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Monday, July 18, 2011

The End of Afghanistan

It's no coincidence that some of the most explosive Taliban violence coincides with the first phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The successful attacks on top Afghan officials are about more than just Taliban boldness and their need to establish credit for driving us out, but also about changing loyalties.

Obama has made it clear that Karzai has no future, and that means that a growing realignment is happening in Afghanistan. With two sides to choose from, one that is on the way out, and one that is on the way in, a new tide of support is flowing away from the American backed government and to the Taliban.

Much the same thing happened in the early days when the Allied assault smashed the Taliban and made it clear that they had no future. As the war dragged on, warlords and tribal leaders changed sides, and collected money and weapons from both sides. Now that we are preparing to leave, they are going to be lining up on the winning side.

Afghanistan is the Muslim world at its most elementally tribal with fewer of the mock civilized interfaces between the Westerner and the ragged edge of the frontier than are found in Pakistan or the Middle East.

The Taliban took power there in the same way that Mohammed once did in the Arabian desert, by packing together ruthless brutality and a fanatical religious ideology. Their coalition was based on naked power and terror. Ours was based on foreign aid, elections and soldiers digging wells. It's not that we never had a shot, but that we were trying to impose order on what is really a permanent state of chaos.

Even before the choppers have begun taking off, the chaos is reclaiming the land. The Islamists will return, celebrate their victory, and fall into another civil war. Without foreign troops there to target, they will not be able to count on the same level of aid from the Muslim world. Which will move the clock back to before the American invasion.

Kabul will hold out for a while, but eventually it will fall, and all the NGO's, the girls we taught to read, the elections and the laws will all go back under the Burqa. A counter-Taliban force will remain and the fighting will continue. Though the new conflict will now extend into Pakistan.

Karzai is not a dead man yet. If he survives every betrayal that comes his way, he may still hold out for years. And American advisers and arms shipments may still keep flowing his way. More likely we will try to replace him, and even more likely we will fail. The story will play out the same way that it did in Vietnam and the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Not because it was foretold, but because we lost sight of what the mission was.

The same mission creep took hold in Afghanistan and Iraq, that has taken hold in most of our wars. We stopped fighting to destroy an enemy and began trying to win the hearts and minds of the population. No longer as a means, but as an end.

Had we spent a year or two in Afghanistan, sowed enough destruction to be remembered, and pulled out while providing aid to our approved coalition, then we might have gone out winners. If we had put our focus into hunting down the Taliban, wiping out any village that harbored them and leaving behind a trial of chaos and refugees, then we would have at least taught a lasting lesson.

Instead we believed that by exporting our system, we could implement a state of stability. Transform Afghanistan from a collection of villages and hovels run by gangs and large families into something more modern. The effort was doomed to fail. Afghanistan is not a modern state. It isn't a state at all. Like most of the Muslim world it's a patchwork of families and clans with borders and a flag stuck on top. To run it, is a matter of managing chaos.

The Taliban are celebrating the victory of their system over our system. But how could it have been any other way. Afghanistan is not an entity in and of itself. Its ties to Pakistan and Iran meant that the Taliban would not go away until the Pakistani and Iranian regimes did. We could have cut the supply lines, but that is something we chose not to do in Korea. We haven't done it in Iraq. And that turned the Taliban into the proxy armies of Iran and elements of Pakistan.

This particular mistake is one that we have kept making over and over again in every war from Korea on up. The Cold War mentality of refusing to be drawn into larger conflicts has bled us and gotten us into unwinnable conflicts against guerrillas who are cannon fodder for their masters. We rack up kill ratios against the cannon fodder, who retreat and regroup, accept fresh supplies from their backers, recruit more peasants, and come back at us again.

Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Four wars and the same lesson that General MacArthur was drummed out for trying to get through Truman's thick head, has still gone unlearned. After almost a 100,000 dead, we still suffer from a political and military leadership that refuses to understand that the micro-conflict is unwinnable without either confronting the puppet masters or driving out the civilian population who provide shelter and manpower to the insurgents.

Losing Afghanistan won't help. But then we never had Afghanistan, what we had was an alliance with a coalition as enduring as two year old's attention span. What we had was the delusion that we could change the Muslim world by carpet bombing them with democracy and the trappings of civilization. But our drive for democracy was based on a fundamental error. We had not taken into account that the difference between us and them, was not that we had voting booths, and they didn't. But that we were civilized and they weren't.

How can we possibly learn the answer, when we keep asking the wrong question. Afghanistan was the wrong question. And the answer is the Taliban. But the right question wasn't how do we stabilize Afghanistan, it was how do we find the people who did this to us and teach them and their backers an enduring lesson.

There was a brief shining moment when we understood that this was the question. When it was "You're either with us or against us" and "Give us Bin Laden's head". When politicians seemed to have reverted to the common sense approach of the man on the street. But then the experts took over. And the question became one of reconstructing Afghanistan in the name of some greater good. Now the Taliban are giving the final answer to that question.

The only true moral of war is that you shouldn't begin one that you aren't going to fight to win. And we didn't fight to win. We fought for hearts and minds. And now when the troops go, we will discover how little those hearts and minds were worth all along.

The end of our Afghan experiment is approaching. We leave behind not democracy, but more caches of weapons and equipment, and boot prints in the sand. Armies have come to Afghanistan before. And gone. And had we stayed on mission we could have gone out winners. Instead the deaths of thousands of Americans become a footnote to Obama's reelection campaign.

23 comments:

foxmuldar said...

Well said. A good example of what you are saying is a rule that says soldiers are not allowed to kill taliban that are planting explosives at night. Wouldn't want to disturb the locals. Because of that crazy rule, our men in uniform have died. Its Political Correctness run amok. Yes its time to get out. And just like in Vietnam where we won all the battles, we still lost the war.

cruft said...

The movie "The Battle for Marjah" illuminates each point you have made. Lipstick on a pig indeed. Let us not hear the refrain "no one benefits". Cui Bono.

Lemon said...

Sad

cornholio said...

Afghanistan died when the muslo-nazis killed or forcibly converted all the Buddhists who formerly ran the place.

mindRider said...

Exactly your statement that "we are civilized and they where not"makes it impossible for us to ever really win a war in such a manner that it would truly end a conflict. It's exactly this moral difference that weakens us on the ground that we rightfully refuse to be dragged down to their level and regrettably history has shown the impossibility to elevated them to ours.

HermitLion said...

"Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Four wars and the same lesson that General MacArthur was drummed out for trying to get through Truman's thick head, has still gone unlearned..."

Very well said. The same problem, the same mistake, and the same loss - again and again.
You can't 'rebuild' without willing to destroy first.

Anonymous said...

"we are civilized and they where not"makes it impossible for us to ever really win a war in such a manner that it would truly end a conflict
-posted by mindRider

Nonsense.
We won WW2 by annihilating our enemies and the ideologies behind our enemies - mercilessly.
That is what is required to win a war.
That generation never relinquished its humanity in doing so.
There's a fundamental error floating about, deliberately planted in impressionable young minds by commie educators and media, that violence in opposition to violence and evil is inherently wrong.

Mike_W

Mr ED said...

Excellent analysis specifically because Mr Greenfield does not kow tow to the political correctness and herd thinking of the willfully self-deluded western Leftists who try so mightly to set and enforce the boundaries of what is acceptable for public discussion.

The Leftists of the western world posit the notion that making nice with your enemies is the only way forward. When making nice fails (as it always does when facing ruthless, intractable enemies like Muzzies) those same Leftists wail endlessly about how their efforts failed because of some mysterious opposition. In the end they weren't "nice enough". When you begin with a premise that misunderstands human nature so profoundly you have little hope of ever succeeding in much of anything. Perhaps Modern Liberalism should be added to the Big Book of mental disorders?

seraz said...

Mike_W is right. Destroying fighters while respecting the ideology that drives them cannot possibly bring us victory. They have endless supply of fighters.

The only way to win this war is to finally name the real enemy. And the real enemy is not this group or that group, but the ideology driving them - Islam. This is where the focus must be.
And that means:
1) remove Islam from the West.
2) threaten (and mean it) to bomb all their capitals and holy places - especially holy places - if they don't stop their attacks.
3) eliminate any dependency on the Muslem world, especially energy. Finally drill out our own oil.
4) if we do get into military conflict and occupy a Moslem country, priority must be to detox the population from the poison of Islam. Yes, this will take generation or two, but this is the only way, and this is what it took for Germany, and even for Jews in the desert.

And by the way, this is exactly how Islam conquered all those many countries - by exterminating their original religions and cultures and replacing those with their own culture and ideology.

mindRider said...

#anonymous. The one and only time even America showed true muscle was indeed WWII but even there a measure of restraint towards the German army and people was shown (regrettably not all SS personel was executed on the spot) and the Bomb was reserved for Japan. But neither the US nor i.e. Israel where ever allowed such action in the more recent wars Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, 1967, 1973, 2006 resp. and thus the world is left with long festering and infectious wounds. North Korea and Hezbollah as prime example. Vietnam strange enough adapted reasonably well without causing much further trouble to the world if one forgets the affiliated Cambodian Khmer rouge massacres.

Anonymous said...

There's one aspect to all of this mess that differentiates from the other conflicts mentioned in the article.

At the time Bush said:

""You're either with us or against us"

NATO and the UN had been working with Iran, the Saudis and Al Qaeda to create an Islamic state in Europe. This included transporting mujaheddin from the Middle East to fight against the Serbs, including from Afghanistan.

This current stage of the global jihad goes back to the conflict in Yugoslavia and the tragedy is that the countries of NATO aided and abetted the jihadists.

Given the reluctance to prosecute a decisive victory through committed warfare, one can't help wondering how much this is down to the tragic events in Yugoslavia and the despicable betrayal of the Serbs and the disastrous policy to side with the Islamic enemy.

Proud Brit.

Irwin Ruff said...

"Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Four wars and the same lesson that General MacArthur was drummed out for trying to get through Truman's thick head, has still gone unlearned."

Determining what would have happened in the past under different circumstances is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, suppose Truman hadn't had a "thick head". Would he have had the gumption to oppose his military and diplomats in 1948 and grant recognition to Israel?

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Truman wanted to score some points with Jewish voters and rid himself of a problem without sending troops in.

Unlike some of his other decisions, which were driven by a left of center clique, that wasn't the case here.

That said Eisenhower probably would not have done it, but it wouldn't have made a difference in the long run. Israel won its independence and it didn't have any meaningful relationship with the US until the JFK administration.

Ravis said...

I don't think the facts or history support the conclusion that "we could have gone out winners." There was nothing to be won.

cornholio said...

@MindRider

Interesting point WRT the Korean "Conflict", but I had thought MacArthur wanted to go nuclear on the PRC?

Going whole hog after N. Korea would've involved open war with the PRC -- because there's no way they would've let their puppet state go away peacefully, but whether or not they would be willing to die wholesale to prop it up is another question entirely.

cornholio said...

If Truman had really supported Israel, he would've supplied them w/armaments in '48' -- kinda like Nixon did in '73'.

Still-in-all, couldn't Truman be said to have been more supportive of Israel than the current regime?

Anonymous said...

To win a war the enemy must be named and the ideology known.

Churchill was highly unpopular until crunch time arrived and his plain speaking was needed (he also spoke plainly about Islam which would land him in court now).

Our achievement in Afghanistan, we've taught them how to organize and fight more effectively. I may have said this before,the capital, Kabul isn't called 'good for nothing' for nothing. kate b

jlevyellow said...

The Afghans know what winning and losing looks like. Their job is to survive better, longer than us. They have redundancy on their side. More wives per man, more children per family, more time than almost anyone on the planet, since the pattern of their lives is repetitive. As long as they do not amalgamate into a state, they will not waste resources. Our mistake is not knowing how wasteful of resources a state is. They won before the war started. They survived. It is Europe and the US that are out of money. The application of Cloward-Piven exquisitely displayed for all to see.

Anonymous said...

This isnt a very thought out article, written by someone who is obviously not a serviceman nor has any idea about the subject at hand.

For instance, the author says "military leadership that refuses to understand that the micro-conflict is unwinnable without either confronting the puppet masters or driving out the civilian population who provide shelter and manpower to the insurgents."

Who are these 'puppet masters'? This phrase can include Pakistan, S.Arabia, Syria and much of the Muslim world. Do we invade and topple all these countries? In which universe is the author living in?

Furthermore, the idea to drive out the civilian population (over 80% of which despises and rejects Taliban) is ludicrous and would only work if we lived in 11th century and were led by a guy named Genghis Khan. This fantasy that you can defeat an insurgency by either genocide or removal of local civilian population is nothing more than a fantasy, espoused by an arm-chair general.

If anyone is actually interested in understanding how to defeat insurgency like the British did with the Malay insurgents or US did in 2007 in Anbar, start by reading up on the subject, written by actual soldiers who actually know what they are talking about, instead of an arm-chair blogger.

A good place to start is the "The Accidental Guerilla" written by David Kilcullen, an Australian colonel with decades of COIN experience. There are several excellent blogs and journals dedicated to this topic,

www.coincentral.wordpress.com
www.longwarjournal.org
www.smallwarsjournal.com

I agree with the premise that we should not go into wars without the will to win, but the ideas for victory as espoused by the author are fictitious and ludicrous.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Did I call for driving out 80 percent of the civilian population or toppling the entire Muslim world. Please don't prop up your strawmen at my expense.

What I pointed out is that without taking down the regimes that supplied the Taliban, in this case Iran and Pakistan, the conflict is unwinnable.

COIN, how did that work out in Afghanistan?

Anonymous said...

that is exactly what you called for,

"or driving out the civilian population who provide shelter and manpower to the insurgents"

Much of this population provides shelter and manpower purely for reasons of survival, not because of genuine Pashtun support.

Your idea of toppling some 'regime' in Pakistan is incoherent. What regime? Are you talking about the elected government of Zardari? Are you talking about the local shuras that reside in FATA areas that Zardari has absolutely no control off? Are you talking specifically about Swat valley shuras and tribal leadership?

There is no central regime to topple that would end tribal-level support to Taliban, which is itself not a single coherent group with single coherent ideology and goal.

You may take several Army divisions and lots of firepower and cross the Durand, and hope to topple this 'regime' and end all support to the Talibs, but what you will end up with is a cat and mouse game, chasing local pashtun tribes just like the British did before the U.S.

This is why I wrote that your approach and strategy is not only bad, its laughably unrealistic and could only been written by someone who neither understands the issues nor has any practical military experience.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Reading for context helps,

"After almost a 100,000 dead, we still suffer from a political and military leadership that refuses to understand that the micro-conflict is unwinnable without either confronting the puppet masters or driving out the civilian population who provide shelter and manpower to the insurgents."

This is a statement of fact, not a call for a specific course of action.

If you really don't understand what the meaning of the Pakistani regime is, there's no real point in continuing this discussion.

And whoever said anything about doing it with a military occupation.

You're arguing against your own strawmen. Not my article.

cornholio said...

I'd argue the Taliban DO have a "single, coherent ideology and goal"
namely the establishment of a local caliphate (like they had before). Of course, islamonazi apologists and islamonazis themselves like to distance themselves from the inconveniently totalitarian and theocratic goals inherent and explicit in the islamic faith.

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