Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Surging US Troops into the Afghan Black Hole

On the Foreign Policy website, neocon military historian Kimberly Kagan argues today that the Taliban are indeed winning there, but only for now - and that the war can be "won" if the US and NATO follow her prescriptions for inserting more resources, in the right places. To her, the right places are not development projects (which NATO sees as essential to building Afghans' faith in both the West and their central government (such as it is)), but places where the "insurgents" might be massed. In other words, it's all about killing the enemy, says she. That means more boots on the ground.

. . . which is also what highly respected military analyst Anthony Cordesman has argued for - to the tune of at least 45,000 more US troops, as well as tens of thousands more Afghan soldiers as well. Cordesman is the ultimate realist-pragmatist, never inclined to sunny optimism. If he is arguing for that many more troops, you can also bet that military higher-ups are taking that recommendation very seriously - and that Gen. McChrystal is going to be asking for at least some significant fraction of that number when he makes his upcoming recommendations to Mr. Obama.

. . . which also explains McChrystal's recent phone call (facilitated . . . perhaps inspired? . . . by Richard Holbrooke) to Vietnam War historian Stanley Karnow. I've seen no report on the actual content of the conversation - aside from Karnow's opinion that both the Vietnam and the Afghanistan wars were ill-advised - but you have to suspect that McChrystal has been alerted to the parallels between the two. He also must be well aware that continuing escalation of US deployments in Vietnam led to a disaster.

Obama is about to be confronted with a huge decision, at a time when the country is distracted with the ever-more-polarized health-reform debate, the future of cash-for-clunkers, the never-ending Michael Jackson story. . . and growing outcry in Congress (led by Eric Cantor) that Obama is turning his back on Israel. And don't forget that Iraq is not yet "over" - regardless of the continuing assertions - reflected in Kimberly Kagan's FP essay - that the "Surge" won it for the US. The bombings that killed 50 Iraqis - mostly Shii - in Baghdad and a village near Mosul yesterday made for the most deadly day since the US withdrawal from the urban areas.)

But the US/NATO casualty count in Afghanistan is growing (4 more soldiers were killed yesterday), and by every estimate I've seen, it's going to grow much worse, and stay worse, for a long time. And the more Americans killed, the stronger will become the insistence that the US stay there, whatever the cost, so that the sacrifice will not have been "in vain," and so that (to channel John McCain's campaign 2008 expression) the troops can come home "with honor."

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