Thursday, October 01, 2009

Afghanistan; Tribes; Victory; Citizenship

Every 4 or 5 months, I begin a blogpost about Afghanistan. I write out a bunch of thoughts and bullet points, and attempt to organize the entire picture: historic, ethical and humane, strategic threat, military capability, costs and benefits, political capability and political circumstance. Each time: the post goes nowhere, is jumbled, and I end up deleting every bit of it. You are grateful.

Which is to say: I recommend this Ed Morrissey interview with Michael Yon. It's better than any of my attempts to wrestle with the subject of Afghanistan. My take-aways:
  • Some Afghan cities are governed. However, in the vast majority of Afghanistan: there is no country to be conquered or governed. There are, instead, multiple regions which are ruled by multiple multiple tribes, and have been for millennia. The people have never been governed; have no concept of "citizen"; only understand tribe; only desire tribe.
  • The U.S. can win, i.e. can induce modernity.
  • It will take 100 years. "Victory" must be redefined.
  • Conditions are turning against the U.S. We have the good will of many Afghans, yet that good will is waning. A year from now, we may have crossed a significant negative threshold in terms of lost good will and lost co-operation. We need to better protect the people. We need to better ingratiate ourselves w/the people. Both objectives require more troops. In this theater, it takes a year to organize and effectively move in troops. Therefore, we face a crucial moment right now: if we want to win, if we want to remain viable and strong, we must act quickly and decisively to approve a troop increase. A further problem: if we don't act now to enable an increase in troops, the international coalition of forces could break up within the next year.

Also, I highly recommend author Stephen Pressfield(The Legend of Baggar Vance; Gates of Fire)'s series of short videos on tribalism. Required viewing. Pressfield, also, believes we can win in Afghanistan; believes, however, Americans have little understanding of how tribalism works and of how strong a force tribalism is; believes Americans understand neither how "victory" in Afghanistan will actually look, nor how many decades it will take.

Should we win in Afghanistan? Is the cost worth the benefit?

The question tortures. Not that my opinion makes much more than the tiniest whit of difference, but: a whit is a still a whit. I'm going to say yes. The world is a dangerous place, and the United States is better off engaged than disengaged. Over 10-20 years, we can bring along the Afghan Army and decrease our troop commitment. Over the long term, we can fight with ever smaller numbers of highly trained professional soldiers, and we can heavily advise Afghan Army officers who will command increasingly larger numbers of forces.

Why will it take so long to create an effective Afghan Army?

Commanders. In any army, it takes years and years to grow effective Captains and Colonels and Generals. An army may have a small number of brilliant commanders who develop quickly (and who are highly susceptible to hubris and rashness). However, you need solid and dependable commanders throughout an organizational structure. It takes years and years to put this into place.

It churns my stomach to say the cost of fighting in Afghanistan is worth the benefit. We individual citizens of this republic are not divorced from our own tiny yet definite pieces of moral responsibility for U.S. actions. And we're not off the moral hook if we oppose U.S. action in Afghanistan. Bloody consequences will ensue from that course of action, as well. Our hands do not get to be clean.

Is my opinion that the cost is worth the benefit influenced by my own hubris and rashness? Maybe. Still: we can win and we ought win. Victory. We are safer, and we do greater things, if we grasp the belt buckle of the enemy and pull ourselves stomach to stomach with him. We are in greater danger if we remain arms length distant and allow the enemy to build momentum for great punches.

What would happen if we pull out and abandon Afghanistan to its fate?

We did this once before, after the Soviets were defeated, and it led directly to 9/11/01. Such might not happen again - or it might.

What would certainly happen, imo, if we withdraw, is that America would suffer from choosing to be less than great. America is best when she is called to greatness. The cause in Afghanistan is worthy of a great nation. The worldwide cause of opposing 6th Century religious fanaticism is a great cause; is worthy of a great nation.

The best argument for withdrawal, imo, is that GWB's aggressive War on Terror scared the bejeebers out of radical Islam, and therefore it will be a while before any coherent and semi powerful (read: targetable) Islamic group launches significant attack against U.S. interests. This is a good argument, and I hope it is true.

A counter argument might be that it's best for America to stay constantly on war footing, and thus constantly (re both domestic politics and militarily) in a state of readiness and alertness. We are the leaders of the West. The Islamists desire to destroy the West, and thus desire to destroy us. Scary new weapons (chemical weapons, biological weapons, et al) are always coming into existence. It is insanity for us to ignore the threat, and to say: "pish, they are no threat to us", and to sleep through another "end of history" decade like the 1990s.

Having said all this: it's my judgment that Barack is laying the political groundwork to justify pulling out of Afghanistan. We shall see. It appears that Barack is planting hints - about pulling out - which act as probes: how will the media and the public react? The media and the public are not reacting not at all. The media want us out of Afghanistan; the public never wants war. The media and public reaction is sealing the deal. I expect we'll be coming out soon.


Herbert Campbell said...

Tribalism, wow. I don't have the time or space to relate the WHOLE story, but it's safe to say that Tribalism is a nasty word in some circles. I was taking an economics class from an Eothopian born, Polish trained, professor for my gradute degree program and the professor and I, being contemporaries, as such, were on pretty good terms. BUT when I answered his question about why blah blah blah were responding in a certain fashion with "they are acting based on their tribal mentality and conditioning," he shot me a glare and replied with a swift and defiant, No! I thought I might fail the course. Didn't, thankfully. Regardless, the answer remains correct. P.S. I have 1st hand experience with Tribalism---grew up in Saudi Arabia. Now THAT's Tribalism!

gcotharn said...

It's nice to have you as part of a hardy tribe of persons who visit and comment here!

I'm completely confident that your "tribal mentality" answer was correct. However, my curiosity is piqued: WHAT did the Ethiopian professor believe was the motivation of the persons in question? Did the professor believe the actors were motivated by anger at U.S. actions? Sigh.