Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Afghanistan Draw Down – Open Thread

So it’s happened. Despite protests from the Pentagon, Obama has announced his intention of making the surge of two years ago truly a surge, and to draw down 33,000 US troops from Afghanistan by September next year.

The current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just welcomed the news.

“The Afghan people’s trust in the Afghan army and police is growing every day and preservation of this land is the job of Afghans…. I welcome the decision of the US president today on pulling out [some of] … its troops from Afghanistan and I consider this a right decision for the interest of both countries.”

The news has created an unusual consensus and been welcome by the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as well as NATO, and the governments in London, Paris and Berlin.

But what says the Moose to this? I know many here distressed by the announcement of the surge two years ago. Has it worked? Has it created some stability for the ANA to take over the destabilised provinces such as Helmand. Or is it a capitulation to a determined and increasingly dug-in foe?

For my own part, having talked extensively with some British commanders who fought in Helmand, this seems to me to be a strategic retreat. The Taliban – in truth a motley assemblage of different warlords, ethnic groups and economic interests – were never going to be simply defeated militarily in their own homeland. Only development, security and education would provide an alternative for the young Afghan men who could earn hundreds of dollars a month placing IED’s or shooting at ISAF troops.

One Marine Colonel I spoke to recently, who initially two years ago, who thought the Taliban were retreating in Helmand due to the determination of NATO troops to protect local civilians and allow economic development to flourish, now thinks ISAF was destined to fail. For local warlords, to whom loss of life is part of the historic game, the West was always going to capitulate and return home if blood cost got too high.

On the other hand, there are new forces afoot in Afghanistan. Kabul itself has trebled in size, commerce and infrastructure since 2001. Though there will be a long hard slog to bring similar levels of development to far flung provinces, the ultimate hope must be that thought the Afghan insurgents could never be easily militarily defeated, time may see them and their children co-opted into more productive activities beyond Opium production or mercenary gunmen.

To me this isn’t a defeat like Vietnam, but a much more equivocal moment. And let’s remember, forty years on, where Vietnam is now.  

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  1. but the size and pace of the draw-down seem about right.

    I doubt there is much risk of having another “Afghanistan Abandoned” episode like we did after the Soviet war in the 1980s. We will no doubt keep an eye and where possible a hand in the country and the region for the foreseeable future.

    Marching all soldiers home immediately would seem both logistically difficult and likely foolhardy. Anything as complicated as a nation takes more thought and planning than simply “Hey, we’re out of here” on our part.

    Like Egypt or Tunisia (or hopefully Libya), there is no route to First World status that can be trotted in five days or five years. The success and stability of this country will be an open question for decades, and only long-term trends will tell the tale.

    Will Afghanistan become more stable or less as the troops roll home incrementally? No way to know that, of course, but a few years managing it off the C5a cargo-ramp and setting it on it’s feet before we all fly home is as likely to encourage that as any other possible path.

  2. Strummerson

    McCain and the hawks are gnashing their teeth and rolling in ashes that Obama is refusing to listen to his commanders, who wanted a more “moderate” draw down, starting with 5,000 troops.  Wow.  How dare he bring 10,000 home and leave over 70,000 there.  The ARROGANCE of this guy.

    Then there are the neo-isolationists in the GOP, all of whom led the sabre rattling in the run up to Iraq.

    Truth be told, my concern is that Obama is once again splitting the difference.  Sometimes you have to choose.  The middle ground sometimes does very little.  He can’t pull out 50,000 in the next 6 months without indeed looking like he is ignoring Gates, Petraeus, and the generals.  It would be a political disaster as well, though I would enjoy the perversity of sharing joy with Ron Paul.  Regardless, I think we need to take the arguments of the pentagon and officer corps seriously.  Sometimes they know what they are doing.  It’s not always Viet Nam and Eisenhower’s premonition coming to pass.  An expression of zero confidence in military leadership can itself be disastrous for the troops on the ground.

  3. DeniseVelez

    so I didn’t vote.

    I think it is a sign of slowly we are going to get out of there- not as fast as many would like – but there is an end in sight.

  4. Strummerson

    Neo-colonialism.  That’s right.  There is a whole constituency of Americans that might be happily re-settled there.

    Let’s see:

    Taxes are very low.

    The government is largely uninvolved in health care and education.

    Social Security is private there (save, sink, or depend upon your self-reliant family).

    No environmental or financial regulation.

    You can own as many guns as you can afford.

    Decisions there seem to be made quite frequently on the authority of a sacred text.

    I say give them a starter package of guns, ammo, and medical supplies and set them free to pursue happiness with unfettered liberty and a prayer in their little hearts.  For each service member brought home, send five families to settle there.

  5. HappyinVT

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said on Thursday he had recommended a slower drawdown than President Barack Obama had decided upon, but backed the decision and said no military commander in history gets “all the forces he would like to have, for all the time.”

    I had heard, though, that the president has been completely subservient to the military.  Unless Petraeus is just providing cover for his boss (and giving a thank-you for the soon-to-be move to CIA).

  6. Shaun Appleby

    And publicly advocated in favour of the Afhanistan “surge” at the time I suppose I should advance an opinion on the subject.

    Firstly, we gave it a shot, so to speak.  The military had an opportunity to get 80% of the resources that they felt necessary to go the post-modern COIN strategy full-frontal and I’m guessing that they now have a lot to consider on that score.  Sometimes it is necessary to pursue the experiment to bring reality into focus.  That Obama gave this opportunity, in the face of objections within his own administration probably has demonstrated that he is as much a commander-in-chief as a politician.  I assume that the military theorists and practitioners are appropriately chastened by the realities of the case and that may be a benefit for as long as they remain in leadership in the military.  Not sure it is worth the blood and treasure but there it is.  The “Anbar awakening” is unlikely to sponsor any further dreams of glory.

    Secondly, the Kabul government, such as it is, has been given the opportunity to prove its mettle and the outcomes are blindingly obvious.  That Karzai is a shifty character and an unlikely ally is clear; but counter-intuitively the very things we loath about him demonstrate his capability as a politician.  Whether he can remain one in the event of an American and NATO hand-washing of the whole affair is debatable but he may have a chance on the grounds that he has been a pain-in-the-ass throughout.  Mixed blessings, really.  The Kabul Bank fiasco is where I threw in the towel.

    Thirdly, the recent democracy movements in Tunisia, Eqypt and elsewhere may not have reached fruition but have certainly crippled the ideological motivations for scouring out the madrassas, at least for the time being.  By the time Qaddaffi was accusing al Qaeda of using drug-tainted Nescafé to incite democratic revolt in Libya it was pretty clear that their stock was falling fast.  The death of Osama bin Laden, probably more significant as myth than fact, pretty well punctuated that sentence.  An era has ended and it is worth looking at our sacrifice in Afghanistan as a defensive strategy while the rest of these events played themselves out.  It was probably worth maintaining the status quo there to emphasise the failures of al Qaeda strategically elsewhere.  I’m not saying that was the intention but it seems to be the outcome.

    Finally, this has always been about Pakistan, really.  Jury is still out there but the terrain seems to have shifted quite a bit since the “surge” was proposed.  It is hard to imagine the apparently effective, yet controversial, drone campaign in the inaccessible heartlands in the frontier provinces in a situation where America had already signalled the intention to bail-out of Afghanistan two years ago.

    History is full of unintended consequences and while it is hard to provide tangible support for the notion that the “surge” advanced our cause or was defensible in light of the death and injury to all concerned as a consequence yet I would be inclined to argue that whether by accident or design our intended withdrawal, as outlined by the president recently, and at whatever reasonable pace, is much less likely to have dire, unforeseen consequences than it would have had in the first year of Obama’s presidency.

  7. Strummerson

    The Afghanistan decision is a perfect window into the president’s leadership style – he takes in all the facts, engages in a comprehensive cerebral analysis, consider the input of other and then makes a decision in a “lawyerly way” that generally represents a smart policy (and a policy approach that like a good wine tends to get better over time).

    However, this Afghanistan decision will also serve as an especially interesting window to consider how the public will perceive their commander in chief’s leadership approach through the prism of the successful Obama Bin Laden operation – as this is the first major foreign policy decision the president has made since Pakistan.


    Pre-bin Laden, this “take your time and apply the facts to the law” leadership approach produced decisions that were perceived as “splitting the difference” and, consequently, did not necessarily translate into a perception of a strong president who was seen as bending the arc of history to his will – and historically Americans considering giving president a second term like their presidents to be strong leaders in the traditional historic vintage of a FDR, Reagan, Clinton or Bush.

    In Libya, the president’s decision to pursue a limited military intervention came after weeks of review and where it has without question saved thousands of lives and pushed up Gaddafi’s expiration date – but which left the President open to attack for “taking too long”, for “not doing enough” or for “doing too much”.

    However, it was exactly this same “Harvard Law Review” leadership approach that resulted in the successful operation to take out Osama Bin Laden.

    And the success of the OBL operation has created a new prism by which the public considers the president’s leadership approach – and, at least as it applies to Mr. Obama, a perception that this approach is consistent with being a strong leader.

    The bin Laden success asked and emphatically answered the question of whether this is a President who has what it takes — and it answered this question in a way that specifically affirmed his specific leadership approach.

    In fact, the decision to NOT put military personnel on the ground in Libya and the decision TO put soldiers in harm’s way in Pakistan are mirror images of the President’s leadership style. They both reflected a President who took his time, considered the facts, solicited input and, at the end of the day, made the call himself.

    Splitting the difference in Afghanistan pre-bin Laden may have been seen as Obama acting as the Democrat’s “lawyer in chief”.

    Splitting the difference post-bin Laden means it will be seen as Obama acting as the nation’s strong commander in chief.

  8. spacemanspiff

    Yeah. Not hard to guess that was me. :~)

    All the excuses we make in order to invade and “stabilize” countries really bothers me.  

  9. fogiv

    With US crude prices already down 16 percent from their April high, pundits and politicians everywhere were asking Thursday: “Why would President Obama tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when oil prices were already falling?”

    The answer is simple: Obama knew this would have the maximum impact, hitting speculators on the chin, according to traders.

    “Arguably the timing of the release is genius,” said Stephen Weiss of Short Hills Capital. “If the SPR had been released as crude worked higher, the effect would have been relatively momentary, but releasing it now, with the momentum on crude prices turning down, will add to the price decline as speculators hit their stops and margin limits more quickly forcing them to sell.”

    heeds esplodin’ all ovah.

  10. DTOzone

    my sister is getting married tomorrow and she and her future husband may be the first people married in the state of New York after equality is made law.

    How special is that?  

  11. DTOzone

    I should also point out, I’m in Albany and as soon as the vote happens, I’m driving back to Long Island to be in a wedding at 11 am.

    Yeah, so, see y’all Sunday.

  12. DTOzone

    and we just shoved the entire country forward. I love my state.

    Now off to Long Island for my sister’s wedding. Expect a gay marriage diary later in the weekend. I already came up with the title, it’s gonna be cool!


  13. virginislandsguy

    b3 at GOS passes along this Perry tidbit:

    GWB and the entire Bush Family can’t stand Rick Perry. They hate each other and its personal.

    With Daniels out and the freepers claiming Sen. Rubio ineligible to run, who will the Bush cabal support in ’12? I can’t see them sitting it out. There’s gotta be some angle for positioning JEB for 2016.

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