Complex Issue, Simple Minds

The only unpredictable element of President Obama’s Afghan decision is what its outcome will be. That’s a rather large and important element, but while relatively small numbers of people – in the national security apparatus, in the military, in the diplomatic corps., among academic specialists, and among the journalists who have been long-term and regularly on the ground – really know what they’re talking about, so many more are full of cocksure opinion, and it is all so predictable.

I do Obama a disservice by including him among the predictable – I do it only because, he did, of course, say all throughout the presidential campaign that he would make this choice, and those on the left who are shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on at Rick’s Place cast themselves as doubly foolish by saying so. Yet Obama also had the right hard at work emasculating him because he actually spent a few months – after and amid the 96 months that had already been frittered away since the very quick and handy toppling of the Taliban – conducting what we know was a very comprehensive and thorough review of a fearfully complex situation. Both the hard left and the hard right thought there was nothing to think about: all out now, they cry, or all in to kingdom come. Mothers, trust not your children and nations to such thinkers as these.

Concerns and complaints from the right actually validated the good so many think of Obama, that he is, for all his inexperience, a considered thinker. Despite his clear position on Afghanistan throughout the campaign, conservatives feared that he was actually reconsidering – after more than just three months in office (the period of his first troop increase) using his deeper understanding of events and circumstances to reassess the way forward. How pleased we should all be to see raised the instrument of ratiocination from his predecessor’s gut. Conservatives had, of course, transparently, to cast a profound period of review as dithering and cowardly wavering before the dovish elements of the Democratic Party.

Conservatives cannot see the reality of Obama – that he is not the simplemacho1405_468x836 stereotype they have made of liberals (Dennis Kucinich, say) – and many liberals cannot see the any other geopolitical location for the Vietnam cataract they have in their eyes. Far too many on both sides have become frozen, over a forty year period, into postures regarding the exercise of power that have atrophied to caricature. Such conservatives never encounter a danger or obstacle that doesn’t call – rather than any exercise of wily statecraft and strategic policy – for a use of force that will demonstrate resolve, a commitment to democracy, and a general sense of foreign policy manhood. Even to pause and actually think a while after eight years renders one a cross between Hamlet and female genitalia. They don’t do nuance.

Several generations of liberals now, in contrast, have struck in their minds a different imprint of courage: the über-serious, self-affirming dissent from the use of force. No matter thewhat-me-worry-715605 continent, the decade, the terrain, the history, or the adversary, it is always Vietnam, and proponents of military action are getting it tragically, disgracefully wrong. Were it not for super-power democracies bullishly pursing misguided notions of their own interests, the world would live long and prosper.

This time, the conservatives get to be (with some surprise) mostly happy. They’re kvetching a bit about the soft timeline and the failure to grant General McCrystal de facto commander-in-chief status (wouldn’t MacArthur have rolled over that) , but the ditherer actually hunkered down, stood tall, stepped up to the plate, and took his best shot at a goal line stand. Even Bill Kristol is thinks it the right decision well-enough made. (Now I’m really worried: he’s got some track record, that one.) The Kuciniches are lamenting their lament, and some even mourn. (Oh, Barack, we hardly knew ye.)

Fairly typical of the strong assents and dissents is the inability to recognize – certainly to acknowledge – the extraordinary complexities of the AfPac/Islamic terrorist problem and thus the legitimate points to be made on the other side. I wrote about this in Afghanistan: Reading the Evidence. Just as one example, dismissive opponents of any continued effort in Afghanistan will ask what is to prevent Bin Laden & Co. from removing to Somalia or Yemen, while somehow ignoring that over eight years of rather extraordinary military pressure – when they might have been most likely to make such a move – they have not, in fact, done so. Where would you prefer to hide out from an air force of drones – the plains of Somalia, the desert of Yemen, or the tributaries of the Khyber Pass? And no theoretical refuge offers the potential prize of Pakistan.

Still, a Beltway bloviator like Chris Mathews will give his regular guests – who must be hooked on the exposure and the appearance fees – microseconds to respond to what Obama took months to reconsider: “If Al Qaida is in Pakistan, why are we fighting a war in Afghanistan? I don’t get.”

Clearly not.

True to form, and not easily impressed by Obama’s flicking his thumb at his nose, Charles Krauthammer – the man who flies in formation with actual hawks – found Obama’s resolve to ring hollow. It’s the deadline thing. K thinks it a sop to the Democratic left wing that undermines the whole enterprise. You know what? Maybe so. But also maybe it let’s any number of parties know that results are expected. Only six months after Pearl Harbor the U.S. defeated the Japanese Navy at Midway and took the strategic initiative in the Pacific War. Eighteen months is time to see some ground results of new tactics, form new alliances with Pashtun tribal leaders, and siphon off the Taliban grunts with money and opportunity. If it appears to be working, that “conditions-on-the-ground” withdrawal date will move and complaint will be minor and muted. If not, we will not have committed ourselves to eternal pursuit of the ghosts of Alexander, Elphinstone, and Gromov.

What Obama did not specifically address in his speech, and what I’ll be seeking to learn, is the nature of any revised campaign to be waged against Al Qaida in Pakistan. That is the essential issue, along with actively working to prevent further Taliban or other terrorist destabilization of Pakistan. The strategic significance of Afghanistan is as a means to these ends.  If the renewed Afghan effort proves not to be the way to achieve those ends, then other efforts, in evolved circumstances will need to be considered.

It is not a given that altered, future efforts would be military in nature, though, that is, at least in part, likely. But the threats are real. So, too, must be our actions to meet them.


7 thoughts on “Complex Issue, Simple Minds

  1. AJA

    In reading your response, then rereading my comment, I see it was not clear which case I said you made convincingly. To clarify: I think you are correct in your assessment re: balance of simple mindedness…


  2. 1.1. Я не спроста начал именно с ООН. Эта организация была создана в результате итогов 2-й Мировой войны. Как бы плоха и политизирована она не была, на сегодняшний день это официально признанная международная организация, которая занимается вопросами международной безопасности.

    В 21 веке решать вопросы государственной безопасности (а не национальной, ибо это слово у меня ассоциируется по отношению к США с индейской нацией, как коренной нацией этой страны – как и в большинстве других стран, например в Европейской части NATO) за пределами своей территории, в непосредственной близости с территорией государств, у которых тоже есть свои представления о государственной безопасности (например – Иран, который соседствует с Афганистаном, а также Пакистан, Таджикистан, Узбекистан, Туркмения и … Китай), и без учета их мнения действовать в Афганистане военными силами, напрягая близлежащую обстановку, по меньшей мере, не красиво, а вообще – высокомерно.

    Для урегулирования озабоченностей всех соседствующих с Афганистаном стран и существует ООН. Если пренебрегать этой организацией, то мы будем свидетелями 3-й Мировой войны, по итогам которой будет создана новая ООН. Мне бы не хотелось такого сценария событий.

    2.1. Мне не совсем понятно, как Талибан, находясь на своей территории, может действовать против безопасности США и других, если США с другими явились в Афганистан самовольно против воли Талибов?

    Между прочим, белорусские партизаны сражались против немецких оккупантов точно также как и афганцы, с применением, иногда, таких же террористических способов – например, подрыв в спальне немецкого гауляйтера Кубе в Минске, стоившего многие жизни после этого самих беларусов – так что, понять Талибов можно.

    Если же речь идет об исламском терроризме на территории U.S./NATO, то, извините, это проблема органов госбезопасности этих стран. Если они прошляпили, то пусть сами и несут за это ответственность перед своими гражданами-налогоплательщиками. А устраивать из-за этого очередной средневековый поход “во имя отмщения” неприемлемо.

    3.1. Ха-ха, по Вашей эмоциональной логике, действия представителей Аль-Каиды не разумны? Нет. Аморальны? Да.

    Но реакция цивилизованного человечества не может сводиться к принципу «зуб за зуб».

    На Аллаха надейся, а верблюда привязывай – так гласит арабская пословица. Так и надо, по-моему, поступать с подозрительными проявлениями исламского экстремизма, но не превращаться под их воздействием в анти-исламского террориста на государственном уровне.

    По мне – Бог с ними, пускай АльКаида существует и воюет, себе в ущерб, но у себя и против своих, а остальные – береги свою территорию от их вылазак. В нормальном общепризнанном государстве такие организации ликвидируются своими же органами госбезопасности.

    Кстати, мне не понятна фривольность речей Насраллы в Ливане на государственном уровне. Для страны – непостоянном члене Совбеза ООН – такое недопустимо. У нас за подобные призывы к войне человек бы уже сидел.

    4.1. Согласен. Но и опровергать моих доводов о связи чрезмерных американских военных расходов с финансовым кризисом Вы не будете? Ипотека – это только та сторона, где «прорвало».

    5.1. Мне кажется, что вы не понимаете сути замечания. ВПК – это рабочие места, зарплата, спокойствие американских граждан, курс доллара, наконец. Если сокращать военные расходы, то куда их девать? В слаборазвитые страны, Африку, экологию? Как это все будет работать? А так все просто – война, патриотизм и … чужая территория …

    6.1. Это не отвлекающий «маневр». Это очень серьезно. По сообщениям Российского телевидения от наркотиков в России погибло больше людей, чем во время всей Афганской компании. Разве это не война «особыми» средствами с территории Афганистана? Почему об этом в США надо молчать? Потому что это большие деньги? А ведь Мексика откуда поступают наркотики в США, как это общеизвестно – это в непосредственной близости от США, как Кубинские или Венесуэльские ракеты (хорошо, что не ядерные) … А Афганские наркотики “летят” в Россию …

    7.1. Комментировать, видимо, эту тему я закончил. Желаю всем здравствовать.

    End of communication.

  3. I invited my correspondent from Vitebsk to submit a comment, even in Belorussian if necessary, and I’ll be damned (below). In his service, I have resorted to an online translation application to render his comments in English ( – for future comments, Yuras), so, needless to say, there will be inaccuracies. It turns out that my deep suspicion that Yuras was declaring my commentary on the topic to be the most incisive and visionary yet was just a trifle ff the mark.

    To become good, we should spend a little bad …
    1. The problem of U.S. military activity in Asia that the U.S. did not coordinate their actions to anyone, including the UN. Barack Obama’s latest initiative on solving the Afghan problem flawed, above all, that is not aligned with the UN Security Council.
    2. The use of force, as well as offensive operations such as “raging cobra”:>, must be stopped. If the West has decided to “democratize” Afghanistan, let them do this peacefully, if it can. If not, then the maximum that this may counteract the excesses of savagery by the Taliban.
    3. To destroy Al-Qaeda “in that whatever the cost, and chased for BenLadonom, then becomes on a par with those against whom the Americans are struggling. For evil breeds evil, and so on to infinity. Revenge of the humiliating, as a manifestation of dependence.
    4. Because of Afghan and Iraq began the epic financial crisis. Its continuation will lead to the next crisis, because the whole world should not pay American madness …
    5. American financial strength is based on the military-industrial complex. Continuation of the war, anyone in her interest.
    6. In his speech, Barack Obama seems to have no emphasis on anti-drug war. This is understandable – for this you have to send 140,000 soldiers to the US-Mexican border.
    7. Supplement for yourself … If you have a different opinion, refute, please, my arguments

    Чтобы стать хорошим, надо побыть немножко плохим …

    1. Проблема американской военной активности в Азии в том, что США не согласовывают свои действия ни с кем, в том числе с ООН. Последняя инициатива Б.Обамы о решении Афганской проблемы ущербна, прежде всего, тем, что не согласована с Совбезом ООН.
    2. Применение силы, как и наступательные операции типа «разбушевавшаяся кобра» :> , должно быть остановлено. Если Запад решил «демократизировать» Афганистан, то пусть делает это мирно, если может. Если нет, то максимум, что возможно, это нейтрализовывать крайние проявления дикости со стороны Талибана.
    3. Уничтожать «Аль-Каиду» во что бы то ни стало и гонятся за БенЛадоном, значит становится на одну доску с теми, против кого американцы борются. Ибо зло порождает зло, и так до бесконечности. Месть унизительна, как проявление зависимости.
    4. Именно из-за Афгано-Иракской эпопеи начался финансовый кризис. Её продолжение приведет к следующему кризису, поскольку весь мир не должен оплачивать американские сумасбродства…
    5. Американская финансовая мощь основана на военно-промышленном комплексе. Продолжение войны, любой, в её интересах.
    6. В выступлении Б.Обамы, кажется, нет акцента на анти-наркотическую войну. Это и понятно – для этого 140000 солдат надо посылать на Американо-Мексиканскую границу.
    7. Дополните сами…

    Если Вы другого мнения, опровергните, пожалуйста, мои доводы…

    1. Yuras,

      1. The U.S. is coordinating its actions with NATO, which has been a (so far, very weak) partner in Afghanistan. There are indications in recent days of possible improvement in NATO support. I would need to respond at very great length to explain why I think the U.N. not the proper venue in which to handle this security problem. Separately, I will state that the establishment of the United Nations did remove from any nation the inherent right to defend its national security without having to seek the approval of the highly politicized U.N.

      2. If some degree of “nation building” results from U.S./NATO action in Afghanistan, that will be splendid, especially for Afghan women, but that should not be the policy. The goal is to thwart Taliban support of Islamic terrorism directed against the U.S. and others.

      3. I thoroughly reject any equivalence between the fanatical, nihilistic-in-practice, murderous-without-conscience terror of Al-Qaeda and similar organizations and American responses to it, however flawed. If we cannot distinguish between the two, what is thinking for?

      4. This is a very broad and tenuous economic connection. The immediate and very direct cause of the financial situation in the U.S. was a mortgage debt and leveraged securities crisis.

      5. The military-industrial complex is real. To attribute Obama’s policy decision to the interests of the complex is to reject concurrent and equally clear and obvious realities.

      6. This is a red herring.

  4. AJA

    Thank you for your considered thoughts on this subject. Once again you give me pause to rethink some knee jerking I have been doing on this issue. Also, I usually take umbrage with those who seek to achieve some holy-grail-like balance by saying “… both the right AND the left are doing…” when in many instances that is not the case. This reach for purported balance in fact often detracts from the egregiousness of the transgression by one side or the other. I think, sir, in this case you have made a convincing case of it. Oh, and thanks for the vocab lesson… had to look up ratiocination. Sucking up though it may be, I will say this: your writing is master class.


    1. Naomi,

      I share your thoughts about squishy, mealy-mouthed moderation. Sometimes, though, there is egregious error at both extremes, and that needs to be said. I have, though, actually leaned in a direction here, but the naming of that direction, regarding such an issue, is an unfortunate realignment, over a fifty-year period, of what it means to be right and left in this country. And “ratiocination,” you understand, was especially for you.

  5. Ron Paul is a true conservative from the constitutional tradition–not the neocon right like Kristol. I encourage everyone to review Paul’s concerns on this.

    Vietnam is relevant. Quagmire does come to mind. The country is bankrupt. We are an empire. Empires have never lasted.

    Obama’a decision was a predictable appeasement, whether he reflected or not.

    We have atleast helped the heroin industry.

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