Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Disappointing Afghanistan Strategy

Despite the desire of nations to achieve peace, they usually lack the knowledge of how to arrive at peaceful solutions. Jacque Fresco

One of the reasons I decided to give Barack Obama my vote was because I felt he would change our direction in how we are conducting our wars. Perhaps we would even have no further wars. The Iraq war would end, our troops withdrawn, and that he would initiate different tactics in an effort to end conflict in Afghanistan. I felt he had a greater sensitivity than the other candidates to solving foreign conflicts in reasonable and peaceful ways.

However, I am disappointed.

I thought the first indication of change was on Obama’s rejection of Gen. David Petraeus’s efforts to reverse his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months. However, Obama did somewhat give in, compromising on a two-month extension of the withdrawal target date to August 31, 2010, an 18 month withdrawal target date instead, and agreeing to 50,000 troops to remain in Iraq to the end of 2011. Even so, I will give him a pass on this since in withdrawal it is important to withdraw in a safe and orderly way. Listening to the generals in this case was very important.

In addition, a lingering question remains: how many defense department contractors like Blackwater, a private military company and security firm, will remain in Iraq. They have been defense department surrogates for many military missions.

What came next was Obama’s and Gates’s change of command decision in Afghanistan. I believed at the time that the decision to appoint Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to the position of NATO Commander might have been a sign of real change in the way we face the challenges of Afghanistan.

However, it appears President Obama is not implementing a change in direction on how we confront those challenges. After all, he has committed an additional 21,000 troops with a strategy that does not significantly differ from that of the Bush administration.

It now appears there is no change. The Afghanistan strategy and tactics are nearly the same as that of Iraq. As in Iraq, our efforts continue to be focused on increasing military strength, military tactics of counter-insurgency, training and deploying more Afghan troops and police, and a major shift in military operations by forcing them into closer contact with locals in a bid to identify and befriend local power brokers in order to win them over to the government side. Suggestions have even been made that we coerce tribal leaders with bribes. All of this, from a strictly military perspective, sounds well and good, but it still reflects a heavy reliance on military hard power and in the end, it will not solve our problem.

Before you know it, Petraeus, Gates, and McChrystal will be asking Obama for additional troops beyond the 21,000. We will simply continue to escalate troop strength in an effort to win militarily without conquering the hearts and minds of Afghans, which is the essence of what should be our goal.

As Michael Ware of CNN said, and I wholeheartedly agree, Bombs and Bullets will not win that war. To win, so called, we must foster viable solutions for the Afghan people to govern their country free of corruption and war. What America is accomplishing is only more destruction and death, not just NATO and American troops, but non-combatants as well. Destroying ones country and killing its people will only cause Afghans to repel America.

It is time to stop listening entirely to the Generals. Military strategy and tactics are designed to kill, destroy, and break the organization of the enemy. In addition, its intent is to break the hearts and minds of the people, who to one extent or another support the enemy.

What we desperately need is a change of mindset from the sophomoric rally cry of winning and defeat of the enemy with military hard power to one of containment, reconciliation, winning the hearts and minds of people -- not solely their governments -- support and invest in community development and infrastructure, and developing viable economic resources. In Afghanistan, this means less concentration on central government, more emphases on soft power, helping tribal communities in education, help them to improve or develop the infrastructures of their villages, and helping them to develop an economy based on something else other than opium.

A new approach to handling conflict is badly needed, particularly now in Afghanistan.

We must acquire knowledge through empathetic listening and communication. In doing so, the issues will coalesce into a greater understanding of the Afghan people, and they of us. This will put America in an improved position to help Afghanistan and its people by giving them hope for a brighter future, and it will marginalize Taliban and al-Queda influences. It is the only way to arrive at a peaceful solution.a