Afghanistan: Live or die with Hamid Karzai
Following the Commander-in-Chief’s speech before the West Point Cadets, Gabor Steingart, writing in Der Spiegel, the German counterpart to American news magazines such as Time or Newsweek, said, “One didn’t have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama’s speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly.”
Moreover, Steingart reports: “Just minutes before the president took the stage inside Eisenhower Hall, the gathered cadets were asked to respond enthusiastically to the speech. But it didn’t help. The cadets’ reception was cool.”
“Cool” isn’t quite right. Is there another word for synonym? How about “correct?” No matter what Mr. Obama said, he was going to receive “correct” applause.
While the cadets are trained to be apolitical, they are not politically naïve. They understood full well that an American commitment to Afghanistan of only 18 months is like telling your football opponents that you plan to play hard for three quarters, and then quit.
The cadets don’t have many amenities, but they are allowed calendars. The 18 months will expire on the eve of the Democratic National Convention and five months before the next presidential election. By then, some of them will have died in Afghanistan.
Setting aside that old joke: “What if there were no hypothetical questions?” let’s pose some: What if you had to invade either Iraq or Afghanistan? Which country would you chose? No bullet gumming. You must pick one.
Which country is easier to re-supply? Iraq, with seaports on the Persian Gulf, or land-locked Afghanistan where overland supply is only via Pakistan, using heavily-armored convoys over Afghan mountain passes?
General Stanley A. McChrystal asked for a Surge of 40,000 more troops. Mr. Obama offers a mini-Surge of 30,000 and a promise of more NATO troops. Unfortunately, most of the NATO troops there now cannot be used in actual combat operations.
Assuming NATO would add more non-combat troops, that would just add to General McChrystal’s logistical problems which are so serious that Mr. Obama had to cut a deal with Vladimir Putin so we can overfly Russian-controlled territories to resupply our troops. Now, our Afghan re-supply via air is subject to the whims of Russian foreign policy. Ouch.
But wait. Afghanistan borders nuclear, Muslim Pakistan which has become the Cambodia-like sanctuary for the al-Qaeda elements that fled Iraq due to the General David Petraeus-led Surge. Assuming, Mr. Obama actually wants to eliminate Pakistan’s Islamic jihadists, he could, using the billions we just borrowed from the Red Chinese, flood Pakistan with tons of consumer goods.
That might set off such a Revolution of Rising Expectations that the Pak people might decide that the U.S. Horn-of-Plenty is preferable to playing host to al-Qaeda and pressure the Pak Army to eliminate al-Qaeda.
But then, what about the Taliban in Afghanistan? Foreign invaders have included: the Greeks, Mongols, Russian Czars, Great Britain and the Soviets. In each case, the Afghan war lords kicked their derrieres. This suggests that if Afghanistan is to become a non-aligned, non-Taliban nation, it will have to be done from within.
That would mean our long-term commitment to nation building, and the security forces necessary to protect the nation-builders. But how do we get millions of wild, opium-farming tribesmen to want what we want of them?
Recently, Mr. Obama called the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai totally corrupt. Not a good way to build a personal relationship. Yet, Mr. Obama has now gotten his historical shorts wrapped around the Karzai axle. For Mr. Obama, it is now live or die with Hamid Karzai. A situation not lost on the West Point Cadets, who dutifully offered “correct” applause.
Nationally syndicated columnist and retired Army officer, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former Research Fellow at the U.S. Army War College.
©2009. William Hamilton.