7 April 2010 Let Saigons be by gones! - or who spilled the dominoes this time?
“How to Save Afghanistan From Karzai
By BING WEST
Published: April 6, 2010
IN February, the Taliban sanctuary of Marja in southern Afghanistan was attacked in the largest operation of the war. Last week, President Obama flew to Afghanistan and declared, “Our troops have pushed the Taliban out of their stronghold in Marja .... The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.”
But what is that “something”? And, equally important, does Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, have to be a part of it?”
In 2008, during the presidential campaign, I heard commentators and others , who should have known better, describe Barak Obama’s speeches as like those of John F. Kennedy. In a phrase borrowed from another election, Obama was not and is not John F. Kennedy.
His speaking style differs markedly from Kennedy’s. He has no history of military service and little understanding of how such service shaped Kennedy’s generation, and partially shaped mine.
Obama hit the oval office with his own set of pre-conditioning stressors and refuges. He was too young to have taken part in the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1960’s. too young to have experienced the anti-VietNam political conflict that stretched the unity and civility of the nation badly. This is not to say his life has always been easy but it has been far easier for him than for earlier generations of black Americans.
There are some intersections between his administration and that of Kennedy. Among these, a war in a distant Asian nation handed down from a Republican administration. Iraq was essentially ended by Bush’s actions fixing a withdrawal date. We’ll see the increasing violence that is emerging from the election process demonstrate that Iraq is not yet ready to be a self-determined state, free from Islamic interference in civil life, or free from tribal and religious loyalties that prevent national purpose and unity from taking hold. But Iraq will have to find its own way. Obama will be wise to avoid any thought of return to U.S. return to combat roles not directed toward a full and final withdrawal.
Afghanistan, on the other hand, is Obama’s war now. Like Kennedy with VietNam, he has stirred up the ant hill that should have been left alone. He had every chance to declare our purpose there over and to end our military involvement. He let bad advice and bad diplomacy suck him into increasing our troops on the ground there and into backing an incompetent, corrupt, and unpopular civilian leader.
As the conflict deepens and U.S. KIA and WIA increase in numbers, our supposed ally, the president of Afghanistan, has chosen to become less our ally and more our problem. He realizes that his nation is not in favor of U.S. presence or involvement. He realizes that the Taliban’s religious fundamentalism has been successfully arrayed against him and will never support his role as president of a nation that will never be a unified nation. And he realizes that his life is in serious jeopardy as a result of his alliance with the U.S. so that he could rise to power and enrich himself at our expense.
Like every other warlord, dictator, or proxy ruler we’ve backed against a populist movement, we’ve painted a large bull’s eye on the forehead of Mohammed Karzai. It is only a matter of time until he is removed from office by violence if he continues to stay in office with our backing.
Recall the long series of U.S.-backed presidents/dictators who occupied the official palace in Saigon. We would essentially back any strongman who could push his way to the top of the heap and swear to oppose the communists who controlled N. VietNam. We’d not only back them; we’d funnel obscene amounts of money into their official state treasuries so that they could withdraw whatever amounts they felt they needed to pay their private armies and/or air forces; support their legal dragon ladies and many mistresses in appropriate style; and suppress any opposing political or religious groups that might want either their turn in power, or, better living conditions for the poor citizens of S. VietNam.
Where Diem, our long-time proxy in S, VietNam had Buddhists to suppress; Karzai has the Moslem Taliban to blame for problems. While Diem replaced by a long train of generals and marshals, Karzai has a long list of warlords just waiting to topple him and replace him. The apparent similarities of Afghanistan and VietNam have already made the term “quagmire” a common descriptor for the Afghani war. And, in truth, we are simply the latest modern power to try to produce a modern and workable state out of the vast desert that is Afghanistan. If the master colonization system that was England could not subdue the warlords, are we, not intent on colonization, likely to succeed? If the massive and brutal Soviet army could not beat Afghanistan into a client nation, how can the U.S., intent upon not injuring civilians, wage an effective and victorious war?
The U.S. lacks the willingness to suppress local culture and religion, the brutality necessary to discourage attacks upon our forces by irregulars, and it lacks the national purpose to put up with corruption and duplicity in a proxy state’s leadership at a time when our own economic ills demand better use of military and diplomatic dollars. It is only a matter of time until Karzai steps down out of fear, is told to step down by our government, or is removed forcibly by the Taliban or local warlords. We may have another puppet waiting in the wings but we don’t have an Afghan army waiting because Karzai never had to build one. We supplied his ground and air support and paid his army-in-training. Both he and it have failed us. His forces prevented the capture or killing of bin Laden at Tora Bora. That target was our primary reason to put troops in Afghanistan. We have no other reason to be there.
We will not defeat the Taliban just as we did not defeat the Viet Minh. We will not dictate the form or construction of Kabul’s rulers just as we did not dictate that of the former Saigon. And we cannot pour enough troops and equipment into Afghanistan to defeat Islamic fundamentalism just as we could not defeat Vietnamese nationalism.
Karzai is going to fall. It is only a matter of time. When he does, we will look all the more foolish and ineffective as diplomats and soldiers. It will be the end of any hope of a definable victory in Afghanistan. So I propose we bring the troops back to an interdiction base, process them and our equipment for the long trip home. Then we can either topple Karzai on our own or wait for some of the locals to do the job for us. Either way, all it will take is a little shove or we can sit back while the dominoes fall again.