The Afghan War Question

By FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY
Marmaris, Turkey
CounterPunch
International
Posted by
Bulatlat.com

In the opening lines of the oldest treatise on the conduct of war, Sun Tzu said that the question of war is vital to the state, and therefore, it is imperative to study it. This timeless advice has been been ignored repeatedly by the United States since the end of WWII. The inevitable result has been an insensible rise of war mongering, fueled by arrogance and ignorance, culminating in the chaotic spectacle now enveloping the Afghan War Question in Washington.

The intellectual content of the debate over whether or how much to escalate our forces in Afghanistan has degenerated into formless ranting by all sides. The content of this debate is not conditioned by a clear definition of military success. Nor is it conditioned by a definition of a desired political endstate. When asked how he would define victory, the State Department’s special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, arrogantly summed up the collective state of mind by saying pithily, “we will know it when we see it.” With thinking like this, it should not be surprising that can be no definition of an exit strategy or a timeline for ending a war we are admittedly losing, even though that war is now in its ninth year. By the way, Sun Tau also advised to avoid protracted war, and the only protracted shooting war we ever won was the American Revolution, in which we were the insurgents.

Yet, in the middle of the worst domestic economic crisis since the 1930s, President Obama appears to be on the verge of caving in to the irrational pressures for throwing more troops and money into the bottomless pit of Afghanistan. How did the Afghan escalation question degenerate into such a ridiculously chaotic state?

Its immediate antecedents are quite clear.

At the center of this debate is, or should be, the strategic plan submitted to President Obama in August by the theater commander General Stanley MacChrystal. That plan’s centerpiece is to provide security for the Afghan people by accelerating the training and expansion of the Afghan Army and Police Forces (ANSF). To buy time for this expansion, MacChrystal said a surge in US forces of 40,000 is needed, an estimate, according to subsequent reports, that may have been expanded to as many as 80,000 troops, a number the US would not be able to field and sustain without a reinstitution of the draft. MacChrystal or one his war mongering allies in the Pentagon or in the right wing of the Republican Party immediately increased the beating of the war drums by leaking a carefully “redacted” version of his “secret” recommendations to the most obliging courtier of the permanent Washington apparat, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. By not attempting to find and discipline those responsible for a blatantly insubordinate act aimed a pre-empting his decision-making prerogatives, President Obama, the constitutionally designated commander-in-chief, telegraphed pusillanimity to the proponents of escalation, and thus set the tone for subsequent events.

In the best of circumstances, building an effective military force from scratch takes a long time. History has shown repeatedly that, absent a well trained reserve force and a highly trained active duty officer and NCO corps, it is impossible to rapidly expand the active duty forces of any military organization without seriously degrading its recruiting and training standards. This is the case, even when one is expanding it from the base of a competent core force, which is certainly not the case in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, as I pointed out in September, MacChrystal’s plan was fatally flawed, because it contained no systematic evaluation outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the current state of the Afghan forces he wants to double in size over a very short period.

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