Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is showing his Bush Administration credentials by tossing around any and all justifications for continued U.S. military action in Afghanistan to see what sticks. Lately, he’s been pushing the goofy idea that we have to maintain or expand our military presence in Afghanistan so that extremists can never brag to their friends.
There have been plenty of reasons given for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan: denying Al Qaeda and their allies a sanctuary, saving the locals from some rather ruthless theocrats, preventing another 9/11. To that Defense Secretary added a different rationale Monday night. He wants to keep Osama’s legions from scoring a propaganda win.
…Defining al-Qaeda as both an ideology and an organization, Gates said their ability to successfully “challenge not only the United States, but NATO — 42 nations and so on” on such a symbolically important battlefield would represent “a hugely empowering message” for an organization whose narrative has suffered much in the eight years since 9/11.
The morally bankrupt, self-contradictory piece by Michael Sheuer on Foreign Policy Magazine‘s website restated the secretary’s argument thus:
The only way to create a less threatening Taliban is for the Obama administration to admit defeat and turn over Afghanistan to Mullah Omar, knowing that he will allow bin Laden and al Qaeda to stay in place and that U.S. defeat will have an enormous galvanizing impact on the Islamist movement around the world.
You can see a more plainspoken strain of this meme on This Ain’t Hell and similar sites:
Anyone who doesn’t think that the Taliban and al Qaeda aren’t encouraged by [congressional efforts to block a troop increase], is fooling themselves. Anyone who doesn’t think that the antics of the far left over the last eight years is the reason that we’re still fighting these stone age cretins on barren mountain slopes halfway around the world doesn’t grasp the idea of low intensity warfare.
Every death, every lost limb, every case of PTSD can be laid at the feet of the anti-war, pro-terrorist left.
You know what’s funny, though? Al-Qaida is going to claim victory in Afghanistan no matter what. On Wednesday, ex-spook Paul Pillar told Congress:
Being able to claim victory over the superpower would boost al-Qa’ida and other Islamist radicals, according to this concern. Such perceptions do come into play, and they do matter….But on this issue as on others, one has to consider carefully the difference that a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would or would not make. Once the United States has made a commitment, radicals find ways to claim victory no matter when that commitment ends, and with little reference to how it ends. In the spin game of defining victory and defeat, terrorists have inherent advantages. Even if the U.S. military command achieves everything it sets out to achieve in stabilizing the Afghan government and the portions of the country most Afghans inhabit, al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups will still be out there—in Pakistan, in the unpacified portions of Afghanistan, or elsewhere. They still will be issuing their audiotapes and other propaganda. And all it takes is a single terrorist attack against U.S. interests to punctuate their boast that they have not been defeated.
This propagandizing is likely no matter what the United States does from this point forward in Afghanistan. A larger and more costly U.S. military commitment may make the propaganda all the more effective by bolstering arguments that the United States has been unable to deliver a knockout blow to the jihadist movement even when it pours large resources into the effort.
Mr. Secretary, let’s talk about playing into propaganda traps for a moment.
All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa’ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies…So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.
During the year Osama bin Laden made that tape, the average monthly troop total for U.S. forces was 15,200. Since then, we’ve more than tripled the average monthly troop levels to 50,700, and we’re now spending $1 million per troop, per year of borrowed money in Afghanistan. Hmm.
Second: there are numerous warnings circulating in the public domain about the presence of foreign forces being a key recruiting point for the Afghan insurgency.
The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.
Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.
Between 2006 and today, the U.S. average monthly troop level more than doubled. In 2006, the insurgency totalled around 5,000 people. Today, it’s around 25,000. This, of course, is a coincidence.
I’m sorry…what were you saying about denying extremists a propaganda win? I’m not following.
As shown above, the U.S. makes a habit of discarding propaganda considerations whenever it would interfere with our preferred options. It only comes in to play for the administration when its convenient. Further, Gates et. al. act as if extremists will only spread propaganda if it conforms to the reality on the ground, which is of course silly: that’s why AQ’s communicators are called propagandists. If they only said things they know to be true, we’d call them journalists.
The argument that we should stay in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaida a propaganda win is ludicrous.