October 19, 2009

Explaining the Unexplainable

Certain phenomena throughout human history have defied description and explanation: love, religion, black holes, reality TV. Afghanistan ranks among the most complex pieces of land on earth, so one must wonder as White House and Pentagon officials review Afghanistan to death if explaining the war is actually possible in any amount of time.

Innocent as the demand is for information on Afghanistan, US officials are in no mood to illuminate the pitch black, forcing us once again to make our own light. Contradictory as this exercise may seem, we will attempt to explain the unexplainable positions being fed to us.

Deployed to buy more time for President Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN on Sunday, “I think it would be irresponsible and it would be reckless to make a decision on US troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether in fact there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space.”

Passing the talking-points memo to John Kerry, the Senator repeated, “It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country, when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with.”

Yes, it would be entirely irresponsible - and it already happened. Emanuel, Kerry, and company must have short memories or else they want Americans to quickly forget the past.

Obama’s “Afpak” White Paper went up on his “progress” list of his foreign policy section as it was announced. He proclaimed, “I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months.” In addition to “taking the fight to the Taliban,” an objective the White House is now trying to walk away from, “this push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.”

That objective also failed and now the White Paper is being reworked. The 17,000 troops Obama deployed along with their comrades are stuck in limbo, unsure of reinforcements, their mission, or what the White House is thinking.

“Before you commit troops,” Emanuel argued, “which is not irreversible, but puts you down a certain path, before you make that decision, there's a set of questions that have to have answers that have never been asked.”

Obama didn’t, “know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with," or if the election could be secured and held fairly, or who the enemy is, yet he still put America down a certain path. "A thorough analysis" in the White House didn't occur. Obama is obviously frustrated at the election - is he mad at himself? Maybe this lapse is why Emanuel now believes analysis is so vital.

“Typically, you defer to the field for the resource needs,” said one senior official involved in the review. “In March we thought we had a handle on what McKiernan thought he needed.”

But they didn’t. Says Bruce Riedel, architect of the White Paper, “The military was not ready at that point to come to the president and say, 'Here's the number we think it's going to take.’ They were satisfied that what they had put on the table at the beginning of the administration met their requirement for the moment.”

President Obama is entangled partly because he chose to snap deploy the “requirement for the moment,” and not take the same time to review as they are now. General McChrystal has presented another momentary requirement - 40,000 troops - which he called the minimum requirement. Obama said during his “Afpak” roll out in March, “We will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable.”

Perhaps he's holding himself accountable, questioning his own decision to deploy troops without a government to work with or clear metrics for success. For example, the White House assumed that most of the Taliban's funding came from opium; this was later proven untrue. But Obama has made no admission of error and is growing defensive towards an increasingly irritated Pentagon and a curious American people.

We’re told the Afghan government is at fault, not him, even though his vision wasn't ready.

Yet in regards to the next government, evidence exists that America knows exactly who it will work with. Said Kerry, “I think this is a moment for President Karzai to frankly step up and help to share with the world a better vision for how the government here is going to deliver and be a full partner.” He doesn’t sound like he’s talking about a runoff, but like he expects Karzai to win or share power with Dr. Abdullah.

More blatantly, State Secretary Hillary Clinton told CNN, “It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50+1 per cent. I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high.”

They know, or think they know, who they’re going to work with - Karzai and his corrupt power circle power. The question is whether the White House wants this or not. Is the White House finished with Karzai and delaying troops in case he returns to power, or does it lack trust in and control of Dr. Abdullah and is waiting for Karzai to assume power?

Hard to tell what is true, but another unexplainable phenomena - why would anyone expect Karzai to change now? His circle just tried to steal the very election Obama was hoping would go well and is resisting a runoff at this moment.

Inexplicable too is the Afghan people, who are dangerously close to being abandoned yet again. Octopus Mountain is growing deeply disturbed by Obama’s fixation on al-Qaeda at the expense of the Afghan state. We're aware of how improbable and costly nation-building is in Afghanistan; we also remember how the Soviet war ended.

A strategy that limits itself to al-Qaeda risks an America vacuum to be filled with civil war at the maximum, chronic instability at the minimum. Leaving the Afghan people isn’t only morally objectionable, but strategically futile.

America has witnessed what happens when Afghanistan is left to pick up its own pieces. The Taliban and al-Qaeda don’t just come to power, war lords and bandits also descend on the country and spiral it into total lawlessness. Foreign powers continue to play their games from outside. To hesitate on troop levels and back away from counterinsurgency, from nation-building, is 1988 redux.

President Obama’s assertion that he must take his time now so as to make the correct long-term decision is sound and we back his logic. Unfortunately we believe he ignored his own advice and trapped himself in a final paradox highlighted by General McChrystal: delay too long and the war may become irreversible. Waiting until after a runoff just to decide, let alone deploy, additional troops could mean December - 5 months after his request. Will that be too late?

It’s hard explaining the unexplainable. Point out any confusion and we’ll correct or reexamine our analysis.

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