June 2009: Nobody asked me, but…

July 11, 2009

Obama’s Afghan war-by-drone, Sanford as tabloid delight, and other observations

With a tip of the straw boater to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon: nobody asked me, but…

IT’S BECOMING CLEAR THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA INTENDS TO FIGHT THE CONFLICT IN AFGHANISTAN ON THE CHEAP, with bare-minimum American troops levels and drone strikes on suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders substituting for the more substantial commitment many counterinsurgency experts believe is needed. But will this limited-resource strategy (war-by-drone), coupled with political reforms and a build-up of Afghan troops, work in establishing a stable Afghanistan?

The odds of war-by-drone succeeding are long. Despite the introduction of additional ground troops in June, the level of NATO forces in Afghanistan aren’t adequate for the mission of nation-building. The subtext of U.S. Afghan commander David McKiernan’s replacement by Stan McChrystal is that McKiernan wanted more troops than the Obama Administration was prepared to furnish. Already there are signs that force levels aren’t sufficient for a “clear and hold strategy”: the complaints by Allied field commanders in the Helmand River valley that Afghan military support is lacking illustrates one disconnect between strategy and resources. The substitution of air power for ground troops has also led to counterproductive bombing raids on Afghan villages.

Obama has dramatically expanded the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is some irony that this tactic—of questionable legality under international law—has been embraced by an Administration concerned that harsh interrogation tactics are war crimes. Would an international court consider drone attacks an acceptable military tactic, or would they be regarded as illegal assassinations? What about the loss of civilian life when drones launch missiles at residential compounds thought to house Taliban and al Qaeda leaders? What about Pakistani sovereignty?

Obama campaigned on the idea that Afghanistan should be the chosen battlefield in confronting America’s Islamist adversaries. Convinced that the situation on the ground in early 2009 was rapidly deteriorating, Obama chose incremental escalation, a more politically palatable course, but one that ignores the lessons of Vietnam (encapsulated in the Weinberger Doctrine) by failing to bring overwhelming force to bear and by finessing the exit option. Will it buy enough time for the recruitment, training, and deployment of an indigenous Afghan military? What will Obama do when “clear and hold” requires much higher troop levels and the Afghan government and military can’t deliver? Will he endorse further escalation and pay the political price at home with the left wing of the Democratic Party? Or will Afghanistan in 2010 look like pre-surge Iraq in 2006-2007?

The strategy Obama is adopting may allow for a temporary, and fragile, stability in Afghanistan, but it will mean American ground troops must remain in the country for a much longer period of time. A true surge could accomplish more, produce fewer civilian casualties by lessening the need for airpower, and allow for a faster NATO exit.

THE PHILANDERING OF SOUTH CAROLINA’S GOVERNOR MARK SANFORD HAS BEEN A DELIGHT FOR TABLOID NEWSPAPERS. Sanford’s affair with an Argentine woman and his public disclosure of his messy emotional state inspired editors at the New York Daily News to produce this memorable front-page headline (wood): “BUENOS AIRHEAD.”

ANOTHER HOLE IN THE “BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED” MEME, COURTESY OF SADDAM HUSSEIN, FROM THE GRAVE. Before his execution, Iraq’s former ruler told his American interrogator that he refused U.N inspection and let the world believe that he had weapons of mass destruction because he didn’t want Iraq to appear weak in the eyes of his Iranian adversaries. This approach, of course, convinced Western intelligence agencies that Saddam was continuing to pursue WMDs.

Further debunking of the “Bush Lied” allegation: Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post (“‘Bush Lied?’ If Only It Was That Simple.”) notes that in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released by Sen. Jay Rockefeller in June that Bush’s pre-war claims about the threat from Hussein were generally substantiated by intelligence information. The report found that the consensus in the intelligence community supported Bush’s claims about Iraq’s biological weapons, chemical weapons, its nuclear weapons program and it links to terrorist groups. Yes, the intelligence was later proved to be flawed in the extreme—but until Bush’s critics can show that the president knew that what he was hearing from the CIA, and other Western intelligence agencies, was faulty, he can’t be accused of lying.

WHILE IT’S A FUNCTIONAL AND PRETTY PLACE, THE RECENTLY OPENED CITI FIELD, HOME OF THE NEW YORK METS, has a decidedly artificial feel to it. By choosing to build an “instant classic” ballpark with red-brick facades and wrought-iron gates, the Mets are fabricating a tradition that doesn’t exist. That’s evident with the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which celebrates the legendary African-American pioneer who broke the color bar in major league baseball, but who played for the Dodgers and has the flimsiest of historical connections with the Mets, as noted by the Los Angeles Times.

RECOMMENDED READING: CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS’ ABILITY TO ENTERTAIN AND ENLIGHTEN is evident in his Atlantic Monthly reminiscence of an obscure British author, Edward Upward, “The Captive Mind.”

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM BRITISH SCIENTIST AND PHYSICIAN SIR THOMAS BROWNE (1605-1682): “Men live by intervals of reason under the sovereignty of humor and passion.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders

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3 Responses to “June 2009: Nobody asked me, but…”

  1. Michel Munro Says:

    Mr. Jefferson Flanders comment on President Obama managing the Afghan war on the cheap is in my combat experienced mind ludicrous. Trading American body parts in lieu of using drone warfare is not what I call on the cheap. Obvious to me Mr. Flanders is a war hawk non- combatent and knows nothing of risking his life in lieu of this new revelation in technology. Ask any soldier or Marine grunt fighting on the line.
    Hopefully the days of massive troop levels will soon be over, and run only by smaller more eliet forces with the help of advanced technology.


    • Mr. Munro,

      I remain an unabashed proponent of the Weinberger Doctrine, which calls for committing American combat troops only as a last resort, when vital national interests are in question, when there are clear political and military objectives, when force levels are appropriate to the tasks, when the public and Congress support the effort, when there is a commitment to victory, and when there is an exit strategy.

      I’d rather see an American withdrawal from Afghanistan rather than failed half-measures that cause significant loss of civilians and stretch our military to the breaking point with excessive tours of duty.

      Your belief that techonology can substitute for troops in counterinsurgency is exactly how Don Rumsfeld waged the war in Iraq prior to the surge and we know the results.

      This is President Obama’s war now and I am afraid he is going to learn that he can’t achieve his ambitious goals in Afghanistan with his current approach.

      Jefferson

  2. Mike Munro Says:

    Mr. Jefferson,

    Thank you for the response to my blog. I do value very much other people’s point of view.
    The Weinberger Doctrine in a perfect world,has only been swayed by it’s own theory of when to fight, for what purpose, and by ones own natural quest for greed. What with nuclear arms and a third world war, than can be no real victor. Only victims.
    Unfortunately the past eight years of an impudent administration has gotten us into this Vietnam II. Although there are some that say Iraq is a success and now the Iraqi people can go it alone, only time will tell. Supposedly our “interests” there are safe for now. It’s comforting to think we are the good guys, but black gold would seem to query myself was Democracy the true meaning behind this mission?
    Afghanistan after 911 was our real mission in the beginning. It wasn’t about land, minerals, cheap labor, but because we had a duty to find and destroy the admitted architect behind this abominable attack on our country. I ask myself again what happened to that mission?
    The Afghan war as it is now, not President Obama’s war, but mearly an extension of which Mr. Bush should have finished while the Taleban were defeated and kept up our surge while in power. The victims and remaining families of the 911 attack felt shrugged and abandoned when he moved his war to Iraq for questionable purposes.
    Quite personally my opinion of the Iraqi people are that of cowardice, and I have very little empathy towards them or their countries future. Had it not been for their oil and our insatiable need for it, we would never have gone any further than the first Gulf War under Bush senior.
    I am a Vietnam veteran having served with the third Marine Division, 1st Battalion, fourth Marine Regiment Delta Company from October 1967 through June of 1968. I have seen the worst of war and injured severely from it. I’ve experienced the futility in war having been restrained only by political micro managment clear up to the White House. When Iraq started, I could see only another re-run of the Vietnam conflict.
    These kinds of conflicts I believe we are destined to repeat . There is fortunes to be made in the business of war and the weapons we produce. We are a nation at war and even within our selves with no end or exit strategy to it.
    I’m of the old war where men fight men as they have back through the dark ages. This just can’t continue to be like this any longer. We can create carnage and death much more effectively through technology, rather than having to build more black granite walls as a tribute to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. Civilian casualties are the cost of war. Mistakes are sometimes made and more often than the people know, we lose our own people due to non-hostile fire. It’s war and there can be nothing like it. Trying to micro manage war will only prolong it with more death and destruction.

    I twas not my intent to make this so lengthy. My apologies for that. I hope that from what I had to offer, I believe we are not in total disagreement of everything. My perspective may be somewhat slanted, but not too far off in the general idea of your blog and response.

    Mike


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