Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Afghanistan War: About that July 2011 date to begin withdrawal ...

One of the strong points of Obama's foreign policy so far has been that he's held the line against the current rightwing Israeli government, American neocons and their allies clamoring for US war against Iran. Going to war and killing people for no good reason is reckless, destructive and wrong.

His policy on the Afghanistan War, however, has been one of escalation and expanding the scope of the war. And it's not working out well. One of Obama's classic decisions aimed to give something to "both sides" was his decision in 2009 to escalate the Afghanistan War - which pleased the Republicans - and to establish a July 2011 date to begin withdrawal of American troops - which pleased his base and our European allies in that war.

But one of those "both sides" has considerably more reason to be pleased at the moment. Because, as McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reports, that July 2011 has now become very flexible: Obama officials moving away from 2011 Afghan date 11/09/2010. Nancy Youssef has been one of the best reporters on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, as have her two colleagues who collaborated with her on this story, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay. This is one big reason that I make a point to name the reporters when I cite stories. Unfortunately, given today's standards of journalism in the US, knowing which individual reporters are involved is often a better guide to the story's reliability and substance than the news organization carrying it.

The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama's pledge that he'd begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials have told McClatchy.

The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the year when Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security, three senior officials told McClatchy, along with others speaking anonymously as a matter of policy.

The Pentagon also has decided not to announce specific dates for handing security responsibility for several Afghan provinces to local officials and instead intends to work out a more vague definition of transition when it meets with its NATO allies.

What a year ago had been touted as an extensive December review of the strategy now also will be less expansive and will offer no major changes in strategy, the officials told McClatchy. So far, the U.S. Central Command, the military division that oversees Afghanistan operations, hasn't submitted any kind of withdrawal order for forces for the July deadline, two of those officials told McClatchy. [my emphasis]
As in the Vietnam War and others of this kind, the client regime we're supporting there has a hard time gaining credibility and is plagued by the corruption a large foreign military presence brings. Though any constructive outcome for the US has become so relative as to be virtually meaningless, decision-makers still feel committed to keep doing what they've been doing just because they've been doing it. And for the standard official reason:

Many officials here privately worry that talk of a withdrawal without results will cost the military credibility, with Americans and Afghans alike. [my emphasis]
We first went there in 2001 allegedly to attack Al Qa'ida concentrations there. After nine years of mission creep, we now are there because we're there. And can't leave because we're there.

How much more blood will be shed for this phantom of Credibility in Afghanistan?

Obama's trip to India provided an occasion for Stephen Walt to remind us of the problematic South Asian politics of the Afghanistan War (Something for nothing Foreign Policy 11/09/2010):

The other issue that is becoming clearer, however, is the fundamental strategic contradiction in America's South Asia policy. On the one hand, because we are deeply mired in a war in Afghanistan, and because the Taliban and other extremist groups operate in and out of Pakistan, we have to try to work with the Pakistani government despite its many problems and our growing unpopularity in that country. At the same time, there are larger strategic imperatives pushing the United States to move closer to India. Indeed, Obama even referred to U.S.-Indian strategic partnership as an "indispensable" feature of the 21st century. But a deeper U.S. partnership with India drives Pakistan crazy, encourages some parts of the Pakistani government to hedge bets by backing the Taliban, complicating the U.S. effort to make progress in Afghanistan. One can even imagine some Pakistanis wanting to prolong the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, precisely because our military presence there makes us more dependent on them and thus gives Islamabad some degree of influence and leverage over us.

Notice, however, that this problem would diminish significantly if the United States were not stuck in a costly counter-insurgency and nation-building exercise in Central Asia. If we weren't trying to build a effective centralized state in Afghanistan, while simultaneously attacking militants in Pakistan's fronteir provinces, then we would be free to move closer to India without facing potential blowback elsewhere. And if we weren't constantly interfering in Pakistan too, we might actually discover that they resented us less. In other words, if we were acting more like an offshore balancer, and less like an post-colonial nation-builder, it would be a lot easier to design a less tortured South Asia strategy. Add that to your list of reasons to find a new way forward in our Afghan misadventure. [my emphasis]

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