Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Afghanistan - To surge or not to surge

To surge or not to surge, that is the question. News reporting has it that President Karzai will agree to a run-off election. Details are somewhat hazy. Will it occur this year before the major winter snows make it impossible to deliver/retrieve ballot boxes from the remote villages? Will the president insist on delaying the run-off election until next year? Given the late date, even if the election occurred within the next 30 days, it might be impossible to ensure all eligible voters would have their ballots counted because of weather. Yet, to continue with a fraudulently elected president at the helm is unlikely to provide the legitimacy of a partner our foreign policy experts were hoping for in our pursuit of a viable Afghanistan policy.

And this brings us to the question of the surge. There was little doubt that this question was hostage to an answer to the larger issue of what to do about the fraudulent presidential election. Having (partially) come to grips with that issue, what do we do now? The military is supportive of General McChrystal’s request for additional troops. But do we want to go ahead with a major surge when we still have no exit policy? How will we know if/when we’re successful in our Afghan campaign? When our military forces have neutralized every Taliban follower? When we’ve captured Usama bin-Laden and his principal cohorts? When the Pakistani Taliban no longer threatens our Pakistani partner? What is our definition of success in Afghanistan?

It would appear there are “good” Taliban and “bad” Taliban. It all depends on the willingness of the particular Taliban group to accept a deal with the Pakistani military. To date, two major Taliban organizations have come to terms with the Pakistani military incursion into Waziristan. The quid-pro-quo is, “You don’t bomb or shoot at us and we don’t shoot at you.” And maybe, just maybe, this will wind up being the best deal possible. To the best of our knowledge, al Qaeda was not a participant in this arrangement.

What about the training and arming of Afghan military and police units to the degree they are able to deal with the insurgency. Would that constitute success? There is always the attraction of finding parallels with our Vietnam experience. How many thousands upon thousands of South Vietnamese military, police and paramilitary members had we trained? And they lasted how long against the NVA incursion into the South after we pulled back our combat elements? What reason do we have to believe the picture would be any different in Afghanistan?

Let’s get back to the original question, to surge or not to surge. My take on this is as follows. We dare not leave U.S. and coalition forces in such a predicament that we are endangering their safety. We must ensure they have what they require by way of support to protect themselves. However, we might best delay the full complement of the surge, up to 40,000 additional troops, until we’ve decided on the definition of success. When will we be able to state, “Job well done; bring the troops back home.”


Monday, October 19, 2009

Afghanistan - A Run-off election or Power Sharing Arrangement

A run-off election or a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan—what will it be? Reportedly, this is what is occupying our national security folks; a matter they must decide before our government can discuss any surge in military personnel.

To no one’s surprise, President Karzai will dig in his heels and refuse any national election between him and the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah. The latter, a Tajik-Pashtun, has the ethnic-tribal affiliations that would serve him well in leading his people out of the Taliban embrace. Furthermore, having served as a close advisor to Ahmed Shah Masood, the Tajik hero, would add significantly to his credibility and electability. Could this be the reason that Karzai had expelled Abdullah from his cabinet?

And so the likely outcome will be a decision to go for the power-sharing option. In my opinion, this would be a grave mistake. First, Karzai would remain as president—a president who won in a fraudulent election. As president, he is certain to insist on retaining control of those governmental ministries and agencies that really count. Plus, he would retain the power to install his people as governors in the most significant regions. Second, we have to look at the power-sharing arrangement of another country where the president won by fraudulent means—Zimbabwe. Even after achieving a power-sharing arrangement, the runner-up, Morgan Tsvangirai, has failed to achieve a true sharing of power with President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai, the country’s prime minister, from the very beginning, has been unable to resolve disputes with the president. Furthermore, the internal security forces, under Mugabe’s aegis, continue to arrest Tsvangirai’s supporters on bogus treason charges.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Afghanistan - Let's get it right this time

We hear nothing from the generals. They’ve spoken out in the past, telling us of the need for a surge of between 2000-6000 troops if we are to be successful in Afghanistan. But now they are silent. It is time for the politicians to do their thing.

Wisely, our political leaders are discussing among themselves two issues: What would constitute success in Afghanistan? What shoring up of the Afghanistan political structure would be required for the American and coalition forces to neutralize the Taliban and the al Qaeda remnants in that country?

The first challenge is to undo the fraudulent election that returned Karzai to the presidency. Current polls suggest, were new elections to take place in the near term, Karzai would be unlikely to receive even fifty percent of the vote. How would a non-Pashtun president sit with the majority of the Afghan people? Would it be better to seek out a Tajik or even an Uzbek in order to find a non-controversial figure from a non-entity tribe á la Kenya?

It will be a long, hard slog but this is the only way to proceed. More later on the subject of what constitutes “success” in Afghanistan.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Afghan Policy - Redux

In my last post on our Afghan policy, I stated I was confused. Let me state for the record: I’m no longer confused. I’m just angry. Every one accepts the principle that, until there is an effective government in place in Kabul, nothing else is going to work. There is no effective government in Kabul; there is only the weak, ineffective and corrupt Karzai government. And its power barely extends to the Kabul city limits. To top it all off, this government is the result of an admitted fraudulent election.

General McChrystal says the Taliban are winning and, unless he receives anywhere from 20,000-40,000 additional troops, the game is over. We will have lost Afghanistan. Now, the good general, along with his boss, General Petraeus, are students of asymmetric warfare. Asymmetric—a fancy name for fighting against an insurgency. But didn’t General McChrystal say, just the other day, that until and unless some entity cleans up the current Afghan regime, and converts this corrupt cabal into an effective government, there’s very little military forces can hope to accomplish in ther struggle against insurgent elements.

I recall, when preparing for Vietnam duty back in 1968, the rubric was, “The power of the emperor stops at the village gates.” The central government of the then South Vietnam exercised only minimal control over the regions of the country. And this is what we now see in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has nominated a new general officer to oversee all training activities. But how do you train a police force that is composed of young men who have bribed their way into the force? These men will continue to have their salaries raided by the recipients of graft. And, once they become fully fledged police officers, they will begin making up for those payments of graft by demanding “fee for service” from the citizenry. The same principle exists within the justice system. Lesser judges have paid graft to senior judges to become seated magistrates and judges. They, in turn, like the police officers, will have to collect from those who seek justice in their courts. Thus we have “justice” awarded to the plaintiff or defendant depending on who pays whom and how much.

And the White House is dithering over how many more troops they should send to Afghanistan. Go ahead and send another 20,000. Send another 30,000—no, make that 40,000. It will make no difference. We will kill a mess of Taliban and we shall certainly experience more American and allied casualties and coffins. Unfortunately, nothing in Afghanistan will change. In the end, the Taliban will remain the only organized national element prepared to step up and govern the country.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

DOJ and the release of classified materials

According to President Obama, any question as to what data, classified by the originating agency, may be released to the public will be deferred to the Attorney General and/or his minions. I spent better than 30 years working with the CIA. I handled highly classified materials almost every day. To think that someone, totally removed from ongoing intelligence operations, will decide whether these classified materials may be declassified and released to some outside uncleared body boggles the mind. On what basis will these outsiders make this decision? If the DOJ folks operate true to form, they will base their decision on “political advantage.”

Two key questions: Will the release of this data be advantageous or disadvantageous to the administration? Can the administration exploit the release of this information to its own advantage?

Naturally, the originating agency, CIA, DOD, NSA for example, can submit its input, can provide arguments in favor of not releasing the classified material, but as we have seen in the case of the president’s reworked health insurance programs, the president wants a public option and he shall have it, in one form or another. He will play havoc with Medicare, if he has to, in order not to add to the current budget deficit, but he will have his way. Going back on his word and ordering his attorney general to prosecute CIA officers engaged in following interrogation protocols earlier declared legal by the attorney general’s predecessor, makes no difference. The president needed a show to take the people’s eyes off the horrible mess he’s made of the stimulus program.

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