President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet has been rejected twice, leading to the delay of parliamentary elections from May to September. President Obama is having trouble deploying his forces and training Afghans, specifically the police, to his potentially unreal expectations. Maybe Blackwater can help.
Rifts have broken out within the White House and Pentagon over Taliban reintegration, a juxtaposition with American self-interests. Reconciliation is also the main topic of conversation surrounding Obama’s summit, inflating the Taliban’s ego. His summit isn’t even in Washington but in London, where it’s being torpedoed as a Gordon Brown political stunt.
Forcing this conference to go international in a country even less approving of the war in Afghanistan is bewildering. Meanwhile Pakistan is holding its own trilateral summit in Turkey, a backhand protest to Indian involvement in London.
Why waste time on this toxic pileup? Why tell anyone if you don't have to?
Unfortunately this logic was too tantalizing for Obama to pass up. The American people were vulnerable to a blackout and he caved to the dark side. Foreign policy was allocated eight paragraphs, only one to Afghanistan. Two minutes on foreign policy corresponds to the level of interest in the country.
A snap CBS poll found that his support for Afghanistan jumped from 58% to 74%, logical if most people are distracted by the economy and health care. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll found that only 2% of Americans are most interested in Afghanistan. Foreign policy failed to register to qualify for zero.
So let’s see what’s improved in his solitary explanation:
“We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.”People might be mistaking this outline for an exit strategy - but this could be a recipe for protracted warfare.
Already his paragraph needs reordering. Obama’s surge begins and ends with Afghanistan’s government at the national and local scale, as successful counterinsurgency demands an accountable host. In one regard General McChrystal is improving, as Obama says, the rights of all Afghans, specifically the right to life.
Occasional air-strike casualties persist, but they've dramatically dropped as a result of McChrystal’s tighter rules of engagement. Now the Taliban is the leading cause of death, a crucial psychological advantage for America.
Except Afghan officials complain night-time raids are replacing air-strikes, and a rash of disputed incidents seem to back their claim up. US soldiers are dissatisfied under so much restriction in the field, which is exposing them to more risk. US casualties are trending up.
Everyone expects a hard fight in the future and unfortunately for them absorbing risk to protect civilians is the essence of counterinsurgency. But if the strategy works Afghans will be happier in the end and they can leave sooner.
Obama’s fatal error is everyone’s problem - riding a counterinsurgency on Hamid Karzai. This could take the whole effort down and force Obama to either rapidly withdrawal, all hope lost, or veto his July 2011 withdrawal date and deploy more troops.
Obama rewarded mediocre governance and indisputable fraud with a second term; in a way he rewarded himself for bad judgment. Karzai can’t get a cabinet passed and he’s already blaming the West. Five months have passed since the presidential election.
It’s conceivable that Karzai’s government could take over six months to form. If elections in September 2010 suffer a similar fate as August 2009, Obama might not have an official government to work with until the November or December. At that point he’ll have six months to implement his counterinsurgency.
He should know by now that times flies.
Obama is admittedly locked between a deceptive horse and cart, needing immediate security to provide good governance and reconstruction. However, failing to hold Karzai and his circle accountable and postponing the next election will deaden Obama’s surge.
He needs clean pipes to funnel all of McChrystal’s projects: training Afghan security forces, humanitarian and nation-building projects, counter-narcotics, and “reconciliation” with the Taliban. If he alienates Karzai, who then fails to reform his power base (Dostum’s already back), Obama could end up with one big mess of a war.
And don’t expect much backup from our “allies and partners,” they think this is America’s war. Britain is tapped. German’s pledge of 850 troops was met with 80% disapproval by the German people. France is out. India, the one country that is bringing hope to Afghanistan, will bring a lot more trouble to Pakistan and China.
Obama’s gamble seems to depend on Afghan security forces and Taliban reconciliation: can McChrystal train enough capable soldiers and policemen before July 2011 to hold back what’s left of the Taliban?
Failure to fund either program to its maximum effect cannot be allowed, but even still this war ultimately boils down to the Taliban. The insurgency, while unpopular, is so advanced that it cannot be dispersed by a foreign force. Somehow it must be reintegrated into the local society.
Yet the foot soldiers might not be so quick to defect in droves. Nationalism cannot be underestimated nor should the sway of Mullah Omar. American officials oppose bringing him into the process, making their efforts feel hollow.
We’re worried that America really thinks “reconciliation” means pounding the Taliban into submission. This is no exit strategy, Obama will need a lot more time than 16 months. We aren’t sure why any of this causes a jump in approval, though lack of attention is probable.
But we’re certain that the American people will wish they cared more now if Obama can’t pull Afghanistan out of its tailspin by the time he promised.