The level of debate on the war in Afghanistan has sunk to new lows.
So Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said, “I went on a safari to Afghanistan, and one night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” Then Bill Kristol said Steele should be fired for cruelty to elephants and Ann Coulter said no, Kristol should be fired because Steele had shot a liberal elephant in Obama’s pajamas.
Well, it didn’t go quite that way but it may as well have. The level of debate on the war in Afghanistan — even among Republicans — has risen to heights previously reached only by the Marx Brothers.
Republicans can no longer afford a frivolous debate on the war. They have allowed George Bush’s nation-building strategy to morph into Obama’s without attempting to undertake the most urgent task in war: if what you are doing isn’t working, you have to start at the beginning and examine whether you’re fighting the war the right way, or even fighting the right war.
Let us admit that what we are doing in Afghanistan — or anywhere else — isn’t working. Defending Obama’s approach to the war simply because it’s a continuation of Bush’s leaves Republicans — and all Americans — in the attitude of Britain’s pre-war government. As Churchill described it in 1936, it was “decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
War, as Sun Tzu wrote about 2300 years ago, is of the most vital importance to the State, the province of life and death, the road to survival or ruin. In short, a war is to be defined as a matter of national survival to which the state must devote all its intelligence, will, and resources to winning. This we have not done. So let us begin by evaluating the war in Afghanistan in those terms.
Is the war in Afghanistan a matter of national survival? If so, how must it be fought?
If we withdraw from Afghanistan, what will the consequences be for America?
As defined first by Bush and now by Obama, the answer to the first question is no and makes the second moot. The goal of that war was to rout al Qaeda in Afghanistan and to prevent that nation from becoming the sanctuary from which terrorists could and did mount attacks against the United States that it was before 9-11.
But al Qaeda, as Gen. Petraeus testified in his recent confirmation hearing, is now relocated to Northwestern Pakistan. As its Somali branch al Shabab proved with last Sunday’s attack in Uganda, al Qaeda has the ability to mount attacks outside the nations in which its forces are based. And, as the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq shows, when U.S. forces begin to withdraw, it quickly returns. It will return to Afghanistan too, soon after we leave.
For all our rhetoric about fighting an unconventional war, we have — since 9-11 — been fighting an unconventional enemy under a conventional strategy. Nothing is gained by the counterinsurgency “clear, hold and build” strategy because clearing the terrorists from one area just lets them slip into another and reestablish themselves, and return whenever we abandon the ground we gained.
The Bush-Obama nation-building strategy, as I’ve written here many times, is a self-imposed quagmire that condemns us to fighting the enemy’s proxies. You cannot defeat an enemy by only fighting his proxies.
Right now, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is rejecting the foundation for General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency, saying that tribesmen and sheiks shouldn’t be recruited into the local security forces on which the counterinsurgency depends. Petraeus — in between visits to the Aspen Institute — dropped in on Pakistan’s army chief Parvez Kayani to praise Pakistani efforts against the “Pakistani Taliban” while diplomatically avoiding mention of the Pakistani-Afghan Taliban who use Northwest Pakistan as a sanctuary from which they mount attacks against our forces in Afghanistan.
Terrorism is, and will forever remain, an existential threat as long as nations such as Iran, Syria and others (notably Saudi Arabia) are free to sponsor it. But having spent almost nine years fighting an unconventional war on a conventional strategy, we are compelled to debate the questions that Democrats studiously avoid and Republicans haven’t had the courage to ask.
What happens if we withdraw from Afghanistan?
The Karzai government is weak and unpopular. It won’t long stand against the Taliban and al Qaeda will certainly return quickly. We cannot long suppress al Qaeda with drone attacks, which depend on the sort of highly accurate intelligence we don’t have (and will be impossible to gather from abroad).
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?