Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Viable Afghanistan

In terms of cost-effectiveness/cost-benefit: the United States has conducted war in Iraq for some six years, and in Afghanistan going into its ninth year. In that time, it does not seem we have accomplished much, if anything. America has certainly spent more in blood and treasure than was actually loss in blood and treasure on 911, which was the reasoning behind the invasion of Afghanistan and the preemptive attack on Iraq. It certainly doesn’t seem that it was economical for the benefits received on the money spent.

There may be associated additional undeterminable cost, and these numbers are arguable, but on the surface, the 911 attacks cost New York City about $95B; the repairs to the Pentagon cost $501mn. The total costs to date of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are in the vicinity of $915.1B Since we have been in Iraq and Afghanistan for sufficient and significant time without achieving their predicted success, it is abundantly clear that the cost-effectiveness of these wars has been extremely poor, if not zero.

Not only the dollar cost for both wars exceed the cost to repair the damages caused in the attacks, but also the casualties for both wars exceeds casualties as a result of the September 11th attacks on the United States.

In total 2,995 people, including the hijackers, were killed as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Any numbers given for civilian casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan is a prediction and certainly arguable, however, since the U.S. and coalition attacks, based on lowest credible estimates At least 753,399 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. This number includes U.S. , Afghan, and coalition troops; it includes Afghan civilians, contractors, and journalist.

Economist Edward Lotterman writes, The Germans [World War II] made the mistake of assuming that they had success in the bag on the Western Front and could allocate military resources elsewhere. That is precisely the mistake the Bush administration made in 2002 when, after having routed the Taliban government from power in Afghanistan, it decided to take a break from the war on terror and oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The opportunity cost of concentrating military and nation-building resources on Iraq was that Afghanistan festered, the Taliban regrouped and in Afghanistan, the government wobbled aimlessly. Now, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, and other officials candidly admit, the situation in Afghanistan is highly discouraging. Seven wasted years have made the establishment of a successful government friendly to the United States problematic, indeed.

There is no way to place a dollar value on the benefits of deposing a dictator like Saddam or on the long-term costs of an Afghanistan, and perhaps a Pakistan, ruled by bitter enemies of our country. But I'll bet my money that future historians will judge the trade-off chosen by the United States in 2002 as bad a decision as that made by the Germans 88 years earlier.

We irresponsibly wasted our opportunity cost in Afghanistan in Iraq. Contrary to popular opinion, Iraq is not a success. What we have done is emboldened Iran.

In order to achieve success in Afghanistan, President Obama, therefore, has a critically important decision to make. If President Obama decides on the side of General Stanley A. McChrystal's call for a new Afghanistan Strategy, and, if my assessment of General McCrystal’s strategy is correct, it just may be successful. But will be a long haul.

The caveat or heads-up in all of this may be that the Pentagon and General McChrystal may be selling us a bill of goods, as Robert Scheer writes in A War of Absurdity: It is a prescription, as the Russians and others before them learned, for war without end. That might satisfy the marketing needs of the defense industry and the career hopes of select military and political aspirants, but it has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. In the end, it would seem that some of our leaders need the Afghanistan battleground more than the terrorists do.

Either President Obama decides on a clear and comprehensive new strategy that includes real concern and help for the Afghan people, or he should cut our losses and run. However, in doing so a lot of blood and treasure would have been lost in vain. The Afghan people would be left in the same situation as prior to 2001. They would be left with the menace of the Taliban, who are more ruthless, particularly with their impulsive punishments against women, than Saddam Hussein. Success to me lies in helping the people of Afghanistan. The ripple effect, over time, of that would be the establishment of a viable economy, a viable system of education, and a viable, efficient, effective, and non-corrupt public administration, which would marginalize the influences of al Qaeda and the Taliban so that they are left without influence, and severely diminish their viability and ability to harm any nation; with a viable national product other than cocaine; and with a military strong enough to repulse any threat or return of the Taliban or al Qaeda. Containing the Taliban and al Qaeda, the ability to manage their menace, is a better option than seeking to destroy them, which I believe is simply unachievable.

What we really need is new ways of thinking, a different mindset, in Afghanistan.