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President Put Politics First on Afghanistan

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Nothing highlights President Obama's abject surrender to Gen. David Petraeus on the "way forward" in Afghanistan than two cables U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent to Washington on Nov. 6 and 9, 2009, the texts of which were released Tuesday by the New York Times.

No longer is it possible to suggest that Obama was totally deprived of wise counsel on Afghanistan; Eikenberry got it largely right. Sadly, the inevitable conclusion is that, although Obama is not as dumb as his predecessor, he is no less willing to sacrifice thousands of lives for political gain.

Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired Army Lt. General who served three years in Afghanistan over the course of two separate tours of duty, was responsible during 2002-2003 for rebuilding Afghan security forces. He then served 18 months (2005-2007) as commander of all U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan.

Straight Talk

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In the cable he sent to Washington on Nov. 6, he explains why, "I cannot support [the Defense Department's] recommendation for an immediate Presidential decision to deploy another 40,000 here." His reasons include:

~Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not "an adequate strategic partner." His government has "little to no political will or capacity to carry out basic tasks of governance. " It strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally this late in his life and in our relationship."

~Karzai and many of his advisers "are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never ending "war on terror' and for military bases to use against surrounding powers."

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[Comment: I wonder where Karzai ever got that idea about military bases--perhaps because we are building them? I'll bet Karzai also assumes continuing U.S. interest in the projected oil/natural gas pipeline from the extraordinarily rich deposits in the Caspian Sea area and Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea, bypassing both Russia and the Strait of Hormuz.]

~"The proposed troop increase will bring vastly increased costs and an indefinite, large-scale U.S. military role."

~"We overestimate the ability of Afghan security forces to take over"by 2013. " and underestimate how long it will take to restore or establish civilian government."

~"More troops won't end the insurgency as long as Pakistan sanctuaries remain"and Pakistan views its strategic interests as best served by a weak neighbor."

~"There is also the deeper concern about dependency. " Rather than reducing Afghan dependence, sending more troops, therefore, is likely to deepen it, at least in the short term. That would further delay our goal of shifting the combat burden to the Afghans."

More Straight Talk

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Eikenberry is even more direct in his cable of Nov. 9, taking strong issue with "a proposed counterinsurgency strategy that relies on a large, all-or-nothing increase in U.S. troops," and warning of the risk that "we will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves..." Condemning Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations with faint praise, Ambassador Eikenberry describes them as "logical and compelling within his [McChrystal's] narrow mandate to define the needs for a military counterinsurgency campaign within Afghanistan."

"Unaddressed variables," says Eikenberry, "include Pakistan sanctuaries, weak Afghan leadership and governance, NATO civilian-military integration, and our national will to bear the human and fiscal costs over many years." He complains that the troop increase proposal "sets aside" these variables, even though "each has the potential to block us from achieving our strategic goals, regardless of the number of additional troops we may send."

The ambassador also notes that it is hardly a safe assumption that Karzai and his new team will ever be "committed to lead the counterinsurgency mission we are defining for them," noting that Karzai "explicitly rejected" McChrystal's counterinsurgency proposal when first briefed on it in detail.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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