Permissible Arms

A war of necessity, nine years in

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

I was listening to a CSIS podcast while I was getting my lunch; it was a press briefing from July where Anthony Cordesman (who served on Gen. McChrystal’s Strategic Assessment Group this year) gave his own views on Afghanistan. [You can listen there, download the mp3, or search for “CSIS” on iTunes.]

It was too short, as pretty much every single CSIS podcast is–they seem to only give soundbites–but he said something that stood out to me:

In fact, seven years after we entered the war, one of the most striking things about Afghanistan is how many people are still acting like this was the first year in Afghanistan.

It rings rather true, doesn’t it? On the civilian side, anyway, which is what Cordesman seemed to be arguing at the time. As we go into the ninth year of our engagement in this war, and the president is still reviewing his methodology even as we assume that he retains the same strategy, one has to wonder: is this, in one sense, the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Not to engage in sophistry, but the first post 9/11 offensive in Afghanistan was 7 October 2001; eighteen months later, on 20 March 2003, was the invasion of Iraq. If you take Tom Rick’s account to be true, the preparation for that invasion actually began barely a month after our movement in Afghanistan:

Formal Pentagon consideration of how to attack Iraq began in November 2001, just after the fall of Kabul. By early December, Army General Tommy R. Franks, the career artilleryman who had succeeded Zinni as the head of the Central Command, was shuttling between his headquarters, located in Tampa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., reviewing planning for an invasion of Iraq. “There was a sense of urgency to get a conceptual plan in front of the president,” recalled Air Force Major General Victor Renuart, who held the key job of director of operations for the Central Command, and who accompanied Franks to most of his Washington meetings.

From page 32 of Fiasco.

I suspect there is a general consensus that ISAF in Afghanistan is under-resourced, in personnel, treasure, and Western public interest. (Please tell me if you disagree.) And we can put that lack of resources, I think, at the feet of the Iraq invasion. And now as we begin to draw down troops in Iraq and our attention has turned back to oh-hey-that-other-war-we’re-fighting in Afghanistan, we find that meeting the goals of our strategy, meeting the metrics of that strategy, requires a little more consideration.

Are we, not only state personnel, not only the White House, but we as a public, we as a blogging community, we as journalists and military folk and Americans–are we treating this as if it’s the first year of the war in Afghanistan? Because it sort of seems like we are.

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2 Responses

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  1. onparkstreet said, on 19 October 2009 at 15:19

    Well, I think some of that is natural with a new President and new administration: supporters, especially, expected something ‘different,’ so, this year becomes Year One Of The New Way. I think that is human nature. Most people don’t pay attention to foreign policy unless something ‘major’ happens, and a new President is something major. That’s my communications take on the punditry, anyway.

    Some of the milblogs I read seem a bit upset that, hey, people are just tuning in now! Where were you before! The frustration is understandable.

    *What I want to know is this: how are the Taliban and Al-Quaeda different, now, than in 2001? Is it like a bacterium, where if you get a less than adequate dose of antibiotics, the bacterium can develop a resistance to the drug? I guess that’s my goofy way of asking how hardened they are, if it’s stronger because we did an inadequate job for so many years, or if it’s actually weakened a bit? Because, people say the opposite, depending on who you read. I suppose if we really knew the answer, the decisions would be easy.

    I don’t know.

    – Madhu

    • karakapend said, on 19 October 2009 at 16:27

      I honestly don’t think it’s as simple as “are they weaker” or “are they stronger,” because depending on how you look at it, both are true. The Taliban are stronger than they were in 2001 when they were run out of the country; they are less strong than they were when they ran the country. al-Qaeda has fewer members than it did at its peak in the last decade, but Osama bin Laden has still not been found, and the counterterrorism war continues onto new ground (India, from within the United States).

      But to continue your metaphor, my view of it is more like applying anti-itch cream to a pervasive rash–it makes you less aware of it, so it kind of works, but in the long term the rash is going to still be there. There’s a probable salve that will make the rash go away, but like any drug there’s a chance it might not work. But your doc recommends you use it anyway.

      Now that I’ve beaten that metaphor to death, yeah. There’s still no easy decision.


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