Friday, December 4, 2009

Afghanistan: the long deliberative decision

A comment posted on my Facebook Wall:


-- something I thought I would share from one of my Facebook friends.

I agree [with the position taken] being from the Vietnam era...

Afghanistan has the potential of being this generations Viet Nam.

It is a difficult region, with Cave Dwellers who live and fight as if it were the 13th century, and it is a war that is unwinnable for us, just like Nam.

Obama is listening to his advisors, just as LBJ listened to McNamara and his other Military and Pentagon advisors [in other words, Obama is listening to political advisors and not General McChrystal, if I read this statement correctly], and this course of action has a very ominous déjà vu appearance to it.

In acknowledgement is my follow-up comment:

There are somewhat similarities, but there are also some more very appreciable differences.

Unlike Vietnam, in Afghanistan there is a moral purpose: self-defense. The attacks of 9/11 support every justifiably moral and legal reason why we are in Afghanistan. Our combat operations in Afghanistan have international legitimacy to exercise our right of self-defense; after 9/11, a majority of nations were in sympathy with and fully supportive of America. There are 43 nations that are in Afghanistan because they believe in its purpose -- not a coalition of the willing as in Iraq – not America with the help of small numbers of other troops, such as the Aussies, as in Vietnam.

We committed as many as 500,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam with about 1 million ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops, and there were some Australian troops, against approximately 100,000 VC (Vietcong) and 850,000 PAVN (Peoples Army of Vietnam) forces -- a ratio of approximately 1.6 U.S.-ARVN to 1 VC-PAVN.

In Afghanistan, when 30, 000 U.S. forces are added we will have committed 100, 000 U.S. troops with 50, 000 ISF (International Security Force) forces against approximately 28,000 Taliban -- a ratio of approximately 5.3 U.S.-ISF to 1 Taliban. (Afghan Army cannot be counted -- yet).

(these numbers are arguable, but for the purposes of this writing, they are close enough)

Vietnam and Afghanistan are very much alike in the sense that neither war had/have the possibility of being winnable. Winnable, that is, as Americans think of winning – i.e. to conquer.

The fact is, unlike Vietnam, that there was a point where we did have the upper hand in Afghanistan. President Bush decided though that Iraq was a more important goal and switched our efforts in Afghanistan to Iraq before the work in Afghanistan was completed -- Bush jumped the gun for something that met his, Cheney’s, and the neoconservative hawks special agenda: The Project for the New American Century.

In consideration of that previously stated fact, it seems to me -- albeit not exactly as I would prefer the outcome -- we do have a significant probability that we can turn the situation around in a way that is suitable and appropriate for Afghanistan and the United States of America, and the 43 participating countries involved in this conflict.

Moreover, it seems to me -- and I forget who in essence said this -- that Americans want to start at positions we wish we were in, instead of understanding the position we are in, as it is and where we are now. It’s absolutely necessary to understand that concept to appreciate fully what our way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan should and must be.

The President is the Commander in Chief, and should and does listen with consideration to operation commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just as McChrystal listens with consideration to those who are subordinate to him. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they should follow their recommendations or advice; consider them, yes, but each level in any organizations hierarchy increasingly has a greater appreciation of the larger goal (the big picture) that have built-in other considerations, and at each level in turn is able to make built-upon knowledge leading to better decisions. That’s the reason why President Obama was patient and considerate of all positions and conditions -- international and political as well as military -- in his long waited deliberated decision. No one would expect General McChrystal necessarily to follow the recommendations or advice of his operations commanders, and likewise no one should expect the Commander and Chief necessarily to follow the advice of his operations commanders, i.e. the Joint Chiefs of Staff; certainly not of General McChrystal, for he reports to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If this structure of government did not exist, there would be another branch of government: Executive, Judicial, Legislative, and Defense. In consideration of American proclivity for all things military, we would have a government controlled by the military -- a junta of sorts.

On Tuesday night, President Obama looked and sounded like the Commander in Chief; he looked and sounded like the President of the United States.

In consideration of the here and now we find ourselves, and although I would require a different win-win way forward, I fully support President Obama.