Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan Decision - and the Likelihood of "Success"

Doyle McManus (LA Times) pens a cogent analysis of some of the factors that Mr. Obama ought to be (and surely must be) considering as makes a decision about future strategy in Afghanistan.  I'm especially struck, though, by his comments on John Kerry's recent involvement (his 4 days with Karzai in Kabul), and how Kerry is bearing in mind his Vietnam experience:

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who prodded Karzai into agreeing to the runoff last week, said he spent much of four days in the presidential palace insisting that reform had to happen -- and he thinks the message got through. "I'm confident there are going to be some changes" in Karzai's government after the election, including replacement of corrupt provincial governors and Cabinet ministers, Kerry said. "We need to work very hard at those, because they are central to this turning around."

But he acknowledged that the outcome of that issue is in Afghan hands, not ours.

"In 1971, I asked the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee, 'How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?' " Thirty-eight years later, chairing the committee, Kerry said, "I keep that question very much in mind."

I do believe that Kerry's confidence in Karzai's intention to "reform" his government is badly misplaced - what we see as "corruption" is what many in Afghanistan's more privileged elements see as the customary way of doing business, and I suspect that no amount of cajoling from Kerry, Obama, or anyone else is going to change that, especially when those privileged elements know that the US has turned its back and walked away from Afghanistan not once, but twice, since about 1990.
But I've been remembering Kerry's 1971 question to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ('How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?") for months now.  Most of the current brass are not going to be asking that question out loud right now - which is what makes the resignation of Michael Hoh so resonant at this point in time.  At what point do the military rank-and-file begin to weigh in with questions like Kerry's - especially given reports of already sagging morale?

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