Monday, September 14, 2009

Graham, Lieberman, and McCain: The US must "prevail" in Afghanistan

. . . or so they insist in their WSJ op-ed piece.  Actually, in some ways it's a remarkable essay, in that they (= two prominent Republicans, as well as a "Democrat" who backed Bush right down the line on Iraq) also point the finger directly at the Bush administration for mismanaging the effort there for 8 years.  That certainly has to sting Bush, Cheney, and Condi Rice.

But they once again fall back on the "we must prevail" trope.  To do that, say they, we must do the following, among other things:

1. We must trust our new genius-general, Stanley McChrystal, just as we "trusted" his now superior, David Petraeus - who, of course, brought the US "success" in Iraq because (don't you remember?) the Surge "worked."  That's why Iraq is so calm right now.  (That remark is meant to be sarcastic, of course, but Americans can't entirely be faulted for thinking that Iraq these days is calm.  Iraq has disappeared from the mainstream-media coverage, but it remains very volatile, with an ever-widening fault line between Arabs and Kurds, especially over Kirkuk and oil.)  But to date I've seen nothing reported to indicate that McChrystal is enjoying much success, or that suggests that he's turning anything around.

2. We must believe that we now have the right strategy, which, in their minds, is counter-insurgency a la Petraeus in Iraq.  But Petraeus' ideas on counter-insurgency did not "fix" Iraq.  They only dampened down the violence, but without addressing the cause of the violence, which lay largely within the political and social tensions in Iraq's society.  These are matters with which the US was ill-prepared to deal.  Which brings us to . . .

3.  We must hold the Afghan leadership accountable, and ensure that they clean up their act.  How they propose the US do that, however, they don't say.

4.  We must send more troops to Afghanistan, for that is the only way to defeat the Taliban and keep al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan.  This, however, is mere assertion, just as it was being asserted in the 1960s that failure to defeat the Viet Cong would lead to the loss of all of Asia to the "Free World."  Nor can the esteemed senators detail exactly how more troops will lead to a defeat of the Taliban.  Indeed, Zbigniew Brzezinski and others have suggested that the more troops we introduce, the more the locals will see them as foreign occupiers, and the more they will rally to the Taliban's cause.

But at the end, the senators assure President Obama that they stand behind him in his "war of necessity" (even while senators of his own party - among them, Carl Levin - have expressed deep reservations about any significant troop increase).  Mr. Obama may have boxed himself in with that unfortunate choice of words.  At any rate, the esteemed senators have taken a pre-emptive step to keep him cornered.

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