Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Afghanistan Speech

Kabul record shop, late 50s or early 60s, via Daily Star.

"On Afghanistan," writes Mr. Bret Stephens, "There's No Way Out." And he goes through everything, I mean everything, light footprint, big footprint, nation building, focus on terrorists, using Pakistan, using diplomacy, using a troop surge, nothing works. The best thing is the thing Trump came up with, he decides, which is the light footprint but with a little more heft, and a long-term, possibly unending, not getting out at all:
With relatively modest troop increases, we can provide the elected Afghan government with sufficient military support to reverse some of the Taliban’s recent gains and ensure that it cannot seize Afghan cities or control entire provinces. With relatively modest troop numbers, we can also try to keep U.S. casualties relatively low over time, avoiding the political race to the exits when combat fatalities rise.... Trump, incredibly, may have alighted on the best of a bad set of Afghan options.
It's magnificent that the single thing he picks out of Trump's speech is the thing Trump not only didn't say, but announced as a really important point that he wasn't going to say:

We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.
I know everybody else says he wants to send 4,000 additional troops, but the speech doesn't say it, and specifically says he doesn't want anybody to know whether he does or not. And he does say lots of other stuff, about punishing our nuclear-armed Pakistani allies if they don't shape up, I think that was option 5, and rewarding India if they spend more money on Afghanistan's infrastructure, by not starting a trade war, I think, which is one of the options Stephens completely missed:

We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
And greatly increasing the weight of the footprint by getting rid of rules of engagement meant to preserve civilian lives:

That’s why we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan. These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms. Retribution will be fast and powerful, as we lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field.
With the renewed focus on terrorists that is option 4; and also our strategy, far from condemning ourselves to the semi-permanent semi-occupation Stephens describes, will be to win.

Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.
Which is brilliant. "What's your strategy for ending the war, Mr. President?" "I think we should win it!" That's obviously the best way, but how many people would think of it?

Mr. Bret Stephens really should have listened to the speech, because there's actually a lot of Trump in it, much more than I was expecting to hear. What clued me in was that bit about India's trade surplus with the US. Only one man in America would have brought that in to a discussion of war in Afghanistan, and it's not General Mattis.

Though that doesn't mean (a) that he wrote the speech, or (b) that the generals didn't get what they want. It looks as if they made a point of letting him parade some of his obsessions, like the thing of not telling the enemy when or with how many troops we intend to move forces in or move out on any particular date, which as he says was one of his favorite applause lines ("I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options"), like all the Republicans, but also of not letting him have too much information, like what that "clear definition" of victory, in fact, is.

And it's not quite all of the above, either, because  although it seems to be aiming at almost everything including tons of diplomacy if they can figure out how to do it (hint: nominate some State Department employees and ambassadors to, like, Afghanistan and Pakistan), "nation building" is, of course, strenuously kept out. And there's something funky about that, too, in that if the stories are true the big visual aid General McMaster used to convince Trump not to pull out all the troops was this, from 1972:

With the short skirts and heels. When Trump learned that Afghan women have legs, it seems, he realized that their menfolk were not necessarily doomed to be forever terrorists, and agreed to sign on to the plan, but nobody's telling us how, without the dread "nation building", they plan to re-dress the ancient injustices and put them in something more appealing.

I'll tell how it happened in the first round, if you want; it happened through independence, in 1919, and lots of time with often good government, starting immediately when Amir Amanullah Khan found that women had the right to vote along with press freedom, and the beginning of education for girls, end to child marriage, and restrictions on polygamy in 1921, secular education and equal rights for men and women in 1923, right of women to accept or refuse a proposed husband in 1924, setback in 1929 when reactionaries staged a revolution, assassination of the reactionary king in 1933 and return to slowed progress, end of state-enforced veiling in 1959 (when the royal women appeared uncovered in public), advent of a Marxist party in 1964 growing until it was able to take over the government in 1978, and then the whole thing really only happened in cities, while conservatives in the countryside, just like our own Republican Taliban, simmered and amassed arsenals and eventually revolted, with the assistance of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (not, as we've said before, of President Carter and his National Security advisor Zbibniew Brzezinski, who were rolled by the CIA), because Communism.

In other words, because Afghanistan was extraordinarily lucky for 60 years (much luckier than Iraq, which went a pretty long way on a similar road), and then its luck ran out and the Russians and the CIA came in, followed by the conservatives, the warlords, the Taliban, and eventually the Qa'eda organization, all created and armed by the Cold War fears and ambitions of the Agency. Trump is likely right if he thinks "nation building" can't remake the good years, which were made, as they always say, by the people themselves.

I just happen to have heard (via #Maddow) what Trump's own proposal is in effect, which reflects his longstanding criticism of the Iraq War, that the Americans should have "taken the oil". In Afghanistan what he wants to do is not nation building but corporation building.
Trump was also intrigued, in two discussions with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, by Ghani’s mention of the Afghanistan’s huge mineral reserves — which, he told Trump, the Afghans themselves lacked the technology and the resources to exploit. By some assessments, more than $1 trillion in mineral wealth, much of it in the form of lithium, could lay in the rock and soil of Afghanistan. But many analysts say that, given conditions in the country, it could be many years before it can be tapped at a significant profit.
After Trump raised the question of mineral wealth one Cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — a former ExxonMobil CEO who oversaw projects in several dangerous nations — warned him about the risk of investing in politically unstable regions.
Trump nevertheless tasked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross with examining any potential investment opportunities for the U.S. in Afghanistan, according to a senior White House aide.
Or Empire building, if you know what I mean (though it looks like he may be seriously misinformed about the value of those minerals, and setting us up, like the British expecting to pull silver out of India, for a bad disappointment alongside the general criminality of such a move). Ugh. Mr. Bret Stephens is going to love that, if he ever finds out about it.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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