Wednesday, February 03, 2010

You Think YOU'RE Confused Over Afghanistan Quagmire?


This morning I had an off-the-record chat with a state legislator running for Congress, a great candidate with an impeccable record of accomplishment in his state. His answers to the pro-forma Blue America questions made me soar. When he said he was 100% pro-choice, he said there are "no buts in that answer." When I asked him about campaign finance reform, he was aggressively further down that road than I dare think any candidate will be. And marriage equality... he's been supporting it and told me how he argued with a gay legislative colleague who was pushing civil unions! This guy was shaping up to be another model candidate for us. Then came the Afghanistan question.

He starts from a point of view, as do so many Democrats, that Obama knows more than anyone else about it and is probably making the decisions he has to. The candidate emphasized to me that he opposed the war in Iraq and is uncomfortable with this one and he went as far as volunteering that when it starts to look unwinnable if he's in Congress, he'll oppose funding.

I don't get intelligence briefings, so-- even assuming they might be reliable and objective-- how do I learn about the war in Afghanistan? I haven't been back in Afghanistan since 1972, but my two lengthy sojourns there made indelible impressions on me. Now I read about Afghanistan widely. Right now I'm reading Seth Jones' very current book, In The Graveyard of Empires. Now, you know, I'm getting as much about this war from Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, though it was set at a time when I was last in Afghanistan! They called it Vietnam then. Apparently Obama wasn't the first president to play multi-dimensional chess.
The president dictated eight memos outlining a public relations pushback [against widespread and growing opposition to the war]. It was part of the foreign policy game, De-escalation was contingent on the enemy believing Nixon would escalate; which was contingent upon keeping presidential approval ratings high; which was contingent on the appearance of de-escalation. As one of the big syndicated columnists, Roscoe Drummond, observed, only grasping one-tenth of the complexity, unless Vietnam looked to be winding down, "popular opinion will roll over him as it did LBJ." At which Nixon thundered upon his printed news summary, "E&K-- Tell him that RN is less affected by press criticism and opinion than any Pres in recent memory." Because he was the president most affected by press criticism and opinion of any president in recent memory. Which if known would make him look weak. And any escalatory bluff would be impossible. Which would keep him from credibility as a de-escalator; which would block his credibility as an escalator; which would stymie his ability to de-escalate; and then he couldn't "win" in Vietnam-- which in his heart he didn't believe was possible anyway.

Through the looking glass with Richard Nixon: this stuff was better than LSD.

Today's Asia Times, which, keeping with today's theme, came out yesterday in America of course, makes it clear that the Taliban learned, if not from the Vietnamese experience, at least the same premises that the Vietnamese were operating from, that if they wait long enough, they will win. That's the way colonial wars work out. They are demanding that the U.S. put an immediate halt on Obama's much vaunted escalation (30,000 more troops) if anyone seriously expects them to show up for the peace pow-wow (loya jirga) or open a line of communication with the U.S. through their Saudi pals, or tamp down the bloody hostilities a bit.
The key issue boils down to one of trust, that is, whether the US would be prepared to only send in replacements for previously deployed troops, given that the surge in forces was meant to be a cornerstone of its counter-insurgency plan as a means of softening up the Taliban before talks could begin in earnest.

"Washington has to focus on out-of-box thinking to resolve this conflict in Afghanistan," a Kabul-based contact told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. "The Americans desperately want an exit strategy but they cannot announce it outright because if they did so, the Taliban would overrun any government they left behind. The Americans aim to invite the Taliban to join the political process, but the bitter fact is that the Taliban do not believe in elections at all. They want the reinstatement of their Islamic Emirate that was dissolved by the Americans in 2001. Despite all the military engagement, the Taliban's strength is growing and the losses of the Western coalition are increasing," the contact said.

This view is reflected among the Western coalition dealing with Afghanistan, in that there is a consensus that the US needs to find an exit strategy that would not leave the Taliban, with or without al-Qaeda, in too strong a position. There is a belief that the Taliban could be controlled through a dispensation operated through Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan.

...In early 2009, the Americans pushed Saudi Arabia to start negotiations with the Taliban leadership and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud started speaking to Mullah Omar through the Taliban's supreme commander, Mullah Bradar.

However, after Barack Obama took over the presidency a year ago, Mullah Omar took it as an affront that on the one hand Washington aimed to engage the Taliban through Saudi Arabia for peace, while on the other hand it planned to continue all efforts to defeat the Taliban.

By mid-2009, Prince Muqrin was told point blank that Mullah Omar had decided to discontinue all communication and negotiations. That was a major setback for the Obama administration, which could see the rising tide of the Taliban in Afghanistan and was aiming for a quick political face-saving exit strategy.

After the aborted second round of the Afghan presidential elections in November last year that resulted in Karzai being re-elected, the US reopened discussions with the Taliban to get them to stop attacks on government buildings and installations in Kabul. The US wanted to present this at home as a major political victory. The Taliban were discussing the issue when Obama announced the decision to send a further 30,000 troops into Afghanistan.

The Taliban again halted all negotiations and early this year carried out a major attack on government buildings in the heart of Kabul, near the presidential palace.

Asia Times Online contacts claim that in an effort to get the dialogue process back on track, the US is considering the Taliban's demand on stopping the troop surge in Afghanistan, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan lined up to work out an arrangement that would keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda under control in any US exit plan.

Should the US agree to the Taliban demands, there is no guarantee that the Taliban would stick to their word. This is the US's dilemma.

I wonder if that candidate I was speaking with had already read all this stuff and that was why he said he hopes Obama can handle it all.

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