Cut and walk from Afghanistan?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

The gist of Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal’s anal­y­sis that pre­sum­ably will be pre­sented to the pres­i­dent is: If (1) you and Congress fully re­source the ef­fort (troops, ma­teriel and civil­ian aid) and (2) if we get much bet­ter at co­or­di­nat­ing all our as­sets — De­fense and State de­part­ments, Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment, in­tel­li­gence, con­trac­tors, NATO, oth­ers — then (3) there is a bet­ter than even chance of suc­cess in Afghanistan, which will take (4) from five to seven more years.

Note that the pres­i­dent is not likely to be told the Pen­tagon can “pre­dict” suc­cess, only that it would be more likely than not to suc­ceed.

Thus, the pres­i­dent will have to place a heavy bet at odds barely bet­ter than a gam­bler would get on even or odd at the roulette ta­ble. But un­like the gam­bler, who can leave the ta­ble, the pres­i­dent is forced to bet — ei­ther go or no go. There is a po­ten­tially huge dan­ger to leav­ing (as well as to es­ca­lat­ing) — for both na­tional se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences.

Un­for­tu­nately, while there are no easy an­swers, a num­ber of ap­peal­ing ra­tio­nal­iza­tions and false as­ser­tions are avail­able. They should be re­jected for the comfortable un­truths they are. Whether one is for get­ting out or stay­ing and fight­ing — this is no time to avert one’s mind from see­ing re­al­ity straight on.

Sen. John Kerry’s Sept. 28 col­umn in the Wall Street Jour­nal con­ve­niently presents for con­sid­er­a­tion most of the ra­tio­nal­iza­tions and false as­ser­tions that cur­rently plague Wash­ing­ton de­ci­sion-mak­ing:

Much has changed, par­tic­u­larly a fraud­u­lent elec­tion, since March, when the pres­i­dent un­veiled the strate­gic plan for his “war of ne­ces­sity” to de­feat al Qaeda in Pak­istan and Afghanistan through a com­mu­nity-fo­cused coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign that would “en­hance the mil­i­tary, gov­er­nance and eco­nomic ca­pac­ity of Afghanistan” rather than merely ex­e­cute coun­tert­er­ror­ism body-count hits.

Not true. The in­evitably of deep fraud was re­vealed pub­licly when Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai de­cided to ally with bad war­lords to win. We were de­bat­ing the con­se­quences of a fraud­u­lent elec­tion on na­tional tele­vi­sion long be­fore the elec­tion. But part of the strat­egy to “en­hance gov­er­nance” was to build on the many pro­vin­cial and lo­cal leaders who were able and trusted by their peo­ple — while re­duc­ing the his­toric cor­rup­tion in the Kabul gov­ern­ment.

Also, I and many oth­ers went to open-sourced brief­ings in the spring and early sum­mer on de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions in the bat­tle against the Tal­iban. In pol­icy cir­cles, there have been no re­cent sur­prises.

We can get the job done without too many boots on the ground in Afghanistan with so­phis­ti­cated sur­veil­lance, ef­fec­tive aerial tar­get­ing of al Qaeda and more fo­cus on Pak­istan (The Bi­den plan).

This is the most danger­ous ra­tio­nal­iza­tion though it is broadly seen by ex­perts as im­plau­si­ble. (Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton was pub­licly dis­mis­sive of the plan. See also The Wash­ing­ton Post, Sept. 27, “Go All-In, Or Fold In Afghanistan,” By Ra­jiv Chan­drasekaran). The dan­ger is that it could al­low not only our gov­ern­ment but our pub­lic to take the easy path it of­fers, while falsely think­ing we are not merely mak­ing a slow-mo­tion re­treat lead­ing to victory and en­hanced op­er­a­tional ca­pac­ity for al Qaeda.

The case against the ef­fi­cacy of the Bi­den plan is laid out in un­con­testable de­tail by Fred­er­ick W. and Kim­berly Ka­gan (the Weekly Stan­dard: “How Not to De­feat al Qaeda”) in which they re­fute the es­sen­tial as­sump­tions of the plan: “that al Qaeda is pri­mar­ily a ter­ror­ist group and that it is sep­a­ra­ble from the in­sur­gent groups among whom it lives and through whom it op­er­ates.”

“What’s the exit strat­egy?” Mr. Kerry asks. He says that “we should not com­mit troops to the bat­tle­field without a clear un­der­stand­ing of what we ex­pect them to ac­com­plish, how long it will take, and how we main­tain the con­sent of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Oth­er­wise, we risk bring­ing our troops home from a mis­sion un­achieved or poorly con­ceived.”

Un­for­tu­nately, as our troops have al­ready been in Afghanistan for eight years, it is too late — if we leave now — to avoid Mr. Kerry’s down­side risk.But even if we had not yet en­tered, the whole con­cept of exit strate­gies pre­sumes a knowl­edge of the fu­ture that wars al­most in­vari­ably con­tra­dict. On Dec. 8, 1941, Gen. Ge­orge C. Mar­shall and Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt had no idea how long World War II would last and what we were go­ing to ex­pect of our troops. Roo­sevelt was looking for an en­trance strat­egy. His only exit strat­egy was victory.

We may wish to have the Afghan war largely re­solved in our fa­vor within a year — but the gen­er­als think it will take at least five.

“Mr. Obama prom­ises not to send more troops to Afghanistan un­til he has ab­so­lute clar­ity on what the strat­egy will be,”Mr. Kerry ob­serves. “He is right to take the time he needs to de­fine the mis­sion.”

Well, yes in prin­ci­ple. But our troops are fight­ing and dy­ing now. Win­ter is com­ing. The spring fight­ing sea­son is just six months away, and it takes sev­eral months to mo­bi­lize, up-train and trans­port fresh troops. So think, yes — but quickly.

The pres­i­dent has three choices: (1) Cut and run, (2) cut and walk or (3) stay and fight with enough troops. Ei­ther Op­tion No. 1 or No. 3 may be jus­ti­fi­able based on hard-headed think­ing. No. 2 is an eva­sion of re­al­ity and would sin­fullysac­ri­fice Amer­i­can troops for no good pur­pose.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury” and vice pres­i­dent of the Edel­man pub­lic-re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton.

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