Out of con­trol in Afghanistan

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

The wa­ter­fall of leaks on Afghanistan un­der­lines the aw­ful truth: We’re not in con­trol. Not since Th­e­seus fought the Mino­taur in his maze has a fight been so con­found­ing.

The more we try to do for our for­eign pro­tec­torates, the more an­gry they get about what we try to do. As Congress passed $59 bil­lion in ad­di­tional war fund­ing this week, not only are our wards not grate­ful, they’re dis­dain­ful.

Washington gave the Wall Street banks bil­lions, and, in re­turn, they stabbed us in the back, hand­ing out a for­tune in bonuses to the grifters who al­most wrecked our econ­omy.

Washington gave the Pak­ista­nis bil­lions, and, in re­turn, they stabbed us in the back, pledg­ing to fight the mil­i­tants even as they se­cretly help the mil­i­tants.

We keep get­ting played by peo­ple who are play­ing both sides.

White House press sec­re­tary Robert Gibbs re­called that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said last year that “we will not and can­not pro­vide a blank check” to Pak­istan.

But only last week, Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton ar­rived in Pak­istan to hand over a juicy check: $500 mil­lion in aid to the coun­try that’s been get­ting a bil­lion a year for most of this decade and in 2009 was pledged an­other $7.5 bil­lion for the next five. She vowed to ban­ish the “legacy of sus­pi­cion” and show that “there is so much we can ac­com­plish to­gether as part­ners joined in com­mon cause.”

Gibbs ar­gued that the del­uge of de­press­ing war doc­u­ments from Wik­iLeaks was old. But it re­flected one chill­ing fact: The Tal­iban has been get­ting bet­ter ev­ery year of the in­sur­gency. So why will 30,000 more troops help?

We in­vaded two coun­tries, and al­lied with a third — all renowned as masters at dou­ble-deal­ing. And, now lured into their mazes, we still don’t have the fog­gi­est idea, shrouded in the fog of wars, how these cul­tures work. Be­fore we went into Iraq and Afghanistan, both places were fa­mous for war­rior cul­tures. And, in­deed, their in­sur­gents are world class.

But when­ever Amer­ica tries to train se­cu­rity forces in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can leave be­hind a some­what sta­ble coun­try, it’s pos­i­tively Sisyphean. It takes eons longer than our of­fi­cials pre­dict. The forces we train turn against us or go over to the other side or cut and run. If we give them a max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison, as we re­cently did in Iraq, mak­ing a big show of hand­ing over the key, the im­pris­oned al Qaeda mil­i­tants are sud­denly al­lowed to es­cape.

The Bri­tish Em­pire prided it­self on dis­cov­er­ing war­rior races in places it con­quered — Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans, as the Brits called Pash­tuns. But why are they war­rior cul­tures only un­til we need them to be war­riors on our side? Then they’re un­train­able, even when we spend $25 bil­lion on build­ing up the Afghan mil­i­tary and the Na­tional Po­lice Force, dubbed “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” by Newsweek.

Maybe we just can’t train them to fight against each other. But why can’t coun­tries that pro­duce fierce in­sur­gen­cies pro­duce good-stand­ing armies in a rea­son­able amount of time? Is it just that in­sur­gen­cies can be more in­dis­crim­i­nate?

Things are so bad that Robert Black­will, who was on W.’s na­tional se­cu­rity team, wrote in Politico that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should just ad­mit fail­ure and turn over the Pash­tun South to the Tal­iban since it will in­evitably con­trol it any­way

We keep hear­ing that the past decade of war, where we pour in gazil­lions to build up Iraq and Afghanistan even as our own econ­omy sput­ters, has weak­ened al Qaeda.

But at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Tues­day be­fore the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, Gen. James Mat­tis, who is slated to re­place Gen. David Pe­traus, warned that al Qaeda and its de­mon spawn rep­re­sent a stark dan­ger all over the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asia.

While we’re an­chored in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda net­work could roil Ye­men “to the break­ing point,” as Mat­tis put it.

Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas “re­main the great­est dan­ger as these are strate­gic footholds for al Qaeda and its se­nior lead­ers, in­clud­ing Osama bin Laden and Ay­man al-Zawahiri,” the blunt four-star gen­eral wrote, adding that they “re­main key to ex­trem­ists’ ef­forts to rally Mus­lim re­sis­tance world­wide.”

Mat­tis told John McCain that we’re not leav­ing Afghanistan; we’re start­ing “a process of tran­si­tion to the Afghan forces.”

Dur­ing the de­bate over war funds, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., warned that we are in a mon­strous maze with­out the ball of string to find our way out.

“All of the puz­zle has been put to­gether, and it is not a pretty pic­ture,” he said. “Things are re­ally ugly over there.”

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