Nothing But Bad Policy Options for Obama in Afghanistan
Continued from previous page
With the second round of elections already a preemptive disaster, and foreigners visibly involved in the process, all of this is a Taliban bonanza. The words "occupation," "puppet government," and the like undoubtedly ring ever truer in Afghan ears. You don't have to be a propaganda genius to exploit this sort of thing.
In such a situation, even good imperial gamblers would normally cut their losses. Unfortunately, in Washington terms, what's happened in Afghanistan is not the definition of failure. In the economic lingo of the moment, the war now falls into the category of "too big to fail," which means upping the ante or doubling down the bet. Think of the Afghan War, in other words, as the AIG of American foreign policy.
Playing with Dominos, Then and Now
Have you noticed, by the way, that the worse Afghanistan gets, the more the pundits find themselves stumbling helplessly into Vietnam? Analogies to that old counterinsurgency catastrophe are now a dime a dozen. And no wonder. Even if it's obvious that Vietnam and Afghanistan, as places and historical situations, have little in common, what they do have is Washington. Our leaders, that is, seem repetitiously intent on creating analogies between the two wars.
What is it about Washington and such wars? How is it that American wars conducted in places most Americans once couldn't have located on a map, and gone disastrously wrong, somehow become too big to fail? Why is it that, facing such wars -- whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican -- Washington's response is the bailout?
As things go from bad to worse and the odds grow grimmer, our leaders, like the worst of gamblers, wager ever more. Why is it that, in obscure lands under obscure circumstances, American administrations somehow become convinced that everything -- the fate of our country, if not the planet itself -- is at stake? In Vietnam, this was expressed in the absurd "domino theory": if Vietnam fell, Thailand, Burma, India, and finally California would follow like so many toppling dominos.
Now, Afghanistan has become the First Domino of our era, and the rest of the falling dominos in the twenty-first century are, of course, the terrorist attacks to come, once an emboldened al-Qaeda has its "safe haven" and its triumph in the backlands of that country. In other words, first Afghanistan, then Pakistan, then a mushroom cloud over an American city. In both the Vietnam era and today, Washington has also been mesmerized by that supposedly key currency of international stature, "credibility." To employ a strategy of "less," to begin to cut our losses and pull out of Afghanistan would -- they know with a certainty that passeth belief -- simply embolden the terrorist (in the Vietnam era, communist) enemy. It would be a victory for al-Qaeda's future Islamic caliphate (as it once would have been for communist global domination).
By now, the urge to bail out Afghanistan, instead of bailing out of the place, has visibly become a compulsion, even for a foreign policy team that should know better, a team that is actually reading a book about how the Vietnam disaster happened. Unfortunately, the citizenry can't take the obvious first step and check that team, with all its attendant generals and plenipotentiaries, into some LBJ or George W. Bush Rehabilitation Center; nor is there a 12-step detox program to recommend to Washington's war addicts. And the "just say no" approach, not exactly a career enhancer, has been used so far by but a single, upright foreign service officer, Matthew P. Hoh, who sent a resignation letter as senior civilian representative in Zabul Province to the State Department in September. ("To put [it] simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures or resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war... The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency. In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people.")