When my favorite conservative, well, realist, military analyst Ralph Peters of The New York Post agrees with the “The Most Dangerous Man in America” (what Nixon called Daniel Ellsberg after he leaked the Pentagon Papers–which ultimately led to Nixon’s impeachment for the acts of the Plumbers Squad to do break-ins after the Ellsberg affair, eventually including Watergate), it’s time to pay attention to the case against nation building in Afghanistan which is not a nation in any real sense and is causing increasing casualties in what seems like a futile effort.
I read the Peters column linked above (he’s been saying similar things for months) the morning after I attended the premier of an excellent, moving documentary about Ellsberg’s career (did you know he enlisted in the Marines and was a gung ho warrior, like Peters, who took led patrols in Vietnam as a civilian, before turning against the kind of wars we were fighting, then war itself?)
Anyway in the Q&A after the screening in New York’s great Film Forum Ellsberg called Afghanistan “Vietnamistan” and the mostly left-liberal audience despite being Obama supporters had clearly turned against the war and were puzzled by Obama ‘s commitment to it.
Was it because, as Victor Navasky suggested to me after the screening that Obama had used Afghanistan as “the right war” to separate himself from Bush’s Iraq. And then found himself stuck with it and with generals and a Pentagon giving him a range of options from 10,000 to 45,000 more troops? Does anyone think that’s the last request? That way lies Vietnam and the wreckage of a liberal Presidency the way Vietnam wrecked LBJ’s.
The best analysis of why we are in Afghanistan is in Tara McKelvey’s prescient article in The American Prospect last year an astute analysis of “The Cult of Counterinsurgency”. In it she describes the way the charismatic military thinkers who engineered the surge in Iraq and saved us (temporarily) from humiliating defeat, gained so much credilbity for their new way of fighting “low intensity conflicts” as they’re called, that a kind of hubris was developing: we can do this in Afghanistan, maybe everywhere if we want. Unfortunately carryover has not been–and may not be–automatic to other nations, other cultures. It’s too bad Obama didn’t read her article before getting us deeper into what looks like a bloody stalemate at best.
Peters points out the Afghan army won’t fight for itself, its troops, “dont even bother to show up for formations”, so why should we die for them? We’re killing what’s left of al Qaeda with drones that can be launched from offshore.
Not that it’s comletely simple. The Taliban ae evil terrorist-harboring woman and gay hating theocrats, but can we fight evil anywhere and everywhere? Change every culture into a Jeffersonian democracy with a wave of the counterinsurgency automaticwand? And of course Afghanistan can’t be separated from nuclear Pakistan, the growth of al Qaeda sympathizers there and the de stabilization that will come if the Taliban. prevails in Afghanistan.
I tend to be pessimistic and think there’s no good solution, but why should American troops die for a no solution stalemate?
Do you have any better ideas?