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 Iklé, 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, Iklé 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.

  1. […] Frogs and Hot Water and All That posted on July 12th, 2009 at Return Good for Evil […]

  2. sporkmaster says:

    Well I think that we are responsible for the country because we removed the Taliban and even though it was for the best, left it without a working government . I think we have been improving because of understanding how the system works. Because, rather then have a government that works from the top down, it works by bypassing the leaders and talking to the local villages leaders. But because that would upset the national leaders of Afganstan (and Iraq), it was not done untial recently. Also we assumes that it using a top down system works in the States that it would work in these countries.

    But I am not sure about the comment about having our forces undermined the Afghanistan army and police. This may be different but I do not think that our presence in Germany, Japan and South Korea has undermined them. Also I think that we are trying to work along side rather then override any jurisdiction that they have. Here is a example of that.

    But I was think about the pass conversations about violence against non-violence. But I think that it has more to do with the issues that different things may work or not work in different places. I think the trip from Iraq to Kuwait really showed that. Or the views that the medics that work in the clinic against those that spend more time in the field. There was one that It is that frustration that I can think of when people talk about violence against non-violence. The real question is does it work rather then trying to fit into a pre-made cookie cutter mold.

    I do not mean to get into trying to say that violence is better then non-violence. I just want to remind people to resist the temptation to micro manage from afar. Because that more often then not will hinder the people that are working in the “front lines” so to speak for any issue.

    As far as when to leave Afghanistan, that is a touchy subject because of a few reasons. The first one is that it feel like the same people that are demanding we leave Afghanistan are the ones that said the same for Iraq. The issue in that is that they are the ones saying that Afghanistan is the ‘Just one”. I think that now that Iraq is winding down, suddenly Afghanistan has be come “unjust”. What changed in the last 4 years?

    Also to me is is frustrating when people who have no real connection to military service give lectures on issues military families face. For example this guy talks about “banning war” children of soldiers suffer. But the author dodged military service by hiding in Canada. So why should I listen to him about issues that me and my comrades face?

    Also lastly, the most important one is that we have worked with the locals and we know their faces. They have names, families, hopes, dreams and fears. So when people talk about leaving before it is ready, there is a good chance that these people will not care about what happens to them. Also I have a feeling that they see the ending of Afghanistan as a way to get more fund for their own personal projects. I think we have talked about that in the past.

    Well my replies may be slower, I think it took over two hours just to write this post and keeping up with my son. But I will try to keep up.

    Also remember when I said I was having a bad day? Well here is the whole story.
    We did have a long day, but what I neglected to tell was that on our way home a unit that was 10-15 minutes ahead of us hit a IED. Because it was at night the fire became much more visible. Everyone lived in that attack, but there was a thought that what would have happened if we where not running late? So I was tired frustrated and angry. But because that happened so soon I wanted tell about it just yet. And I am sure the need for a smoke did not help much.

    • dcrowe says:

      Hey sporkmaster:

      As far as when to leave Afghanistan, that is a touchy subject because of a few reasons. The first one is that it feel like the same people that are demanding we leave Afghanistan are the ones that said the same for Iraq. The issue in that is that they are the ones saying that Afghanistan is the ‘Just one”. I think that now that Iraq is winding down, suddenly Afghanistan has be come “unjust”. What changed in the last 4 years?

      This is really true. And it’s real, serious hypocrisy. And I would have to say, for quite a long time, I was just as guilty of it as anyone. I remember that early in the 2006 election cycle, before Iraq got really bad, I sent a note to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee urging them to try to refocus attention on the neglected effort in Afghanistan as a way of responding to Republican messages on national security. In my prior two positions as a congressional staffer, I helped push and/or crafted public messages that essentially said, “We should not be waging war in Iraq in part at least because it distracts us from the war in Afghanistan.” During this time, though, I was starting down the road toward nonviolence (I think the first real trigger was reading André Trocmé’s Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution). I remember sitting at my desk writing some press release about how we should get out of Iraq and get further into Afghanistan and being convicted of my hypocrisy. Pretty soon after that, I told my boss I couldn’t work to push these kinds of messages anymore, and that I’d be leaving.

      All this is to say–you are absolutely right. In retrospect, I don’t think either war was just (and certainly, neither has been waged in accordance with anything recognizable as “Christian” just war theory, although I will admit that saying “this war is justified” is not the same thing as saying “this war is justified and waged in accordance with just war criteria.”). I just think that one felt more justified than the other, and, conveniently, one war went badly for a good long while under a President of the opposite political party. I think that what you’re seeing now is a lot of progressives starting to wake up from their weird love affair with a given war. But you’re right–there’s been a lot of hypocrisy involved.

      Re: the issues that military families face, I don’t think I’m qualified to go there. I would say that I think it’s a valid point to consider the effects of war on the children of those who fight it when considering the cost of going to war, I don’t have any qualification to talk about the pressures families face or what they should do about them. I do agree that people should not lecture about things they don’t have experience with.

      I see what you mean about not prejudging what will work or not work in a given situation. My response to that, though, is a person’s ethical boundaries will always color what they think will or won’t work in a situation. Just as a crazy example: Mullah Omar is supposedly hiding in Quetta, and Karachi is a key financial hub for the Taliban. Why not nuke them? It would certainly “work” in putting a real hurt on the Taliban. The answer is that the costs and consequences of doing that are too great for us to consider them to be legitimate options. So part of what we mean by “what works” is “what gives us the end we want without offending our moral sensibility.” A commitment to nonviolence includes honoring every single human being, including enemies, as people of infinite value, so the horror one would feel at the suggestion of nuking Karachi is analogous to the horror a nonviolent person feels at the thought of killing people in any circumstance.

      On the topic of what works, if you have tons of free time (yeah right hehe) here’s a study that showed that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success
      53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance
      campaigns” between 1900 and 2000.

      I’m glad everyone lived through the IED incident, and I can totally understand you not wanting to talk about it at the time. I just want to say again how thankful I am that you made it home safe. The pictures you posted above are great. Hope you and your family are doing great.

  3. sporkmaster says:

    Well the reason that I bring that up is that it comes up when people refuse to deploy with their unit. This may be unfounded, but it feels like people are using it as a excuse of convenience rather then as a real argument? Because I think that there was the Lieutenant that protested Iraq as unjust but not Afghanistan. Then there was the next batch is now claiming that Afghanistan is unjust. But what happens if we where to leave both areas right now? I would be willing to be that people would be trying to make similar statements about their current deployment.

    I mean if you against both wars, that fine but how can I believe that we as a nation will see anything though with such wavering resolve? That is why I have heard and muttered myself about calling for the immediate withdraw of all residents after a major shooting. For example the shooting at West Virginia. “We have taken too many casualties” “We have to withdraw from the school immediately” It just seems that the message that we are sending is that if we kill a few soldiers and/or cause violence against the population that people at home will start calling for a withdrawal. Then to add insult to injury, the same people complain about why we are not in places like Darfur(sp?). To really top it off there is the issue like why we never shot down any of the hijacked planes on September 11th. I am confused by all of this.

    You make a good point, thought your example is a bit extreme. I would say that a real challenge would be replace the nuke with a air strike with the damage to the area is unknown. But both choices would have dangerous results. I agree that one moral standard does play a great part even with the Army training. So that part is always is going to be the variable. I could say what I would like to do different situations but that really limits things. But in my area apathy is most dangerous because it can cause harm while making a person disconnected

    This is more on the medical side as a example. I was talking to another medic about why certain people in the unit did not have tourniquets on missions. I presented here the reason,(which was that they could not fit in the vehicle’s driver space ) so I carried more. She only had three to four and I asked her what happens if a person died because of that. Here reply was that it is the soldiers responsibly to have it.

    “But the family is not going to see it that way“(if they die from bleed out)

    “It will hold up in court”

    I still get angry now when I think about it. But then she gave me emails about making sure that people’s shots are up to date. Wrong priorities and wrong attitude. Or when I tried to order some more tourniquets I got a reply that it was “too expensive” Too expensive? HA! I like to see them find the blue book value on a human life. That will be the day. But I managed to go around their back and get the things that I need. There are some other smaller issues like that but these two were the big ones.(Yea that got a bit angry didn’t it *sigh*)

    I agree that those thinks work, but in my opinion the part where things would be really tested is when the challenges and threat go to the extreme. Like how will you react of one gets shot at or dealing with the imminent threat of physical harm. No one really knows how they will react until it happens.

    Yep thanks for your thoughts. Glad you liked to photos.

  4. […] crisis in the first place, as Stiglitz and Bilmes show in The Three Trillion Dollar War. As I wrote last month, “We have limits. Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further […]

  5. […] crisis in the first place, as Stiglitz and Bilmes show in The Three Trillion Dollar War. As I wrote last month, “We have limits. Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further […]

  6. […] crisis in the first place, as Stiglitz and Bilmes show in The Three Trillion Dollar War. As I wrote last month, “We have limits. Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further […]

  7. […] and international community to fund the development, operations, and sustainment of the ANSF" (Sorry); and "Ability of NGOs to operate independently and freely" […]

  8. […] and international community to fund the development, operations, and sustainment of the ANSF" (Sorry); and "Ability of NGOs to operate independently and freely" […]

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