a worthwhile tradeoff of freedom THAT’S been…

Even the Onion — that bastion of satire — knows enough to urge Americans to carefully consider the lessons of history.  As one writer put it, if the nationalists (those who favor stronger border controls and greatly reduced immigration — legal AND illegal) don’t win the day soon, the stage will be set in Europe and the US for the ultranationalists (think yellow stars or Japanese internment camps) as the security problems get even worse.  Unlike many today, I don’t see nationalism (based in an affinity for one’s own people and culture and desire to protect the same) as necessarily a bad thing, despite the ability to misuse it.

Ultranationalism, though — nobody should want to go there.

We cannot continue to allow our government to import more of a problem that it will later be only too happy to address if we hand over the Bill of Rights for “temporary safekeeping.”  We are already way too far down that road.  As the late Fred Thompson said in one of my favorite movies: “this business will get out of control, and we’ll be lucky to live through it.”

Dance of the oligarchs

First, the quote of the day:

“…will parties in the USA (including Obama camp “progressives”) stop cheerleading for a showdown over this hapless doormat of a faraway nation (Ukraine) whose destiny is not entwined with the people of Ohio, Nebraska, Rhode Island, or any of the other fifty states? We have enough to do in our own country to adjust to the new realities of the unraveling turbo-industrial global economy — and, by the way, we are not doing a damn thing to address any of it. Our domestic political conversation at all levels is juvenile and idiotic.”

This plea is all the more appropriate because the call for resurrecting the Cold War over whether or not those who identify themselves as Russian can live as part of Russia has absolutely nothing to do with vital principles. It is all about two groups of uber-rich, dynastic oligarchs vying for power on the world stage, using their less fortunate countrymen as cannon fodder. Americans don’t like to think of their nation as being politically on a par with Russia, but perhaps it’s time to face some facts.

* It’s easy to agree that Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have empowered and enriched himself through cronyism. So what makes them different from, say, Harry Reid, who is amazingly wealthy despite a life allegedly spent in ‘public service?”

* Russia’s internal security forces, descendants of the Cheka and KGB, are often highlighted for failing to protect basic human rights. So what makes their stereotypical “midnight knock on the door” different from the thousands of “no-knock raids” conducted by America’s trigger-happy SWAT teams?

* Russia is decried for using the leverage of its natural gas wealth to achieve favorable concessions and relations from other countries. I suppose this kind of subtlty looks diabolical when your own nation prefers to engineer “regime changes,” sometimes via outright invasion.

Sting once sang “the only hope for me and you, is if the Russians love their children, too.” It works both ways. Parents in neither country should be willing to send their children off to war simply to play ‘a game of thrones’ between the Pampered Princes of the Potomac and the Kings of the Kremlin. War has ever been ‘the health of the State,’ and the last thing we need are more manufactured crises that feed Leviathan. Rather than let these elites divide us with the ploy of “let’s you and him fight,” we’d be better served using whatever outrage we have to set our own houses in order.