The collapse of US hegemony in the world, often referred to as an empire, has been foretold for decades. Doomsday predictions take on ever-increasing validity as Washington, during the midst of economic disaster, continues depleting its military and popularity in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Now July 4th itself appears destined to become symbolic of America’s fall. Who would link its day of independence with the occupation of Afghanistan? There could be only one...
"I am becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of progress on the supplemental and strongly urge Congress to complete its work on the request as quickly as possible," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. "Such planning is disruptive, can be costly and especially in a time of war, and I ask your help in avoiding this action.”
He demanded another $33 billion for Afghanistan by July 4th.
Acting as if he couldn’t understand the delay, Gates fought through a wave of negativity from recent Senate testimony and the war itself. He had, of course, saved himself for last with the other big guns, CENTCOM commander David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen. The plan was simple: tell Congress, after not hearing what it wanted, what it wanted to hear.
"I think frankly that the narrative over the last week or so, possibly because of the higher casualties and other factors has been too negative," Gates said. "I think that we are regaining the initiative. I think that we are making headway."
"This is not some kind of a production program, or something, where you are going to meet these particular objectives this week and next week. This is a process. We think we have the right assets. We have the right strategy. We have the right leadership. And most of our allies and partners share our view that things are heading in the right direction and that we will be able to show clear progress and that we are on the right track by the end of this year."
His rosy assessment alone is reason to suspect duplicity, and only gets worse after examination.
Central to Gates’ deception is the idea that negativity surrounding Afghanistan corresponds to spiking coalition casualties. But their deaths are the product, not the root, of negativity. Declining US and European support ultimately stems from sluggish progress in Marjah and Kandahar, a lack of trust in Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the resigning of top Afghan officials, Pakistan’s continual double-game, and the Pentagon’s latest mining scam.
Cases in point, Kandahar will likely remain a Taliban hub into 2011, making President Barack Obama’s July 2011 deadline impossible to sell. And now Marjah has been thrown into new doubt, its expectations reduced to 2010. In a very short time US strategy has devolved from progress in Afghanistan to Kandahar to Marjah, a small village that was exaggerated to sound significant.
"I would not, though, ask routinely when we will be be successful in Marjah," Mullen testified. "I think we will know by the end of the year where we are with respect to reversing the momentum."
As for Karzai, Gates shrugged off years of skepticism to reply, "I think that he is embracing his responsibility for this conflict.”
Meanwhile a litany of accusations have been recently hurled at Pakistan, from funding Jamaat-ud-Dawa, alleged front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, to supplying LeT itself, to sitting on the Taliban’s Quetta shura. Perhaps Gates alluded to this problem when he spoke of “most of our allies,” but he’s nakedly lying either way. Few have praised Pakistan’s “change of heart” louder, despite knowing that America still lacks Islamabad’s true allegiance.
Gates also knows the war in Afghanistan is futile while the Taliban enjoys external sanctuary, which is why he privately lobbies so hard for a North Waziristan invasion. It seems nothing can stop him from claiming America has the “right strategy.” That US counterinsurgency in Afghanistan lacks many essential elements leads to Gates’ fatal conclusion.
"I think the war in Afghanistan will end much like the war in Iraq had ended... as we did it province by province in Iraq, I suspect that's how it will happen in Afghanistan.” He added, “I'd caution to say the Iraq war is ending, not 'has ended.'”
At least Gates was wise enough to squeak in that qualifier.
It’s still a poor analogy. The two insurgencies and their surges differ vastly in fundamentals; Afghanistan’s nature suggests that the same 30,000 troops won’t be enough. And Iraq remains incomplete, vulnerable to violence and outside interference. The same indecisive outcome will result in Afghanistan when the surge targets the Taliban insurgency over its causes.
Initially none of Gates' testimony makes sense; he believes America possesses every piece of the puzzle, despite evidence to the contrary, and can demonstrate progress by the end of 2010. Conversely, he also stated, “If it appears the strategy is not working, and we will not be able to transition to Afghan security forces by 2011, we will take a hard look at the strategy.” And now everything makes sense.
Gates isn’t just desperate. He’s thinking progress by 2011, not 2010, and so is the rest of the Pentagon.
Many doubted Obama’s July 2011 withdrawal date from the beginning, but Pentagon officials have finally accomplished their mission. They’ve changed July 2011’s operative word from “withdrawal” to “transfer.” This process has been in motion since the day after Obama’s speech in December 2009, but June 16th, 2010 officially marks when anti-war hopes died.
"I would not want to overplay the significance of this review," Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee, referring to December 2010. "We would not make too much out of that.”
Hardened as we are, it’s still mildly shocking to hear Petraeus say of the review, “We would not make too much out of that.” Not surprising though. Petraeus has already made up his mind, which means so have Gates and General Stanley McChrystal - no US troop will be leaving Afghanistan before 2012.
“As I noted yesterday, I did believe there was value in sending a message of urgency - July 2011 - as well as the message the president was sending of commitment - the additional, substantial numbers of forces,” Petraeus said. “But it is important that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits.”
Down went the December review and the July 2011 deadline in one day on Capital Hill. And America is supposed to pay up for this strategy by July 4th.
The most likely outcome of Obama’s surge is that coalition forces begin “transferring” control of government-held districts and those that border insurgency territory to Afghan forces in late 2011. US and NATO troop levels will freeze, the war will go on into 2012 and beyond, and more may be summoned if war stalemates. Washington would be too deep to leave at that point, which could be what it wants. Gates’ rhetoric is so sweet, so empty.
So foolish too. July 4th’s symbolism would make an excellent rallying point against the war.