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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