Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Round and round they go

Barack Obama was apparently misquoted by the Associated Press. His remarks that "We've to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there" were apparently in reference to Afghanistan, and not Iraq as earlier reported. I unfortunately did not pick up the AP error, and I apologize.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I suspect that the Breitbart version is more accurate than the Guardian version, because when I read it originally in The Guardian I remember thinking that this would have been a marginally plausible criticism of Afghanistan policy (though the "killing civilians" bit is mostly Taliban propaganda) but was utterly nonsensical in the context of Iraq. I assumed Obama was conflating the two, but it appears that the error is the AP's.

All the same, Obama's remarks kicked up a miniature storm, which has focused attention -- in a not entirely unwelcome way -- on the conduct of operations in Afghanistan. Pajamas Media had this recent mini-roundup suggesting that all was not well in Southwest Asia:

Glenn Reynolds passes on an email from Michael Yon, “When I wrote in 2006 that I would not be surprised to see a base overrun in Afghanistan in 2007, some people called me a traitor… . We are winning in Iraq … But we are losing in Afghanistan.” CNN reports rapid, sequential attacks on a Coalition base in Afghanistan “possibly … a rehearsal for … an attempt to completely overrun the post”. Meanwhile a retired Canadian General claims NATO is shirking its commitment in Afghanistan.

During the 1920s, the British Royal Air Force actually attempted to "police" Iraq and Pakistan's Northwest Frontier using punitive air raids. "Raiding villages" was used in order to economize on using one's own troops, avoid wastage to materiel and skip the bother of developing indigenous counterparts. The British had found it too expensive to do in Iraq and simply turned over the lot to an acceptable strongman.

If the British government had deliberately and carefully crafted a grand strategic plan to alienate the three major groups in Iraq (Kurds, Shiite Arabs, and Sunni Arabs) and force the whole country into a massive rebellion against their British occupiers, it could not have succeeded more handily. The Indian political officers tried to impose a very alien Indian-style administration upon the Arabs and Kurds. Under the Turks, the administration might have been inefficient, but at least the Turks spoke Arabic and left the tribes largely alone. On top of this new and irritating administration, the British and French governments had issued a declaration on 7 November 1918, promising the Arabs freedom and self-government after the war. They had given hopes for self-government not only to the Arabs but also the Kurds. Such promises were quickly forgotten as the British moved to create an Iraqi monarchy and put a Sunni Arab on the throne. The fact that the British consulted none of the major groups in I raq especially offended the Kurds and Shiites, the majority of the population. By 1920 Iraq was ready to blow up--and did. The rebellion began in Kurdistan and quickly spread throughout the country.

As is evident from above quote, many of today's Iraqi problems arose from this solution; where a decrepit autonomy under the tottering Turkish empire was handily replaced with a efficient Sunni strongman. I wonder how many who hanker after Saddam today realize that their cure to the supposed consequence of American naivete to "bring freedom to the Middle East" is the soothing balm of the earlier European disease. But I digress. The point of this history is that although Afghanistan could certainly use an infusion of troops, that reinforcement is probably largely going to come from the US and will eventually drive Barack Obama back to the dilemma of bearing the costs of a ground force and maintaining strong political support for paying those costs at home.

The costs will include a long investment in developing Afghan and Pakistani intelligence assets and interpreters, as well as political allies, because the campaign will have to be fought across two countries, whether directly or indirectly, and one of them already a nuclear Islamic State. Maybe somewhere the ghost of a quick solution based on "actionable intelligence" to "get Osama" with "surgical forces" still exists, but it will have to thrive in a battleground haunted by betrayal. Former Spook notes some Taliban "camps" long monitored by US surveillance suddenly emptied as if on a signal.

Mr. Roggio noted an article by Asia Times writer Syed Saleem Shahzad, claiming that Al Qaida and Taliban camps have "emptied out" over the past month, ahead of anticipated strikes by the Pakistani military, and possibly, by U.S. special operations forces.

The implications of that move are obvious. Not only will scores of terrorists live to fight another day, but it also raises renewed questions about security and loyalty within the Pakistani military. According to Mr. Shahzad, the U.S. had developed extensive intelligence on 29 suspected camps in the Waziristan and passed the information to Islamabad, in preparation for an expected offensive. The quick exodus of insurgents from that camp suggests (once again) that the Taliban has a number of "friends" in the upper echelons of Pakistan's military (particularly within the intelligence service or ISI), who provide tipoffs and warning to the terrorists.

Shahzad's sources also claim that "all but one of the 29 camps" have been dismantled, although U.S. officials (questioned by Bill Roggio) deny that report. Clearly, there's a critical difference between an abandoned camp (or one where no activity is observed), and a facility that is being disassembled. Empty camps would suggest that Al Qaida and Taliban elements have temporarily relocated, moving into defensive positions against expected Pakistani attacks, with plans to return once the government's offensive ends.

And given that Afghanistan is entirely landlocked and surrounded by Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, it will be interesting to see what kinds of challenges a large land American force, recently having been booted out of Iraq as per Obama's plan, their former indigenous allies probably being hunted down as collaborators, will face in the Southwest Asia. New beginnings are always possible, but only to those who have some intention of seeing them through.


Blogger Doug said...

Pakistan President Seeks Mainstream Taliban

What's next? Calls for a politically mainstreamed Al-Qaeda?

This illustrates how imperative it is for America to remember why they are at war and with whom. What is the next step after America's tolerance of the
September 5, 2006 Waziristan Accord, and yesterday's calls by President Musharraf for a
mainstreamed Taliban?

American acceptance of the Taliban as a political ideology?

Or is the Taliban the enemy, based on the Taliban's role in the 9/11 attacks and enemy status of such groups as defined by the AUMF ?

Much of the challenge comes back to war strategy and definition of the enemy. Who is America fighting and why?

On July 15, 2007, the New York Times reported that "United States plans to pour $750 million in aid into Pakistan's tribal areas over the next five years as part of a 'hearts and minds' campaign to win over the lawless region from Al Qaeda and Taliban militants." What hearts and minds, specifically?
Because, as President Musharraf claims, that the "Taliban are a part of Afghan society"?

But even before the plan has been fully carried out, documents and officials involved in the planning are warning of the dangers of distributing so much money in an area so hostile that oversight is impossible, even by Pakistan's own government, which faces rising threats from Islamic militants.

The question of who will be given the aid has quickly become one of the most contentious issues between local officials and American planners concerned that millions might fall into the wrong hands. The local political agents and tribal chiefs in this hinterland on the Afghan border have for years accommodated the very groups the American and Pakistani governments seek to drive out.

8/14/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

How a 'good war' in Afghanistan went bad
Battles raging in remotest Pakistan

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- As Pakistani forces press ahead with their most concerted campaign in years against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the dry, jagged hills of Pakistan's tribal belt, the insurgents have moved to establish new footholds in remote corners of the Texas-sized region along the border with Afghanistan.

Rearmed militants are spreading through tribal areas in North Waziristan, often seizing the offensive.
American Power Play In Pakistan In Washington, the topic of Pakistan has come to the fore in all of the major institutional spheres that impact, influence and execute warfighting and foreign policy. Within the military and intelligence communities as well as the political arena, the long-deferred issue has bubbled to the surface

Showdown or Showtime In Pakistan?

8/14/2007 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Obama Warns of U.S. ‘Air-Raiding Villages and Killing Civilians’ in Afghanistan

8/14/2007 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard --

This assumes that Obama or any Democrat would actually WISH to fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. All evidence suggests they do not wish to. Quite the contrary, their strategy is to surrender there as well, beg not to be hit again, and "do nothing" ala John Cougar Mellencamp. You can't be pacifist and fight a war at the same time. As Orwell noted, they are objectively on the other side.

Moreover, Obama in his biography notes he doesn't like white people or America much. As the privileged, rich scion of multi-racial Hawaii, he reinvented himself as the Angry Black Man(tm) and made much of his African roots on his father's side (his dad abandoned him) and overt sympathy to Muslim grievances against the US (we exist, basically). Obama believes every slur ever made against the US servicemen and specifically enemy propaganda, while believing the best about our enemies.

Obama appeals to those who think drinking Fair Trade coffee is the beginning and end of national security policy. The depressing thing is that he's probably after Hillary the best the Dems have to offer.

No. Dems will insure:

*Retreat and surrender everywhere.
*Offer apologies and impose some "Sharia Law Light" after a mass-terror attack in the US.
*Watch the US populist backlash sweep an antagonistic elite away and "solve" the problem with ruthless efficiency.

8/14/2007 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

(from IHT link above)
Deciding that the Pakistanis would not act on the Taliban, Grenier said he had urged them to focus on arresting Qaeda members, who he said were far more of a threat to the United States.

"From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force," he said, adding, "We were very much focused on Al Qaeda and didn't want to distract the Pakistanis from that."
But Mr. Khalilzad, American military officials and others in the administration argued that the Taliban were crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing American troops and aid workers.

“Colleagues in Washington at various levels did not recognize that there was the problem of sanctuary and that this was important,” Mr. Khalilzad said.
“Destroying the Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was an extraordinary strategic accomplishment,” said Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council,
“but where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not.

We were going to face this long war in Afghanistan as long as we and the Afghan government couldn’t bring serious economic reconstruction to the countryside, and eliminate the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan.

8/14/2007 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


Maybe many of our woes are self-inflicted. We seem to be marching and countermarching over the same historical ground like so many forty-year wanderers in the wilderness. Just now I was reading at the Belgravia Dispatch at how unwise it would be to undertake limited strikes on Iranian Qods facilities. That may be true, but the reasoning behind it struck me as absolutely perverse.

Let's for a second assume Iranians have assisted on occasion with the manafacture of more sophisticated EFPs, and let's further assume some U.S. personnel have died as a result. Well, I suppose you could argue this constitutes some casus belli, but let's stop kidding ourselves. There's an intricate game of cat and mouse underway. Amidst all the clamor for regime change emitting from points Washington, the Iranians aren't just going to sit back in prone position to see what the coming months might portend (it would be far different, of course, and more actionable in my view, if they were up to such trouble-making with good faith foreign minister level meetings between the two countries underway, though that would also necessitate having a capable Secretary of State in office, alas). And we all know they could be playing a far nastier game, don't we? After all, didn't they smuggle anti-tank guided missiles to Hezbollah for use against the IDF (you can be assured it would be a lot easier to get them to Iraq)? Nor, as Tony Cordesman has recently pointed out, have the Iranians smuggled in advanced MANPADS and SHORADS to JAM and other Shi'a militias, which would put our airforce pilots active over Iraq at much greater risk.

Regardless, I don't recall us attacking Iran when Hezbollah bombed our Marine barracks in Beirut, say, and I'd suggest it's quite possible more Americans died in that single attack than have due to firmly proven Iranian assistance to rogue elements in Iraq, which in turn, have verifiably led directly to U.S. loss of life. To stress, aren't we constantly reminded that Hezbollah is but an arm of the dastardly Mullah's ensconced in Teheran? If true now, and so back in '82, was Reagan then a Chamberlain-like appeaser for, not only refusing to attack Iran, but also vacating Beirut whole-sale, after the attack on the Marines? Or did he perhaps instead display some realism, statecraft, sobriety and a sense of proportion (something sorely lacking in today's cretinized Washington), that the associated risks and continuing costs weren't worth the potential benefits of the deployment? (ed. note: cue assaults on my 'pre-9/11' thinking).

Leaving aside the irrelevant circumstance that Reagan's world was one in which the Cold War predominated and the rivalry with radical Islam was a sideshow and not -- as it is today -- the top card ... it's a world where neither EFPs nor killing several hundred Marines in an afternoon can reach the level of a cassus belli, but a limited attack on a Qods facility killing a few dozen must be avoided as an act of aggression against the sovereign people of Iran, which among other things, might actually provoke them. So it's best not to be provoked, and we will be admired for our dignity, though we totter around the ring like a pug spitting blood through smashed teeth, the boxer too proud to fight.

To be fair to Barack Obama, his ideas are no woolier than much of what passes for conventional wisdom. It's a wilderness of talking points. And no one can seem to make refence to any course of action without triangulating it against some Washington faction or lobby's position. I used to think that debate would lead to clarity. Now I sometimes believe it only leads to bedlam.

8/14/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

whiskey 199:

Any Democrat? Any Democrat? That's very sweeping.

I do hope you qualify your statement. To continue the war effort, we need support from at least a few Democrats, and they are more likely to support victory if credit for victory can be shared across partisan lines.

On the battlefield, a victory by our troops is an American victory, their defeat an American defeat. Once we have committed to war, we must seek victory not for Republican or Democrat but for America by force of arms and demonstration of our national will to win.

8/14/2007 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"but a limited attack on a Qods facility killing a few dozen must be avoided as an act of aggression against the sovereign people of Iran, which among other things, might actually provoke them."
Over and over such reasoning has been employed to insure that we
...do nothing.

Thus we fight two wars in which there at least three enemy sanctuaries that have been held inviolate.

8/14/2007 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"there are at least"

8/14/2007 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

Wretchard: "It's a wilderness of talking points."

This puzzle is not that hard to decode, actually. I'm sorry, but it just isn't.

Look at the history of the Democratic Party in the twentieth century. They are not against wars, they are only against wars they don't get to run.

They really believe all this anti-war cr*p right now, but if they get a Democratic President they will decide there is at least one war either in progress or available to start that they can sign on to.

The problem then will most likely turn out to be the incoherence and political correctness of their objectives. This is potentially much more disastrous than implementation errors presided over by GWB. At least GWB has had a direction he wanted to go in. This produces an environment which generates a lot of learning by the armed forces, building up assets and strength that we need.

The sort of confused thrashing around and subsequent betrayal of the armed forces the Democrats are likely to go in for, on the other hand, can degrade our strength and our security for decades to come.

From this crew of Democrats I see no reason to expect anything better than another Vietnam, i.e. go in somewhere, change their minds, look around for someone to blame, cast the blame on the military, etc. The lack of seriousness evident in their Presidential candidates over foreign affairs means that this disaster is just waiting to happen all over again.

8/14/2007 11:05:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

I really have to hand it to you Wretchard. I at first saw, but did not read your comment on Obama’s comment (which I saw on TV and had always assumed referred to Afghanistan). Then my ISP kicked me off and I set about the task of painting my house, in the process thinking “I’ll bet that Wretchard has never heard of the British Air Policing approach. I will have to point out to him.” Then I took a look at the piece later and saw you had beaten me to it.

However, the Air Policing approach is really not that different from the Clinton Administration “Bombing our way through another day” approach to international relations. They damn near ran the U.S. out of cruise missiles shooting them at all and sundry in an attempt to win friends and influence people.

The other aspect is that a version of the Air Policing approach will probably work just fine in Afghanistan, at least now. Sorry folks, but I really don’t think that there is a band of bandits holed up in the village of Wherzmyroof matters. All that matters is that the guy in charge of Kabul is not giving us the finger when we tell him what we need to do. So the Pashtun are p.o.ed at not getting a piece of the action? Big Freakin’ Deal! As Wretchard’s fellow Aussie, Olivia Newton John might say, let them sing, “Please Mr. Please, don’t play B-52…”

I mean, what are they gonna do, cut off our access to Chinese silk?

8/15/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 08/15/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

8/15/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard --

I see the conventional thinking based on a desperate desire for peace and appeasement and the safe, comfortable status-quo. Which is of course neither safe nor comfortable in the long run. Or even the short run.

The problem is that we are not a nation of free men anymore. Rather a class of nomenklatura (Zbigniew Brezinski thinks "a climate of fear" from 9/11 was worse than all the lives lost). Ordinary people's lives simply don't count. If anything the Democratic argument is that "more people die in traffic accidents every year than terrorism so why bother to do anything at all?"

Alexis -- no Dems are a lost cause. You can see the lost cause by:

*The dominance of Daily Kos in Democratic Politics.
*No credible Dem Expert in Military affairs -- no Dem can get ahead in the Party by being an expert in Military issues.
*General hatred and disgust of all things Military in Dem Circles, from Murtha to Pelosi to Clinton.
*Anti-populism and "let them eat cake" attitude towards basic issues of national security -- i.e. our people not getting blown up by terrorists.

We will just have to get along without Dems being anything other than obstructive on any issue of National Security. [Clinton's Serbian campaign would be impossible today, Dems have morphed to the degree that not even a few impotent missile strikes would do]

8/15/2007 01:20:00 PM  

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