My last article drew an enormous amount of interest. It suggested that our new President take unprecedented steps in the war-torn Mideast by utilizing our strategic weapons as opposed to the tactical use of ground troops. This is a follow-up to that article necessitated by developments since the article first appeared on OEN. Incidentally, the original article can be viewed here.
Due to President Obama's campaign pledge to double the number of troops, from 30,000 to 60,000, in Afghanistan, "the graveyard of empires," the main focus of the article was on this forlorn nation. The article recounted the sad history of empires trying to quell this region from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Empire. For over 2,300 years various great powers have attempted to control Afghanistan, and each attempt ended in abject failure. The U.S. has been attempting the very same thing for over seven years, and the net result is that the Taliban and al-Qa'ida are stronger than ever. I concluded in my article that there has to be a better way and provided one. We must use our strategic and technological assets to control the Mideast rather than boots on the ground. The latter has resulted in tragic consequences and is totally inefficient in the first place.
Since the article was written and submitted there have been two remarkable developments that may prove the article prescient. What really is not very surprising, is that the mass media had little, if anything, to say about these critical developments. On the very day that my article was originally submitted, Jan. 27th, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates provided a gloomy picture of Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, he "signaled sharply lower expectations for the war in Afghanistan, warning the conflict will be 'a long slog' that U.S. and allied military forces - even at higher levels - cannot win alone."
The article continued, "Still he said that he would be 'deeply skeptical' of any further U.S. troop increases, saying that Afghan soldiers and police must take the lead - in part so that the Afghan public does not turn against U.S. forces as they have against foreign troops throughout history." Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates stated, "If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose, because nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience and money." In Norse mythology Valhalla is a great hall where heroes slain in battle are received. Considering its history, "Valhalla" seems to be a singularly appropriate term to apply to Afghanistan.
Gates added another statement that filled many with dread. "My worry is that the Afghans come to see us as part of their problem rather than part of their solution; and then we are lost."
By pure coincidence, on the very day my article first appeared on OEN, Jan. 31st, AP broke a story entitled "Obama Unlikely to Widen Afghan War." The AP reported, "President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to redirect U.S. troops and resources to Afghanistan from Iraq, but he has done little so far to suggest he will significantly widen the grinding war with insurgents in Afghanistan." The report added, "On the contrary, Obama appears likely to streamline the U.S. focus with an eye to the worsening economy and the cautionary example of the Iraq war that sapped political support for President George W. Bush."
White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, spoke for Obama when he said, "There's not simply a military solution to that problem [Afghanistan]." He added that Obama believes "that only through long-term and sustainable development can we ever hope to turn around what's going on there."
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The AP went on to report that "The Joint Chiefs review also stresses that the strategy must be driven by what the Afghans want and that the U.S. cannot impose its own goals on the Afghan government." Astounding! That is exactly what I said in my article. One would think that Gates, Obama, and the Joint Chiefs are reading my material.
The military strategy postulated in my original article gained support from the renown columnist, Chalmers Johnson, in his article entitled "The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon," published on Feb. 3rd. Johnson stated, "Actually, the U.S. ought not to be engaged in fourth-generation wars at all. Outside powers normally find such wars unwinnable, as the history of Afghanistan, that 'graveyard of empires' going back to Alexander the great, illustrates so well." Again, that is what I said. Is Johnson peering into my material as well? Incidentally, fourth-generation wars are defined as wars fought by non-state actors, for example, the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.
Of course, the idea that prominent minds are gaining access to my modest material is purely in jest. However, it is gratifying to know that my article was somewhat of a sneak preview of what these prominent minds are thinking. What is important is that for the first time in eight years America's leaders are hearing the pleas of Americans. We have had enough. We cannot continue to fight two unwinnable wars on the ground indefinitely while a better strategy is easily within our grasp. No one is suggesting surrender, or giving up. Americans, instead, are urging a winning strategy as opposed to a losing one.
On Thursday, Feb. 5th, Obama addressed House Democrats at a three-day retreat in Williamsburg, VA. Responding to a question concerning the Afghan situation, he repeated his position stated on the 31st. The U.S. cannot win the war in Afghanistan by military means alone. The region "needs a clear mission" and a key concern for American forces is "mission creep without clear parameters." He also stated that Afghanistan cannot become a "safe haven" for terrorists. Conversely, Obama is expected to approve up to 17,000 more combat troops for the Afghan war.
All of which goes to show that, at this point, it appears Obama does not have a clear idea what to do with Afghanistan. This is to be expected. Obama has been in office for three weeks. The Afghan boondoggle has been going on since Oct. 1991, and there are no easy answers.
All of this brings me to another front. Lest we forget Iraq. Americans are absolutely euphoric about Iraq right now. Iraq recently held provincial elections without too many being killed or injured. We are losing just one dead American soldier a day with only a score being injured in a week. Casualties in the Iraqi Security Forces is only ten times that rate. This is down from nearly 6,000 attacks a month on the occupation forces and Iraqi security units. The Surge has been successful? Time to celebrate?
Of course not. And not one single American military commander or political leader is saying the time for celebration is now. Unlike the Bush administration we now have realists to assess this long drawn-out war. Baghdad is not Peoria. The capital city is in lock-down, and conditions there are eerily similar to a police state. Social and economic life is repressive as is daily travel. Political expression is severely monitored. In other words, Iraq has a long way to go, and light at the other end of the tunnel is quite distant. There is a dreaded fear that once we withdraw from Iraq the cycle of violence will begin anew. Our response? We send back our troops, and the whole thing begins all over again.
No! No! No! Once again I urge that we use our strategic assets to control Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Mideast as a whole, not troops on the ground fighting in the streets, homes, and businesses with disastrous results as evidenced by the past seven years and more. There has to be an end to it and the time is now. This can be done using our strategic assets described in my article mentioned above in coordination with the over 600,000 members of the Iraq Security Forces.
Our leaders should take a serious look at the dramatic effect these two wars have had on our army, National Guard, and reservists. In the first place our ground units are stretched to the breaking point. Moreover, they are volunteer forces. Our young men and women joined the armed forces because they wanted to do some good. Instead, after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, many have become totally disillusioned. Because of our unilateral war policy, America has become a pariah among nations, and our brave men and women who conducted this war policy feel partly to blame even though nothing could be further from the truth. The result is the highest suicide rate in the history of the U.S. Army and other forms of irrational behavior on the part of our young veterans, including murder. The psychological and debilitating effects of these two ground wars on our future generation of leaders is the subject of numerous books and papers.
An absolute ingredient for a democracy is an educated society. In addition to being one of the poorest nations on Earth, Afghanistan is also one of the least educated. For that reason, democracy in Afghanistan is virtually impossible. For that reason, theoretically, democracy in Iraq may be possible, assuming the various Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite tribes can agree on anything, a gargantuan assumption, by the way. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that nation was one of the most educated in the Arabic world, ironically, a legacy of Saddam Hussein. Equally ironic, this education included women in Saddam's secular Iraq.
It is patently obvious that any rational leadership of our country should be taking a look at all of this and the disastrous results of several years of ground warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and do something to reverse this course, doing so as quickly as possible within the framework of our troops' safety. Thankfully, it appears that is the case. Now is not the time for jubilation, but, maybe, soon. With all of our military technology, troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan with all the unintended consequences is a tragic national disgrace.