Thursday, November 22, 2007

The other war we're losing

So Afghanistan is kind of going balls-up on us. Sad to say, but this is just the most recent in a series of reports that show the Taliban's influence is growing, and the solutions are basically impossible.

The full Senlis Council report is worth reading in full, if you can bear to read 100+ pages of PDF file. Main points:

  • The Taliban have "a permanent presence" in more than half (54%) of the country, with a "substantial presence" in another 38%.
  • The Taliban are well positioned to retake Kabul in 2008.
  • Tactics invented in Iraq are being imported to kill NATO soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan. Thanks again, Mr. Bush!

So what's the answer, according to Senlis? Doubling NATO forces, removing all restrictions on the use of national forces in Afghanistan (many countries have large contingents, but are prevented from being used in combat), a shift from counter-terrorism to counterinsurgency, and -- wait for it -- a land invasion of Pakistan! In fairness, the Senlis report says we should get Pakistan's permission first, but it's difficult to see that happening.

One wonders why they didn't save their breaths and countless innocent pixels by simply saying "Afghanistan: time to go."

Because that's what the report really amounts to. There's no serious indication that NATO nations are inclined to double their commitment, much less remove the provisos they've put on the use of their soldiers. As for invading a nuclear power, do we really need to ask why this is a bad, bad idea?

The sad thing is that I don't think Senlis is wrong -- indeed, they're probably low-balling the costs of reversing the years of failure in Afghanistan. (80,000 troops to secure the south of Afghanistan?) But it's a mark of how dishonest the rhetoric is in our other "easy, cheap war" that the government of Canada summarily dismissed the report, calling it "not credible."

So we've got two wars with not enough troops to win either one of them individually, and certainly not enough to win both. Well, that's not quite true: NATO has literally millions of troops that could, in theory, be used. And if we actually thought Afghanistan was worth it, other countries could raise those numbers further. Which brings us to the last question here: after leaving Afghanistan, what will be left of NATO?

You've got to wonder what it means when an alliance of most the world's biggest military powers (after the US, the UK, France, and Germany are 2,3, and 4 in spending, and have a combined population of 200 million) can't win a war like this, even after having pretty well won the war already in 2001 -- the victory in Afghanistan actually seemed to hold for a year or two, unlike the victory in Iraq that never was.

So we're looking at two major strategic defeats not just for the US, but for the whole transatlantic alliance. And while it's tempting to blame Bush for most of this -- and indeed, others should feel free -- it's worth pointing out that, for example, the Canadian Prime Minister has followed Bush's lead by claiming simultaneously that the war in Afghanistan is an all-out fight for civilization, but not so important that we do something as radical as postpone tax cuts. In truth, not a single western leader has treated Afghanistan seriously, and we're paying the price for it now.


Mike said...

Never start a land war in Asia....

Chet Scoville said...


And of course you know who'll get blamed once it all finally goes to hell, yes?

john said...

Now Chet, I wouldn't dare suggest that the left would be blamed for this catastrophe. That's just paranoid.