Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marjah... NATO in the balance

Rebel without a cause?
David Seaton's News Links
As you probably have read that the Dutch government has fallen over Holland's participation in the Afghan war. German public opinion and that of most Europeans is also solidly against the presence of their troops too.

In the battle over Marjah we may be witnessing what could be the most important battle fought since the Second World War. If it is not a measurable and decisive success, it may signal the end of the "out of theater" role that the United States has envisioned for post-cold war NATO.

Andrew Bacevich describes that role very succinctly in Foreign Policy Magazine:
Washington's aim is this: take a Cold War-inspired organization designed to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans in, and transform it into a post-Cold War arrangement in which Europe will help underwrite American globalism without, of course, being permitted any notable say regarding U.S. policy.
Put that way, would you want to send a son of yours to fight for such an arrangement?

European governments are going to have to go to their populations and justify spending huge sums of money on an American led war precisely at a time that they are forced to ask those populations to take very painful cuts in social programs like pensions because of a financial crisis brought on by the American financial sector.

European politicians are just as eager to keep their jobs as their American counterparts so you can imagine how closely they are calculating this thing.

If the economic and especially the job situation in Europe doesn't improve dramatically soon and spectacular progress in Afghanistan is not forthcoming in the next few months, it really is not that far fetched to envision the NATO partners rushing for the doors.

So, the battle of Marjah and Helmand  province may look much bigger in the history books than it looks to us today.

In my opinion it has been the height of frivolous foolishness to pin the credibility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on a victory in Afghanistan... almost like pinning the future of European and American pensions on Goldman-Sachs. The difference would be that the soldiers who are putting it on the line in Afghanistan are risking their lives and their bodies, not other people's money and if they stop a bullet, they can't hedge it and they wont be "too big to fail" and surviving relatives will sure not get millions of dollars in compensation. Bitter? You betcha.

Certainly if things don't turn out well I won't blame the military. Soldiers are "can do" people: men don't get to be generals by saying, "sorry sir, but that is impossible". The president says, "I want victory in Afghanistan, can you do it?" and the soldiers say, "Yes sir! Yes we can!" The calculation of what can and cannot be done shouldn't be left to soldiers, unless they are more politicians than soldiers, like the ever cautious Colin Powell.

Under the "Powell-Doctrine" American soldiers would never have been committed to Afghanistan for more than a few months and the credibility of NATO would never have been put at risk in a place nobody has ever been able to occupy successfully.

Nobody has a formula for successful counter-insurgency. As the brilliant Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld has put it in "The Changing Face of War", every book written on the topic of counter-insurgency since the Second World War has been written by the losers and thus they are totally devoid of value. Van Creveld thinks a better tactic would be to bombard the enemy with the useless manuals.

In centuries nobody has ever come up with a strategy for dominating Afghanistan and I don't think General McCrystal is going to do any better than Alexander the Great or the British or the Soviets for that matter. Even with a really committed American electorate and a really committed NATO behind him, something he doesn't have, I see his strategy fatally flawed, frivolous even.

The central fault of America's Afghan strategy is the patronizing attitude they have toward the enemy.

The idea is that they will be able to buy off most of the Taliban with money. Announcing this tactic is a fatal admission of weakness.

We are talking about people whose fathers and older brothers defeated the Soviet Union, which promptly collapsed and ceased to exist. This is quite a morale builder when you come to think of it.

They know that they can win against much more determined opposition than anything the Americans have produced up till now. The Mujaheddin who fought the Russians respected them as brave fighting men, soldiers who often went toe to toe with them. The Taliban view the Americans with their drones as effeminate, fearful. That they would offer them money to stop fighting them only reinforces that impression. That offer of money, as much as the commitment to an early withdrawal, is a clear message that tells the Taliban that they are winning.

Such an offer is also an unforgivable insult to the seriousness of a commitment which has kept them fighting for decades. How can anybody not think that it is perfectly logical that they are fighting to expel foreigners from their land: pork eating unbelievers, girlie men who kill women and children with toy airplanes.

Can you imagine what effect such an offer would have had on the German Wehrmacht or on the Imperial Japanese army in WWII and neither of them had ever defeated the Soviet Union and caused it to collapse.

If Hitler and the Emperor of Japan had offered the American soldiers money to lay down their arms, would that have ended World War Two? McCrystal seems to think so.

There is a wonderful Spanish saying, "cree el ladrón que todos son de su condición", which means "a thief thinks that everyone else is a thief too".

Is that what we have come to? DS 

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