Archive for July 12, 2009

Someone holding the purse strings (that’s you, Congress) better decide right now how much taxpayer money and how many dead U.S. soldiers are a fair price for “victory” in Afghanistan, because any minute now you’re going to receive a request for more blood and treasure. Specifically, the Pentagon wants more money to grow the Afghan military and may be about to push for more troops.

A January 23rd Congressional Research Service report, “War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress,” contained this exercise in passive-voice-understatement:

One critical issue is funding the development and sustainment of the ANSF. Senior Afghan and international officials estimate that it will cost approximately $3.5 billion per year to increase [Afghan National Security Forces] ANSF force structure, and then $2.2 billion per year to sustain it. Unlike Iraq, whose oil revenues have funded an increasing share of the costs of growing and sustaining the Iraqi Security Forces in recent years, Afghanistan has few natural resources and little economic activity, other than poppy production, that could generate significant revenue in the near future. [The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] GIRoA, which contributed $320 million to the ANSF in 2008, is not a realistic source of ANSF funding in the near term.251 International support, and particularly U.S. support, is expected to bear the near-term burden of developing the ANSF, until it reaches its current endstrength targets…

It is expected that the currently planned ANA growth will be funded by the international community; the United States is currently the leading contributor.

Translation: Afghanistan’s government lacks the revenue to support its own military and police as-is. The U.S. taxpayer pays for it, and if the U.S. cajoles the Afghan government into increasing the size of the military, the U.S. taxpayer must pay for that as well.

General McChrystal’s response? Hooah!

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

…The Afghan army is already scheduled to grow from 85,000 to 134,000, an expansion originally expected to take five years but now fast-tracked for completion by 2011. Several senior Pentagon officials indicated that an adequate size for the Afghan force may be twice the expanded number.

The Post also reports that WHOA HEY Defense Secretary Gates never said anything about a cap on U.S. troop levels!!!!

Despite concerns that too large a U.S. military presence would undermine efforts to eventually put the Afghans in charge of their own security, Jones said McChrystal is “perfectly within his mandate as a new commander to make the recommendation on the military posture as he sees it…There was never any intention on my visit [to Afghanistan] to say, ‘Don’t ever come in with a request or to put a cap on troops.’ ”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen, told reporters Wednesday that the White House and the Pentagon are “committed to properly resourcing this endeavor.”

…”If you’ve got Stan’s word . . . and Petraeus standing behind him” in requesting more resources, the official said, Obama can stress the need for a “marginal adjustment” based on advice from commanders on the ground.

“Marginal adjustment?” Yeah, about that…

“Escalation” is a word for a methodical process of acclimating people at home to the idea of more military intervention abroad — nothing too sudden, just a step-by-step process of turning even more war into media wallpaper — nothing too abrupt or jarring, while thousands more soldiers and billions more dollars funnel into what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “demonic suction tube,” complete with massive violence, mayhem, terror and killing on a grander scale than ever.

…In the spring and early summer of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson decided to send 100,000 additional U.S. troops to Vietnam, more than doubling the number there. But at a July 28 news conference, he announced that he’d decided to send an additional 50,000 soldiers.

Why did President Johnson say 50,000 instead of 100,000? Because he was heeding the advice from…a secret document…about the already-approved new deployment, urging that “in order to mitigate somewhat the crisis atmosphere that would result from this major U.S. action . . . announcements about it be made piecemeal with no more high-level emphasis than necessary.”

Solomon’s article is not about Vietnam; it’s about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Each small increase in funds and troops for this war sounds so reasonable, with victory lurking just around the next corner. But sometimes, all those corners turn out to be a labyrinth, and all those small, reasonable troop and resource increases total up to a massive investment of blood and treasure.

There are many, many things I wish the U.S. government would learn from pacifists. “There are realistic alternatives to war,” comes to mind. For right now, though, I’d settle for this:

  • One should decide before an endeavor what means you are willing to use to achieve your ends.
  • Then, renounce ends that cannot be achieved by those means.

Fred Charles IklĂ©, no pacifist he, wrote that nations often make the mistake of “launch[ing] upon a dangerous course of action because one cannot think of any better means to pursue one’s old ends, but fail to examine whether one’s ends ought to be changed” (Every War Must End p. 49).We need to decide what we’re willing to do to “fix” Afghanistan before we commit another dime or drop of blood. We have limits.  Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further decisions does not mean those limits do not exist; it only means that we will be incrementally pushed toward and then past them, painfully and to our regret, before we discover them.

Rare is the political or military leader who explains their failure to achieve a stated goal in terms of their own shortcomings and blunders. The problem is never that we lacked a good plan, that we executed it poorly, that the assumptions of the plan were wrong, that we were wrong. The more common tune follows disaster like night follows day: We didn’t have enough resources; we lacked support; we would have won if not for the stab in the back. This stab-in-the-back narrative, IklĂ© says, “often provides the convenient self-justification that moral cowardice demands” (p. 50). The prequel to the stab-in-the-back storyline, however, is always a general or a president firmly convinced that we can win this thing if we just go in for one more “marginal adjustment.”

Requests for a never-ending line of credit for the Afghan military and for additional U.S. troop deployments are on the horizon. Congress should say no.

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