Volatility

October 27, 2009

Two Incredible Governments

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Mainstream Media — Tags: — Russ @ 10:16 am
The history of America’s dismal, self-destructive trudge through Vietnam includes many missed opportunities where the circumstances were ripe for a politically plausible withdrawal.
 
The most obvious was Johnson’s overwhelming victory in the ’64 election running as the peace candidate vs. Barry Goldwater’s warmongering.
 
There were also the many proofs of Diem’s incorrigible corruption, and that of his string of successors, offering ample justification to throw our hands up and say, “We can do nothing without a legitimate national government, but clearly there’s no prospect of that here. Therefore we have to end our involvement.”
 
Similarly, when the history of America’s even more futile and self-destructive Afghan war is written, it will take note of milestones that were missed.
 
Not that this is important to me personally, or to anyone who opposes imperial corporate wars on both principle and pragmatism. Where it comes to the big things, we have principles and a clear view of the possible, and therefore don’t need to seek pretexts.
 
But there seem to be a lot of people, and not all of them obvious right-wingers or corporatists, for whom “credibility” and “peace with honor” and all that self-hypnotizing moonshine are paramount. At least that’s what they claim when they oppose a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and a general disengagement from and winding down of the Global War On Terror and the imperial footprint (hundreds of bases and “consulates”) in general.
 
So for them I propose that the means are at hand to withdraw with honor. The politics allow it. Indeed, the only thing which can preserve American credibility and honor (“preserve”? maybe more like try to start to restore) is to recognize the futility of the venture and cut our losses.
 
I’m referring of course to the new Diem, the equally irredeemable Hamid Karzai.
 
By now everyone’s familiar with Karzai’s brazen attempt to steal the election. When the embarrassment finally forced the administration and the UN to demand a run-off, they had to beg Karzai to even agree to this. Of course, there’s little chance that the same fraud won’t be replicated, albeit perhaps it won’t be as blatant and grotesque. But Karzai’s flunkey who heads the election commission has already declared, “with a grin”, that “Karzai will win”.
 
Does this sound like a recipe for credibility going forward?
 
Here’s Obama sounding quite credible and honorable:
 

So Karzai had to agree to at least go through the motions of participating in a real election.

And when he did, Obama hailed a man who stands accused of orchestrating a massive effort to thwart democracy as someone whose “constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy.”

Obama’s precise statement went like this: “While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy. The Afghan constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.”

The “yuck factor” was high.

But it got higher when Obama praised Karzai for helping to foster “such a vibrant campaign.”

It is, of course, true that Obama is not the first American president to have to pretend that a local bad guy who got caught red handed was some kind of statesman.

Still, having to speak well of Karzai is a lot — arguably too much — to ask.

And if Obama has any sense of the region — or of the trouble his Afghanistan initiative is in — he had to be hoping that Karzai and his henchmen would refrain from obvious lawbreaking in the second round.

 
Meanwhile in another typical quote Gary Hart declared that you get one mulligan where it comes to stealing an election, but now Karzai better straighten up and fly right:
 

The international community must make it clear to the incumbent Karzai government that it will be held accountable for the integrity of the runoff voting process. This can be enforced by post-election audits of the sort that disclosed the blatant fraud in the unstable eastern and southern provinces. If the Karzai government tries manipulation again, it will sacrifice the confidence of the international community and suffer the consequences.

 
Supplicating before a crook, genuflecting with a thug…smells like credible spirit to me.
But don’t take my word for it. Mr. “Suck on this” himself, uber-neocon Tom Friedman, recently agreed:

But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?
I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government…..

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system….

This is crazy… I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

So, please, spare me the lectures about how important Afghanistan and Pakistan are today. I get the stakes. But we can’t want a more decent Afghanistan than the country’s own president. If we do, we have no real local partner who will be able to hold the allegiance of the people, and we will not succeed — whether with more troops, more drones or more money.

(Meanwhile McChrystal says, “If every soldier is authorized to make one mistake then we lose the war.”)
 
It’s obvious that this government can never be legitimate and credible even by normal standards. But even if it didn’t win by out-and-out fraud, it has a deeper ethnic problem.
 
The key to Afghan legitimacy is the Pashtuns, who represent 42% of the population. Most of the Taliban come from their ranks, which means that any attempt to entice Taliban factions or rank and file fighters to join a governing coalition will have to come from a government seen as legitimate by the Pashtuns.
 
But while Karzai is the “Pashtun face” of this regime, its real power base derives from the former Northern Alliance, who were predominantly from the 27% Tajik minority. On account of this the Tajiks comprise over 70% of the officer cadres of the army, police, and intelligence service. They are set on maintaining that monopoly.
 
For as long as that condition holds, with Tajik cadres monopolizing the instruments of violence while Pashtuns face such career barriers in the few areas where real jobs might seem to exist, the Pashtuns will see this as an alien, oppressive government.
 
And on top of that you can add how this government is clearly a stooge of the foreign occupier, meant only to faciliate that foreigner’s imperial goals.
 
Imperial puppet, ethnically oppressive, and winning only through election fraud, there’s no way this government can achieve legitimacy with the Afghan people.
 
And without a legitimate national government in place, any American attempt at counterinsurgency is doomed to fail.
 
One guy who knows this very well is General Stanley McChrystal. He’s intimately familiar with the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, which says
 

Success in counterinsurgency operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation security force.

 
Or perhaps he knows this and yet doesn’t know. By his own official premise, the effort is hopeless and we must withdraw.
 
But like with almost every other officer, careerism supersedes known truths. If accepting his own COIN premise would require McC to recommend withdrawal, he’ll instead throw over his premise and call for escalation anyway, perhaps giving some nonsensical disclaimer.
 
What if the people view the government as hopelessly illegitimate, McC?
 

Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy.

 
Of course, McC already violated his own doctrine on troop levels. According to his manual successful COIN requires 20-25 troops per 1000 populace. By this measure COIN in Afghanistan would require over half a million troops, not somewhat over 100000 as he’s currently claiming will get the job done.
 
Is he just trying to get his foot in the door to ratchet up the demands later, Westmoreland-style? Either way, we cannot trust anything he says, since everything he says contradicts what he wrote before.
 
(So much for the Washington Post’s sycophancy regarding what “General McChrystal believes” he needs. We know this is a fallacious appeal to authority, since McC is clearly not an authority here. Rather, it’s clear he’ll say anything to get what he wants, and that there’s no conceivable context where he wouldn’t want a large escalation, because he’s motivated by careerism and nothing else.)
 
So for anyone who’s worried about this kind of American credibility, here you see how it’s impossible for the American adventure in Afghanistan to ever be credible or successful according to the state of the art counterinsurgency doctrine authored by McChrystal himself.
 
This government cannot be retrieved for legitimacy, and an imperial government which would wage aggressive, exploratory war in “partnership” with such an illegitimate government would be laying bare the illegitimacy of its own policy, and therefore of itself.
 
Is it possible to retrieve the legitimacy of American policy, of this government? It’s clear that America has trashed its credibility with the deranged foreign policy it’s been pursuing. There’s no question of escalation or muddling through* in Afghanistan being the path to maintain the credibility which has already been lost on account of that very path.
 
Rather, it’s a matter of restoring this lost credibility, and the only way to do this is to break the pattern, snap out of the derangement, end the policy, get out of Afghanistan.
 
The political argument is sitting right there: The generals themselves including McC said this can only work given certain preconditions. Those conditions don’t hold. There’s no viable national government. Karzai betrayed us. Therefore our own military doctrine decrees that we should end the war. Our boys shouldn’t be dying for a gang of thieves. We’re getting out.
 
What could be more credible to a public who already wants to get out than that?
 
[*Not long ago the MSM was still framing the “debate” (which of course never included even momentary discussion of getting out completely) as a choice between the McC escalation, counterinsurgency, and nation-building plan, or the Biden notion of shifting to video-game counterterrorism with an emphasis on drones over Pakistan.
 
Regardless of the merits of these (they’re both stupid but at least internally coherent), one thing apparently not on the table was simply splitting the difference, muddling through, sending some troops but less than McC wanted, only sort of modifying their deployment, and in general trying to split the difference between McC and Biden. This would guarantee failure from every point of view.
 
Back then nobody seemed to take this possibility seriously, but I knew my Obama.
 
Sure enough, out of all his dithering we’re hearing that he’s leaning toward no major strategic changes, but simply sending another 10000-20000 troops to continue with business as usual.
 
Muddling through. (Or maybe they’ll guarantee the “credibility” of this next election, the way the previous 20000-troop escalation was supposed to guarantee the last one.)]
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1 Comment

  1. […] easily assumes. He’s done it with Karzai before, following the stolen election when Obama begged him not to steal any further elections. While we can understand how meek and spineless he is with his masters Dimon and Blankfein, […]

    Pingback by The Company You Keep « Volatility — April 10, 2010 @ 2:15 am


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