The surge to retain the surge in Afghanistan has begun.
Friday morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the nation’s military “is asking President Barack Obama to hold off on ending the Afghanistan troop surge until the fall of 2012, in a proposal that would keep a large portion of the 33,000 extra forces in the country through the next two warm-weather fighting seasons.”
From the Journal jumping to Fox Radio “News,” where all day yesterday, every hour on the hour, blared word that the generals had decreed that any deflation of the “surge” would Imperil The Nation. The president, it was commanded, must, as was said back in Reagantime, “stay the corpse.”
No. I don’t think so.
Obama knew these people would do this. In the fall of 2009 he rejected the Kerry/Biden wisdom, which pronounced Afghanistan “Chaosistan,” and proposed confining American involvement there to spies, special forces units, and drones, all targeted solely on elements of Al Qaeda. Obama instead acceded to the demands of his generals, who wanted more bodies.
However, there was a caveat. Although he would give them the bodies, the generals would need to succeed with those bodies by July of 2011, because on that date he would begin to bring the bodies home.
And Obama extracted a promise, from the people with stars on their shoulders: that they could and would do what they said needed to be done by July of 2011, and would not instead wait until that date to come crying to him that they needed more time with more bodies.
Then, Obama and his people leaked details of that promise. Twice. To Jonathan Alter for The Promise, and Bob Woodward for Obama’s Wars.
Now that the gunmen are doing what they promised they wouldn’t do, Obama can, and should, say: “Nope. You said you wouldn’t do this. Yet you’re standing here doing it. Too bad. Too late. In Afghanistan, I feel like goin’ home.”
Here is how Alter presented the promise:
[In the] fall [of 2009], Obama thought he had quieted the brass with a trade-off: he’d meet their demand for 30,000-plus more soldiers (bringing the total to about 100,000), and they’d back his call to begin troop reductions in July 2011. He soon sensed, however, that he’d have to do more to ensure the generals kept their end of the deal. The military still cringed at any hint of a deadline, arguing to fight longer with the full complement of troops in place.
The dramatic Oval Office confrontation cited by Alter came just days before Obama was to announce both the 30,000 force add-ons and the July 2011 date to begin reductions. Attend-ees included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Centcom commander General David Petraeus and National Security Adviser James Jones:
“Obama asked Petraeus, ‘David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?’
‘Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,’ the general replied.
‘Good. No problem,’ the President said. ‘If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?’
‘Yes, sir, in agreement,’ Petraeus said.
‘Yes, sir,’ Mullen said.
The President was crisp but informal. ‘Bob, you have any problems?’ he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.
The President then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly; focus on al-Qaeda, and build the Afghan army. ‘I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,’ he said. No one said anything.
‘Tell me now,’ Obama repeated.
‘Fully support, sir,’ Mullen said.
‘Ditto,’ Petraeus said.”
Now, Obama could fold. He could, for instance, walk the promise back on technical grounds: the specific gunmen from whom he extracted the promise are leaving the building. Jones is gone, and Gates is winding up his endless farewell tour. In September Mullen is retiring, while Petraeus is shifting over to head the CIA, where even as we speak agents are changing their pants hourly, as they strive mightily to purge spook-shop files of all the many savage and cutting references therein to Ditzy Dave, before he can get his mitts on them.
But why should he allow some new gunmen to walk it back? Obama is not a dolt. He knows Afghanistan is a millstone hung round his neck by his predecessors. And that Operation Enduring Fiefdom has always been a bloody kabuki show.
BushCo never really wanted to go in there—from day one, post-9/11, Colonel Walter E. Rumsfeld complained there were “no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan,” pushing instead for Iraq, ’cause it “had better targets.” This suited Junior just fine: he was all about some atavistic dynastic family feud, going after “the guy who tried to kill my dad.” But—too bad for them—Osama bin Laden had been hanging out in Afghanistan, not Iraq. And so BushCo shoveled some money and bodies in there. When bin Laden slipped across the border to join his pals in Pakistan, BushCo shrugged and turned towards the “better targets” of Iraq.
Meanwhile, over in the Democratic Party, once it was decided to pronounce Operation Iraqi Fiefdom as Something Bad, the Janus head immediately spun around to ululate that Operation Enduring Fiefdom was Good—”the good war,” vital, necessary. This way, you see, Democrats could oppose the imperial adventuring in Iraq without appearing “soft on terror.” And also bash them some Bushies. They all donned the makeup, the Dems, and got into the act. John Kerry in 2004 was just as bellicose on Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Taliban and Al Qaeda as was Barack Obama in 2008. Thanks to Miss Ohio, Kerry was not required to act on his words. Obama was.
Barack Obama has opened a history book a time or two, and so he knows that history shows that the only way to “win” in Afghanistan is to behave like the Khans: transform into a mountain of skulls everyone who evinces the slightest inclination for resistance. Even then you don’t “win,” because the survivors simply retreat to the deep mountains, and wait there for you to leave, as the Afghans waited until the Khans were swept into the dustbin of history. Ten years, fifty years, a hundred years; they don’t care. As long as it takes.
Afghanistan is a bottomless pit for blood and treasure. Whatever you want to throw in there, it will swallow. It is the quintessence of military Keynesianism. In art imitating life, Francis Coppola presented in Apocalypse Now the Do Lung Bridge: “We build it every night; Charlie blows it right back up again.” In life imitating art imitating life, Harper’s recounted, years ago, the efforts of Americans who lay down roads in Afghanistan, that are promptly ripped to shit by the Taliban. Built again. Ripped again. Eternal recurrence. Will never stop. Not so long as Americans are there.
The people who put names to these efforts need to grow a brain, moran; clue in to the power of naming. If you decide to dub a gun-sting venture Operation Fast And Furious, it is inevitable that the thing will run amok, that guns will flow freely across the land. And if you mount up in some Operation Enduring Fiefdom, you guarantee you’ll ride for freaking forever. I realize that the Obama administration no longer uses the Operation Enduring Fiefdom rubric. But whatever name they slap onto it remains the functional equivalent of Operation Lipstick On A Pig. The only way to break the chain is to name it Operation Feel Like Goin’ Home. And then do it.