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Obama’s Afghan Review – The Fix Is In

Posted by on December 14th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The six month review of progress in Afghanistan that President Obama promised when he ordered the surge there is due on Thursday. But don't hold your breath for anything radical – the fix is in.

Today, Admiral Mullen became just the latest senior official to say that nothing would be changed by the review.

Adm. Mike Mullen told troops there won't be any significant increases over the current level of roughly 100,000. But he says there won't be big decreases either. The Obama administration plans to begin a modest withdrawal in July next year.

"I'm comfortable with where we are in terms of numbers," Mullen later told reporters traveling with him. He said it remains the plan to bring some forces home in July.

"From where? How many? Don't know," he said.

Gates kicked off with the same news in September. Holbrooke, Eikenberry and anonymous White House aides have all told us the same thing .

Reuters reports what we all already know will happen – the review will kick the can down the road for another six month Friedman Unit:

A long-awaited review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan due on Thursday will report some progress despite the bloodiest year in nine years of war and signal no major change in President Barack Obama's plans.

The review of the revised strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which Obama unveiled a year ago, comes amid mounting concern about rampant corruption in Afghanistan and worries in Congress and among allies about how much more blood and treasure it will take to finally defeat the Taliban.

U.S. officials are downplaying the review, which assesses the impact of Obama's build-up of forces in the last year meant to create conditions for Afghan security forces to gradually take over and let U.S. troops start coming home in July 2011.

…But even reports of modest progress might surprise many in Afghanistan, where a recent U.S. military report found an expanding, tenacious insurgency, entrenched corruption and dysfunctional governance despite some pockets of security.

Almost 700 foreign troops have been killed in 2010, at least 477 of them Americans.

"What's going to happen next year is quite clear: less Europeans, more Taliban, and Karzai not being able to do the work," said Gilles Dorronsoro, a critic of the U.S. strategy and scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It makes you wonder what the White House and Pentagon are smoking.

Recent wikileaks cables and news reports have made the true situation crystal clear. Karzai says he'd join the Taliban if he had it all to do again. Several districts are entirely out of government or NATO control and most others have Taliban "shadow" governments, corruption is rife on all sides and Afghan polls are not encouraging. At least a large portion of the warlords and drug lords are being backed by the U.S. The notion that "they will stand up so we can stand down" is broken to the point of being a ridiculous idea, yet is a key past of Obama's plan going forward. In Kandahar, Marjah and Sangin, violence continues unabated and troop deaths are at their highest levels ever. In all, 2,169 NATO troops have died since 2001, more than half of those in the past two years alone. Civilian deaths are on an ever-increasing spiral too, and NATO gets no kudos from Afghans for reducing the number of civilian deaths at its own hands – it's supposed to be protecting the population, and failing at it. Finally, Pakistan, the actual key to the whole mess, is as two-faced an ally as it ever was.

If all of that isn't a reason to re-evaluate the "surge" strategy and say it isn't working, then nothing is. But instead, we're being treated to "serious persons" like Andrew Exum of CNAS telling us, as an article of faith, that it is too early to tell and we need to wait another six months. And in another six months, they'll be telling us to ignore the evidence again and wait another six months. In this, CNAS is just echoing Petraeus, Mullen and the rest. At a cost of $116 billion a year, that they're getting away with this evidence-ignoring claim unquestioned is a shocking failure for the media and politicians.

It's significant that no-one in the corridors of D.C. seriousdom, neither White House nor Pentagon nor CNAS nor the ostensibly more anti-war Afghan Study Group, has ever advanced a plan which gets the U.S. to zero troops in Afghanistan. All envision a perpetual presence of at least 10-30,000 troops. That ties in with other worrying trends: the claim by many top analysts that the U.S. is being intransigent on negotiations which could settle the war, becoming the main obstacle to peace; the $300 million plus allocated to long-term basing in Afghanistan; the whole debacle that the training of Afghan security forces has become; and of course the already ubiquitous assertions that even 2014 isn't a "withdrawal date".

And yet, despite all these signs that the U.S. plans to ignore the bad news and stay in Afghanistan forever, there's just enough schizophrenia in the White House policy to be uncertain. Some, like Joe Biden, seem as set on papering over the cracks in Afghan society long enough to at least claim not to have lost then bolting for the exits with their European allies by 2015 at the latest. Such opponents of perpetual occupation, if that's indeed what they are, aren't making enough noise, though. One gets the feeling that many are just making noises to placate their domestic base and independents – only Republicans would really vote for an explicit policy of occupation with no end in sight.

And few if any serious persons are talking about the other option. Realise that we've lost in Afghanistan more than we've won, that we're now occupying a country simply because the consequences of invading and occupying the country next door are too horrible to contemplate, and pull out the military now. That needn't mean the end to civilian aid, nor should it, but after nine years it is high time Afghans – and I mean all Afghans, Taliban and Northern Alliance and all – decided what the future of their nation will be. That would doubtless be messy and bloody, but not as messy and bloody as a perpetual occupation by the U.S. when all its allies have deserted it.

It's about time we remembered the old Pottery Barn Rule, before Colin Powell hi-jacked it for neo-colonial ends: "You broke it, you pay for it and get the f**k out of our store." At that point, it's up to the store owners whether they rebuild, re-open as a different kind of shop or burn the whole edifice down around their own ears.

It's called self-determination, or if you like, freedom. And no-one ever said it was easy.

Update: More from Joshua Foust, who kindly links to this post and writes "We cannot wait another Friedman Unit for things to change—as far too many blind militarists are demanding. Negotiations are the only reasonable choice left." I'd point out to Joshua and others that a NATO military presence isn't a necessary requirement for negotiations and may well be a drag to such, given that the Taliban have repeatedly said that they'll only negotiate when there's at least a certain date for withdrawal of foreign occupying troops.

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