Posts Tagged ‘Robert Gates’

The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general’s testimony to Congress next week, and they’re trotting out the same, tired spin they’ve been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we’re “making progress.” While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we’ll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won’t be any closer to “victory” than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus’ testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language (“What we’re attempting to do,” instead of, “What we’ve done“) and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he’ll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that’s what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of “progress” against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he’s in for a world of hurt.

Here’s what Petraeus’ own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

“I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.”

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus’ direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it’s crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

“5-68. Progress in building support for the HN [“host nation”] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts.”

The United Nations reports that 2010 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians of the decade-long war, and targeted killings of Kabul government officials are at an all-time high. Petraeus often seeks to deflect this point by citing insurgent responsibility for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but that is largely beside the point. As his own field manual makes clear, reducing the number of civilians killed by your forces is insufficient according to COIN doctrine. If you can’t protect the population (or the officials within the host nation government!) from insurgent violence and intimidation, you can’t win a counterinsurgency.

Petraeus and Gates like to talk around this blatant break in his own strategic doctrine by narrowing the conversation to what they call “security bubbles.” In his recent remarks following his trip to Afghanistan, Gates spoke of “linking zones of security in Helmand to Kandahar.” But those two provinces have seen huge spikes in violence over the course of the past year, with attacks initiated by insurgents up 124 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Today’s New York Times explains one of the main reasons for these jumps in violence as U.S. troops arrive in new areas:

“[G]enerals have designated scores of rural areas ‘key terrain districts.’ The soldiers are creating, at cost of money and blood, pockets of security.

“But when Americans arrive in a new area, attacks and improvised bombs typically follow — making roads and trails more dangerous for the civilians whom, under current Pentagon counterinsurgency doctrine, the soldiers have arrived to protect.”

The military escalations in Afghanistan have failed their key purpose under counterinsurgency doctrine, which is to secure Afghans from insurgent violence and intimidation.

While the U.S. government is failing to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, it’s also failing to make good on the other components of counterinsurgency strategy, especially the civilian/political component. Here’s what The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says on p. xxix, emphasis mine:

“Nonmilitary Capacity Is the Exit Strategy

“The [counterinsurgency] manual highlights military dependence not simply upon civilian political direction at all levels of operation, but also upon civilian capabilities in the field. ...[T]he primacy of the political requires significant and ongoing civilian involvement at virtually every level of operations.”

To meet this prerequisite for a successful counterinsurgency strategy, the administration promised a “civilian surge” to accompany the military escalation. But the March 8, 2011 edition of The Washington Post shows that the civilian surge has so far been a flop that’s alienating the local population:

“Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule…according to U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the program.

“It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 ‘key terrain’ districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.

“…Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.

“‘At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces,’ a former U.S. official said.”

As with the military side of the equation, the civilian side of the strategy is so badly broken that it’s actually pushing us further away from the administration’s stated goals in Afghanistan.

The costs of this pile of failure are huge. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to maintain our occupation of Afghanistan. That’s $2 billion every week. Politicians at the federal level are contemplating ugly cuts to social safety nets, while politicians at the state level are already shredding programs that protect people suffering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, the admonitions from the White House and the Pentagon to be patient while this misbegotten strategy limps along the progress-road-to-nowhere seem perverse. The American people have been patient for roughly a decade now, but that patience has run out.

Petraeus and Gates want to you to ignore the ugly truths of the Afghanistan War: it’s not making us safer, and it’s not worth the costs. The escalation strategy isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Enough is enough. End it now.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join a local Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup and follow Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with “concerns”. The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing shed even more light on what exactly those qualifications are, and the troll tusks were showing. Responding to a question from HASC Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), Petraeus said that yes, he supports the July 2011 date as the beginning of a process. But, he complained, that date was based on a projection from last Fall. He said we’ll do everything humanly possible (well, everything humanly possible within the constraints of a brutal, costly strategic frame that’s not working) to achieve those conditions. When asked by McKeon whether July 2011 was based on conditions and not just a date on the calendar, he said, “That’s correct.” And, when asked whether he’d recommend delaying the withdrawal if those conditions didn’t materialize, he confirmed it.

America, get ready for this excuse:

“Well, we tried, but it’s just not possible for us to keep President Obama’s promise to start a withdrawal this month.” –General David Petraeus, July 2011.

Compare that General Petraeus, who only gives the July 2011 date his qualified support and who wants us all to know he might change his mind when crunch time arrives, with this General Petraeus, described by Jonathan Alter:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

Expect the Alter quotation above to become cliche in a hurry. Petraeus revealed this week that he has no intention of standing by his word to the president. This week, he said explicitly that if we can’t do the things he says in 18 months, he will, in fact, suggest we stay.

Petraeus says he supports the president’s policy. His comments this week, though, serve only to validate the critics of the withdrawal portion of the president’s policy. He’s not a supporter of this policy. He’s a concern troll.

Don’t let him get away with moving the goalposts. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook as we work to end this brutal war that’s not worth the costs.

Defense Secretary Gates wants to extricate himself and the president from the impending P.R. disaster shaping up around the flailing Kandahar operation set for this Summer Fall.

“I think it’s important to remember that Kandahar is not Afghanistan,” Gates said in comments that appeared to play down a U.S.-led operation for control of the area, known as the birthplace of the Taliban.

“Kandahar and Helmand are important but they are not the only provinces in Afghanistan that matter in terms of the outcome of this struggle,” he said.

From the Pentagon’s most recent Afghanistan report to Congress, here’s a chart showing how optional Kandahar and Helmand are for the success of the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy being pursued by U.S. and allied forces.

Kandahar and Helmand....meh.

Kandahar and Helmand....meh.

From p. 126 of the Report on Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan (April 2010), emphasis mine:

8.1:  ISAF Strategy

Under the ISAF concept of operations, the main effort is to conduct decisive clearing operations concentrated on the most threatened population in the southern part of the country to establish population security and implement measures that diminish insurgent influence over the people.  As described in Figure 23 – ISAF Concept of Operations, the main effort in RC-South, by province, is in Helmand and Kandahar, where efforts are focused on clearing districts most threatened by insurgents.

No reporter should let Secretary Gates, General McChrystal, or President Obama off the hook in the coming months regarding the make-or-break nature of the Kandahar operation for their (poorly) chosen COIN strategy in Afghanistan. As described in the report to Congress, Kandahar/Helmand is the main effort, and everything else is either a “shaping,” “supporting,” or “economy of force (read: leftovers)” operation. Kandahar/Helmand is the COIN strategy. If ISAF fails there, it fails, period.

Members of Congress considering funding the ongoing Kandahar/Helmand/escalation strategy should read these comments from Secretary Gates with alarm. He’s hedging and trying to set expectations because he knows the COIN effort is in serious, “bleeding ulcer” trouble. Congress should save us all a whole lot of trouble and vote against the $33 billion war spending supplemental under consideration. As Daniel Ellsberg says in the most recent Rethink Afghanistan video, this war can be infinitely prolonged, but “winning” through military force is a pipe dream that’s killing people.

UPDATE: ISAF and the Pentagon are now comically denying that they ever planned an “offensive” in Kandahar, emphasis mine:

The commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, insisted that there never was a planned offensive. “The media have chosen to use the term offensive,” he said. Instead, he said, “we have certainly talked about a military uplift, but there has been no military use of the term offensive.”

Sure, the media chose the word “offensive.” Specifically, the American Forces Press Service (in a story cross posted on the Pentagon website and the ISAF website!), quoting one Maj. Gen. Nick Carter:

The general stressed that the planning and execution of an offensive in Kandahar are Afghan-led initiatives directed by President Hamid Karzai. The provincial governor is reaching out to his city and district mayors to engage the population and build relationships with the population, he said.

Carter said he expects the offensive to begin in the “next month or two,” and that by Ramadan, which begins in August, security improvements will begin to be apparent. It will take some three months before a strong, credible government is formed in Marja, he said, leading him to believe that it could take just as long, if not longer, to sway public support and perception in Kandahar.

For more use of the word “offensive” in posts on ISAF’s website, see here and here.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people." AIHRC’s Feb. 23 press release reports [h/t Josh Mull, our new Afghanistan blog fellow]:

"AIHRC is concerned at the loss of life and civilian harm already caused by this operation. AIHRC found that in the first 12 days of Operation Mushtarak 28 civilians, including 13 children, were killed and approximately 70 civilians, including 30 children, were injured.

"Witnesses suggested the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF artillery and rocket-fire."

Late last year, just after the President announced his escalation, I wrote:

The president’s decision to add more troops is a mistake that will result in deep costs which we cannot afford; increased U.S. casualties; and increased civilian casualties as our troop increase further raises the temperature in the conflict.

A separate update from Brookings shows that President Obama’s escalation and subsequent military operations have indeed raised the temperature of the conflict, increasing the level of violence across Afghanistan:

“In terms of raw violence, the situation is at a historic worst level, with early 2010 levels of various types of attacks much higher than even last year at this time. Much of that is due to the recent Marja campaign and, more generally, the deployment of additional U.S. (and Afghan) troops to parts of the country where they have not been present before.”

War does not protect civilians. War doesn’t make us safer. The Afghanistan war needs to end, now.

Had enough? Join us: become a fan of Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook.

The press is getting it wrong regarding the president’s announcement of the newest of his escalations in Afghanistan, which said:

I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home…Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

The headline for The New York Times’ article on the speech reads “Obama Adds Troops, but Maps Exit Plan.”

Keep in mind, this president told you back in March 2009, after he decided to send the first big troop increase to Afghanistan, that:

We now have resourced, properly, this strategy. It’s not going to be an open-ended commitment of infinite resources…Just because we needed to ramp up from the greatly under-resourced levels that we had, doesn’t automatically mean that if this strategy doesn’t work that what’s needed is even more troops.

The way out of Afghanistan for the U.S. begins by refusing to add more troops. Despite any number of headlines to the contrary, this is not an exit strategy nor a withdrawal timeline. It is, at best, an intention, and one which is undermined by adding 30,000 troops. Here’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a hearing today:

After several back-and-forth exchanges, Gates concedes that there will be a “thorough review” in December 2010 and that if the strategy is not working, “we will take a long look” at the July 2011 date. This seems an important concession, and McCain declares that is this is the case.

…Graham then bores in hard on the July, 2011 date. He asks if the president has locked himself into that date, and Gates and Mullen try hard to say that as commander in chief, Obama obviously retains all options to change his mind. But, Gates argues, the date Obama offered Tuesday night as the starting point for withdrawing troops is a “clear statement of strong intent.”

Gates only got to this point in the hearing after getting kicked around like a soccer ball between senators who got him to first say the withdrawal starting in 2011 would not be tied to conditions on the ground, and then got him to retract and revise that statement.

This is also, by the way, the same Defense Secretary who said he’d be “very skeptical of any additional force levels” back in January 2009.

If the president has an exit strategy, he didn’t tell you about it last night. He painted a picture of intentions after telling you he was sending 30,000 more troops to kill and die in Afghanistan. And you know what they say about the road to Hell.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Say no to escalation in Afghanistan by signing our CREDO petition at http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/saynotoescalation/. For each signature, CREDO will donate a dollar to support Crowe’s work. You can also join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter to show your opposition to the war. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.

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.

From Danger Room’s Adam Rawnsley:

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.

First: Remember this Bin Laden message from November 2004?

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.

For example:

The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.

And again:

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.

If you agree, sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition calling for civilian solutions.

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.