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As Long as We Remember...

September 25, 2009

Itís Not Complicated

Roy Meachum

I was wrong. Let me make clear before commenting on Afghanistan. I tend to lump the mountain nation with Iraq; as they were indeed in the administration that withdrew nine months ago. But in his campaign speeches Barack Obama carefully differentiated.


As the new president, he promised an early departure from Baghdad and a more active role in Kabul. Anyway, he was wrong.


U.S. forces along the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers are dwindling; but under pressure from Iraqis. They want to get rid of what has always been for them an occupation army. A question on January’s referendum will almost certainly pass: it demands the American army withdraw within a year, and let the people get on with building their country without outsider meddling – meaning Washington.


There will be a bloody civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds. I have little doubt. But America’s young women and men will not be killed while intervening. We could, after all, receive a gorgeous surprise: Iraqis might actually learn to live together. In any event, our staying pleases chiefly the Pentagon’s generals and the noisy few warmongers; there are people still enraptured by former President George W. Bush’s braggadocio: “Bring’ em on.”


The same men and women are greatly exasperated by affairs in Afghanistan: they simply do not understand what’s taking so long to quell and control the Taliban and their allies in al-Qaeda. They may be shocked to read Iraq’s smaller: 437 square kilometers against 647.5 square kilometers; its population numbers 29 million against 33 million. Moreover, two out of three Iraqis reside in urban areas, while 71 percent of Afghans choose to stay on the farms or in wilderness, making them harder to reach.


Understanding how high the non-urban population is could explain why the Soviets’ modern arms could not prevail. In my desk I have a badge, souvenir from Moscow; in Cyrillic print it says: Special Forces veteran of Afghanistan 1979-1989. Russians sent in their best weapons and soldiers into a situation that promised only disaster. Their supply lines and reinforcements were not thousands of miles away; but close at hand.


Does our national ego insist that we go on fighting a motley crew, made up of some 20 tribes? Western military was largely shaped by Prussian Carl von Clausewitz; his “On War” is demand reading in all military schools, including West Point. His masterful thesis presupposed an enemy united at its core, by nationality or a cause. In the general’s view, you won by triumphing on the battlefield. Washington faces now numerous foes, loosely labeled Muslims. Defeating several enemies still leaves the others, to plant roadside IEDs, cut the throats of unsuspecting Americans out for a stroll and the capability of killing others, by chance or meticulous planning.


Moreover, as in Egypt (The Tentacle: “National Rage,” Aug. 18, 2009), we are backing a tyrant with virtually no public support. It is obvious President Hamid Karzai stuffed the ballot boxes and controlled the numbers in last month’s national election. You can’t get more anti-democratic than that. Once again American bayonets are imposing the government Washington wants, while the casualty count soars among coalition forces. We have reached the point where useless combat is costing U.S. lives and limbs.


I agree that weapons should not be used to slaughter civilian Afghans; we are fighting enemies who have no such compunction. They purposely blend into the population. This is no enemy that Clausewitz supposed. Rules of civilized warfare do not apply in this insistence.


When Barack Obama and his advisors understand the reality, American soldiers will pull out. Do not expect concurrence from the generals; they regard Vietnam in the same way that Hitler viewed World War I’s loss, a betrayal of our fighting men and women. This is a prime example of why the Founding Fathers put Washington officials in charge, over the military.


Every day in Afghanistan and Iraq costs people and money we cannot afford. The president must order all U.S. troops out of harm’s way immediately. It’s not complicated, but that simple.


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