Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Afghan Elections Reveal Growing Doubts About War

Regardless of the final results of last week’s disputed elections in Afghanistan, few analysts expect them to provide much of a boost to the U.S.-backed campaign against the Taliban.

This skepticism reflects a growing sense of disillusionment in the United States about the course of the war in Afghanistan, both in the foreign policy establishment and among the general populace.

Recent weeks have seen an unprecedented debate in the U.S. media about whether the war —at least in its current incarnation as an intensive counterinsurgency and development effort aimed at defeating the Taliban and building a strong Afghan central state —is worth fighting at all.

War supporters argue that President Barack Obama and his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, should be given a 12- to 18-month window to turn the war effort around ­—setting up a potential showdown around the time of the 2010 U.S. congressional elections.

Current election tallies leave Afghan President Hamid Karzai short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

Karzai’s main opponent, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has alleged fraud on the part of the Karzai campaign, and U.S. analysts in the do not discount the possibility. Last week, Inter Press Service reporter Gareth Porter reported that Karzai was collaborating with leading Afghan warlords to pad his vote total and avoid a runoff election.

Other analysts note the importance of Karzai’s alliances with warlords for his reelection campaign.

If Karzai wins in the first round, “he almost certainly will owe it to the endorsements that he got in the days just before the election from several warlords … most notably Abdul Rashid Dostum,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and National Security Council (NSC) analyst who chaired the Obama administration’s Afghanistan/Pakistan strategic review earlier this year, at a Brookings Institution panel on Afghanistan Tuesday on August 25.

Dostum, the most powerful leader among Afghanistan’s Uzbek minority, is known for a human rights record that is widely considered to be atrocious even compared to his fellow warlords.

“If Karzai is returned to office now because of Dostum’s support, then hopes for anti-corruption, good governance, and the rest are going to be rather weak in the second round of the Karzai administration,” Riedel said.

Karzai has been widely critici zed for the perceived corruption of his government and he appears to have lost much of the confidence of his U.S. backers. Still, most analysts see Afghanistan’s problems as more institutional than personality-driven.

“Regardless of who wins, we will not have people capable of governing,” said Anthony Cordesman, an influential military strategist at the Cent er for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), at the Brookings panel. “Karzai is corrupt and lacks capacity; Abdullah has governed precisely nothing in the way of a large-scale structure.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.”

Cordesman, if anything, was more pessimistic. He claimed that the Karzai government has either lost control or is at high risk of losing control in 40 percent of its territory, and that the latest U.S. government and media estimates of the growth of the Taliban threat have been “flatly dishonest.”

Kimberly Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War and a leading Afghanistan hawk, agreed with Mullen’s assessment, but claimed that a stepped-up counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign could turn the tide.

Kagan argued that a successful COIN campaign would require both a further increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a reallocation of troops within the country.

In the wake of what has frequently been portrayed as the success of the “surge” strategy in Iraq —of which Kagan’s husband, Frederick Kagan, was a chief proponent— many hawks have argued that the lessons of the surge and of COIN can be applied to Afghanistan as well.

Mullen and Defen se Secretary Robert Gates installed McChrystal and ousted his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, in large part due to the belief that McChrystal was better suited to run an unconventional COIN-style campaign.

Since his accession, McChrystal has emphasi zed civilian protection as the foundation of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and Obama has added 17,000 troops to the U.S. force. Many suggest that further troop increases will soon prove necessary.

Supporters envision a redoubled civilian development effort to complement the military effort, in accordance with the COIN mantra “clear, hold, and build.”

But critics argue that the decline in violence in Iraq was due to a number of factors, many of them having little to do with the “surge,” and that hawks have been too quick to embrace COIN as an all-purpose solution to the current woes in Afghanistan.

“We need to stop talking about ‘smart power’ as if we have it,” Cordesman said at the Brookings event. “As yet, you cannot find anywhere in American military literature a definition of what ‘hold and build’ means, or a single statement by any U.S. official to indicate when the capability… to provide hold and build will be deployed.”

He described the situation in Afghanistan as “all-too-familiar, not just to Iraq, but to Vietnam.”

Other COIN skeptics also make the Vietnam analogy —a reference to the last time COIN was ascend ant in military circles, and the U.S. entertained hopes of reshaping hostile societies through force of arms joined to civilian expertise.

As Obama leans toward an escalated COIN campaign in Afghanistan, a growing number of commentators have begun to ask whether the U.S. is taking a wrong turn.

While support for the war has declined dramatically among the U.S. public —with 51 percent of U.S. citizens believing the war is not worth fighting, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll – recent weeks have been notable for the sudden willingness of voices within the foreign policy establishment to question the war.

Last week, Council o n Foreign Relations president Richard Haass took issue with Obama’s claim that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity,” arguing in theNew York Times that Afghanistan is “not just a war of choice but a tough choice.”

Haass offered tentative support for Obama’s strategy, but urged the consideration of alternative policies, up to and including the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

A blunter assessment came in July from Rory Stewart, a Harvard professor and British parliamentary candidate, who wrote in the London Review of Books that “it is impossible for [the] allies to build an Afghan state,” and labeled the entire allied strategy “the irresistible illusion.”

The influential COIN-themed blog Abu Muqawama, which generally focuses on tactical and operational issues related to COIN rather than broader political questions and is authored by Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security, went so far as to host a week-long debate this month on whether the war is in the interests of the U.S. and its allies.

Admiral Mullen told the Washington Post on August 25 that with the right resources, the United States and its allies could make progress against the insurgency within the next 12 to 18 months.

Many war supporters have echoed this timeline in response to s keptics, with both Riedel and Kagan saying on the Brookings panel that the allies should be given 12 to 18 months to show progress before any decision on whether to scale back the war effort is made.

A 12- to 18-month timeline would mean a reassessment of the war in late 2010 or early 2011 , right around the November 2010 U.S. congressional elections.

Daniel Luban writes for the Inter Press Service and PRA’s Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s senior adviser, whose dealings with the Persian Gulf leaders have come under scrutiny for conflicts of interest.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


RightWeb
share