Tag: war in afghanistan

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  • Afghanistan: A war we cannot afford. “Democrats say raise taxes. Republicans say no worries. The best policy would be to scale back America’s international commitments.”

Not the Change We Hoped For

express-coverBarack Obama first became a credible presidential candidate on the basis of his antiwar credentials and his promise to change the way Washington works. But he has now made both of George Bush’s wars his wars. The Washington Post’s front-page analysis began, “President Obama assumed full ownership of the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night…” The cover of the tabloid D.C. Express was even more blunt.

Speaking of Iraq in February 2008, he said, “I opposed this war in 2002. I will bring this war to an end in 2009. It is time to bring our troops home.” Responding to Hillary Clinton’s criticisms in March 2008, he said, “I will bring this war to an end in 2009, so don’t be confused.” Now he is promising to end the Iraq war in 2011, and to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in that year. Not the change we hoped for.

President Obama promises that after all this vitally necessary and unprecedented federal spending, he will turn his attention to constraining spending at some uncertain date in the future. And now he says that he will first put more troops into Afghanistan, and then withdraw them at some uncertain date in the future (“in July of 2011,” but “taking into account conditions on the ground”). Voters are going to be skeptical of both promises to accelerate and then put on the brakes later.

Of course, John McCain thinks that even a tentative promise to get out of this war after a decade is too much. “Success is the real exit strategy,” he says. And if there’s no success? Then presumably no exit. Antiwar voters may still find a vague promise of getting the troops out of Afghanistan three years after the president’s inauguration preferable to what a President McCain would have promised.

But as Chris Preble wrote yesterday, this increase of 30,000 troops – or 40,000 – is not going to win the war. The U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine says that stabilizing a country the size of Afghanistan would require far more troops than anyone is willing to invest. So why not declare that we have removed the government that harbored the 9/11 attackers, and come home?

The real risk for Obama is becoming not JFK but LBJ – a president with an ambitious, expensive, and ultimately destructive domestic agenda, who ends up bogged down and destroyed by an endless war. Congress should press for a quicker conclusion to both wars.

Comparing Vietnam and Afghanistan

Reports have leaked out over the past week that President Obama will announce that he is sending additional troops into Afghanistan. The only question seems to be whether he will send 30,000, 40,000 or some number in between. That is, frankly, not a very important issue.

And for all of his talk about “off ramps” for the United States if the Afghan government does not meet certain policy targets or “benchmarks,” the reality is that he is escalating our commitment. Since Obama has repeatedly asserted that the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not a war of choice, his talk of off ramps is largely a bluff—and the Afghans probably know it.

There are obvious hazards in equating one historical event with a development in a different setting and time period, but there are a couple of very disturbing similarities between Vietnam and Afghanistan. In both cases, U.S. leaders opted to try to rescue a failing war by sending in more troops. And in both cases, Washington found itself desperately searching for a “credible” leader who could serve as an effective partner in the war effort.

The United States never found such a leader in Vietnam, and was frustrated by a parade of repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual political figures. That experience sounds more than a little like the problem the Bush and Obama administrations have encountered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government. That fact alone suggests that our Afghanistan mission is not likely to turn out well.

Our ‘Reassured’ Allies

Justin Logan beat me to the punch, but Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal’s op-ed in the Washington Post warrants more than just one comment. Kagan and Blumenthal fret that the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic reassurance” is sure to fail. Aimed at encouraging Russia and China, especially, to cooperate with the United States in dealing with a number of common threats, the two predict that the policy will succeed only in making “American allies nervous.”

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not that we should go around making our allies nervous just for the heck of it, but I worry that our allies have grown, well, too comfortable with the current state of affairs in which American taxpayers and American troops bear a disproportionate share of the costs of securing global peace and prosperity.

And who can blame them? From the perspective of our allies in East Asia (chiefly the Japanese and the South Koreans), and for the Europeans tucked safely within NATO, getting the Americans to pay the costs, and assume the risks, associated with policing the world is a pretty good gig.

The same Robert Kagan made this point explicitly, if somewhat crudely, in his book Of Paradise and Power, when he cast the United States in the heroic role as sheriff, while our wealthy allies were portrayed as cowardly, sniveling townspeople, or, worse, saloon keepers who benefited from the protection of the Americans while selling booze to the bad guys.

foto_high_noon_gary_cooper

For at least two decades, we have adopted a strategy designed to comfort our allies. Our goal has been to discourage them from taking prudent steps to defend themselves. Many Americans are beginning to appreciate just how short-sighted this policy was, and is. Such military capabilities might have proved useful in Afghanistan, for example, and they might ultimately serve a purpose in checking Russian and Chinese ambitions, which would be particularly important if these two countries prove as aggressive as Kagan and Blumenthal claim.

Instead, we have a group of militarily weak and comfortable allies who spend a fraction of what Americans spend on defense, and who can muster political will with respect to foreign policy only when it entails criticizing the United States for not doing enough. In other words, we are reaping what we sowed.

But don’t take my word for it. Vassilis Kaskarelis, the Greek ambassador to the United States, bluntly explained the disconnect between what we want our allies to do, and what they are willing to do. As reported by the Washington Times:

NATO members’ reluctance to assume a larger role in Afghanistan is partly the legacy of U.S. military protection, which allowed Europeans to stress social programs over defense for decades, the Greek ambassador to the United States said.

“For 40 years, you have a system [of] not bothering about military, security and stability expenses,” [Mr.] Kaskarelis told editors and reporters of The Washington Times. “Because these issues were handled by the United States after World War II … everybody was happy.”

[…]

Mr. Kaskarelis said…that most European governments support the war in Afghanistan but lack the military infrastructure to contribute as equal partners.

“They don’t have the capabilities, because in the last 50 years, the U.S. offered an umbrella in terms of military, security and stability,” he said. “You had the phenomenon [in which] most of the successful European economies – countries like France, Germany, the Scandinavians – channeled all the funds they had on social issues, health care, pensions, you name it.”

Mr. Kaskarelis noted that this system grew out of the wreckage of World War II and that without U.S. aid, his own country “wouldn’t exist today” as an independent, democratic state. But to readjust is difficult, he said.

“Can you imagine how a government can sell such … an idea to its general public without having a revolution? They cover the expense of the hospital, but to say, ‘We won’t cover 100 percent of your medical expenses, we will start covering 80 percent, because the other 20 percent [will be used] to upgrade our military capabilities to be used in NATO and Afghanistan. Can you imagine this?”

(H/T Charles Zakaib)

Actually, I can “imagine” a time when other countries are responsible for their own defense. Indeed, I wrote a book on the subject. Maybe I’ll send Amb. Kaskarelis a copy? And while I’m at it, perhaps Messrs. Kagan and Blumenthal should get one too?

New Video: Eight Years in Afghanistan

The United States has been in Afghanistan for eight years and the end of our engagement there is not in sight. In this new video, Cato foreign policy experts tackle myths associated with the war in Afghanistan and offer solutions to American involvement there.

Watch:

Ted Galen Carpenter and Malou Innocent are authors of a new paper, Escaping the Graveyard of Empires: A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan.

Wednesday Links - Afghanistan Edition

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Cato foreign policy experts have been following and analyzing the war since the beginning. Here’s a round up of their assessment thus far:

  • In today’s podcast, foreign policy analyst Malou Innocent discusses the future of policy in the region.
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