So just how close to the tipping point – that’s the phase heard most over the past several days – is the U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan? Not close, according to the Obama Administration. Remember, this was the “good war” – justifiable in 9/11’s wake, unlike the invasion of Iraq two years later. So Administration officials were peddling it that way on Monday, following a week of riots and the killing of four U.S. troops after American soldiers at Bagram apparently mistakenly tossed Korans into a trash fire.
“The policy remains one that is designed precisely to stabilize the Afghan government to the point where it can take over the security lead responsibility in its own country, which then allows U.S. forces to withdraw,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Added Pentagon spokesman George Little: “We work alongside thousands of Afghans every single day to ensure a better future for the Afghan people, and nothing that has happened over the past week is going to deter us from that goal.”
Perhaps. Then why are the folks paid to analyze what’s going on at such odds:
— a news analysis by Kevin Baron at the upper-crust National Journal (where you need forklifts to lift paragraphs because they are so crammed with facts and data) proclaims:
Administration Will Weather Latest Afghan Storm
…but then you check out the assessment from John Bennett of U.S. News & World Report (and Battleland has long had a warm spot for weekly newsmags), who declares:
Koran Burning May Be Beginning of the End for Afghan War
Bottom line: no one yet knows where the Afghan campaign is headed. The riots were declared in decline last weekend, but they roared back, along with the killing of two U.S. officers inside the Afghan interior ministry.
That hast given chin-strokers like Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies a chance to weigh in:
It has been a truly grim week, and one where these events raise questions about US strategy and the value of continuing with the current approach to the war…the past strategy is dead, and we desperately need to either decide on a workable “Transition” strategy for the future and then actually fund and implement it, or develop an honest exit strategy that will do minimal damage to the Afghan people and our national interest.
And he’s an optimist. More telling is the assessment of Sergio Miller, a former British army officer with the Special Air Service. On Small Wars Journal, he details the U.S. war in Vietnam, and then superglues it to Afghanistan:
By now, any reader familiar with the war in Afghanistan will have noticed parallels. Nobly and in good faith – it must be recognised – Washington set about supporting a corrupt government that could not stand on its own two feet; it tried to fix a country damaged by years of war, in the middle of another war; it tried to spread democracy, albeit at the end of an M16 barrel; it presided over continual, cosmetic name changes of organisations, programs and initiatives that could not alter the facts on the ground; it grew unsustainably large and dependent armed forces and an unreliable police force; and all of this cost almost 60,000 American lives and over $800 billion in 2010 prices, huge sums of which were squandered or stolen. It is a wonder the Vietnam War Memorial does not weep tears.
He asserts that Washington is repeating the errors of Vietnam in Afghanistan:
They include: massive influxes of aid money distorting unsophisticated economies; an irresponsible belief that money does good when the manifest evidence of its contrary effect is unassailable; notions of ‘doing good’ that run contrary to local truths; fashionable Western aid dogma colliding with a good old fashioned human propensity for corruption, embezzlement and fraud; a focus on promoting misleading aid ‘success statistics’ or meeting arbitrary targets to satisfy domestic audiences and funding agendas that do not reflect the reality of the lives of locals who make up those statistics or targets; false, anecdotal or simply unproved metrics of ‘success’; prestige programs with little local relevance; poor coordination; even lousier accountability and transparency; woeful auditing; a lack of responsibility allied to short-term attitudes in officials and contractors only looking to the end of their six month stints in-country; naivety and sometimes plain dishonesty over the scale of the waste; inconsistent and sometimes contradictory strategic goals; misunderstanding, competition and even antipathy between military, government and non-government organisations; abrupt switches of policy with different governments, military units or forceful personalities that confuse the locals; the incapacity of the recipient governments, at national and local level, to manage the aid effectively; a resigned tolerance of corruption; the promotion of programs and projects that cannot realistically be sustained; and, finally, giving up when failure can no longer be denied.
Makes you wonder if the Afghanistan war memorial will end up weeping tears, too.