Friday, September 4, 2009

Step Back from Mission Creep in Afganistan - Part III

The dogs are barking out a warning in the middle of the night. Will they arouse anyone in Washington?

A principal aide to Britain's defense minister resigned on yesterday, attacking Prime Minister Gordon Brown's stay-the-course counter insurgency (COIN) policies on Afghanistan and accusing European allies of not pulling their weight.

Eric Joyce knows what he's talking about.


He is not some Labor Party hack who worked his way up through union ranks. Joyce, a decorated Army Major, is one of the few Labour MPs with military experience.

In his letter of resignation addressed to the Prime Minister, Major Joyce said,
As you may know, I told Bob Ainsworth some weeks ago that I intended to step down as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Defence Secretary before the start of the new parliamentary term.

.... I ... now feel that I can make my best contribution to the Labour effort in parliament by concentrating on helping, as a regular back-bencher, to show that Labour remains sound on matters of Defence.

.... Our continuing success in helping people from all parts of society become more prosperous, while helping the least well-off most, is built upon that .....

We are now, I think, once again at a critical time for Labour and Defence.

The Conservatives, of course opportunistically, think they can convince the public that we have lost our empathy with the Defence community. We must not allow this to happen.

I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets.

Nor do I think we can continue with the present level of uncertainty about the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.

I think we must be much more direct about the reality that we do punch a long way above our weight, that many of our allies do far too little, and that leaving the field to the United States would mean the end of NATO as a meaningful proposition.

The British people have a proud history of facing such realities. They understand the importance of the allied effort in Afghanistan/Pakistan and I think they would appreciate more direct approach by politicians. We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time limited.

It should be possible now to say that we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government.

We also need a greater geopolitical return from the United States for our efforts.

For many, Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids. If the United States values each of these approaches equally, they will end up shouldering the burden by themselves.
....
I believe the next election is ours to win, thanks greatly to your personal great economic success. But we cannot win unless we grip defence....
What is the significance of Major Joyce's departure?

First and foremost it registers on the Richter scale declining British public support for the U.K.'s boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Their casualties are intolerably high. and their treasury is intolerably low.

Secondly, it registers concern for the future of NATO unity. NATO, is after all, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Its original purpose was to counter balance of the Soviet Union. A somewhat weaker, but strident and autocratic police state under Putin is currently ascendent. Are we to risk the Atlantic Alliance to founder in a war of choice among the remote desert mountains in Afghanistan?

As I've said before, our British cousins always hear the barking dogs in the middle of the night before my more insulated fellow Americans do.

11 comments:

  1. American people may not be as far behind British public opinion as you suggest. According to the recent McClatchy/Ipsos poll, opposition to sending more troops also cuts across almost all lines, with the deepest opposition coming from women, young people, those making less money, people with less than a high school education, Hispanics and independents, followed closely by Democrats.

    56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops.

    Only one group, Republicans, had a majority supporting the dispatch of more troops.

    Women oppose sending more troops by the lopsided margin of 60-30, men by 52-40.

    The biggest opposition to sending more combat troops comes from people who're 18-34 -- those most likely to fight -- and drops with age. Young adults oppose additional troops by a margin of 61-32; those who're 35-54 oppose it by 54-37; and those who're 55 and older were against it 53-36.

    Similarly, those who make the least money were the most opposed, with those making less than $25,000 opposed by a margin of 70-27; those making $25,000-$50,000 opposed by a margin of 58-35; and those making more than $50,000 split, 45-45.

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  2. After long deliberation, I have also now come to the conclusion that our effort to combat Islamic fundamentalist terror has been misdirected and that it is time for us to leave Afghanistan.

    Oh, for an Eric Joyce to arise from the military and government of this country!

    We can no longer stand nearly alone in military engagement. We cannot afford this, and it is the wrong action anyway. We are NOT fighting a well-organized standing army with its own planes, tanks, and ships which can be destroyed. We are fighting an ideology and a scattered ragtag batch of highly dedicated followers. These people cannot be destroyed, but they can be neutralized politically.

    President Obama made a very wise move by engaging Muslims in his visits to Turkey and Egypt, and especially in his Cairo address. He reestablished some moderate Muslim support for us that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld had all but destroyed. But Obama's limited achievement, rather than being expanded and built upon, is being steadily undercut by our continued military occupation and excessive killing of civilians. What is needed is a massive diplomatic engagement of the Taliban as well as with more moderate Muslim factions. The goal should be to divorce all of these factions from Al Qaeda and drive a permanent wedge between them and Al Qaeda. There is simply no other way.

    That film on Afghanistan looks fabulous. I can't wait for its release.

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  3. There were no Afghans on the planes that struck on September 11, but today, after nearly eight years of aerial bombings, shellings and infantry attacks, tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed. The U.S./NATO assault, if anything, has contributed to the strengthening of the Taliban and other resistance forces.

    Today, what they are really fighting for—meaning what they are sending us to fight for—is to help them avoid the perception of having "lost" a war in a poor, third-world country in Asia. That’s exactly why Nixon and Kissinger kept U.S. forces fighting and dying in Vietnam from 1969-73.

    The Obama-Gates phase of the Afghanistan war is mirroring the Nixon-Kissinger phase of the Vietnam War.

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  4. Amen, Boris. The parallels are frightening. That to the Soviets, too.

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  5. Tony Blair's imperial ambitions committed troops to four major conflicts, of which Iraq was inexcusable and Afghanistan unwinnable.

    With the Taliban getting smarter and 15 British troops dead so far this month, Afghanistan is a dimestore war. In four decades, the defence budget has fallen from 6.5 per cent of GDP to 3 per cent. Gordon Brown is trying to fight a Prada war at Lidl prices.

    The omens could hardly be grimmer. Not only are the military objectives hazy, but a campaign costing $20 billion a month has no political direction. Voters here, as in Afghanistan, deserve the truth. We are pouring blood and money into a black hole, and the flow will not be staunched.

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  6. Hi Vig,

    I think there's more to the Joyce resignation than meets the eye or than what he says in his letter.

    The story that's going around is that he (Joyce) didn't like the way the Veterans Affairs secretary threatened to run after/denounce former Army chief Gen Dannatt to the press for the latter's household expenses which actually totalled only to some miserable 2000 GBP yearly; the defence dept was apparently in on the plan too -- Joyce apparently overheard the officials and so pulled a fast one, i.e., submitted his resignation to get to the press first; defence officials never really forgave Dannatt for "undermining" Labour's ministry of defence over budget cuts that affected the troops on the ground.

    That said, UK is in deep shit -- money is running out or has run out; defence is really finding it difficult to sustain Afghanistan campaign. Helicopters are old, very old, troops not getting enough material, etc., entire Afghanistan campaing will be run on a shoestring pretty soon.

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  7. On the other hand, NATO is running around like a headless chicken and is facing a potentially looming failure in security operations in Afghanistan.

    Pity - NATO held the security line for several years and had "won", but is now losing the long term stability and reconstruction phase.

    I think there is a way out -- said it in an Atlantic forum:

    The idea that the US will spend 150M$ per year providing some 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, whereas the same money could provide ONE million Afghan soldiers has the kernel of the solution to the problem.

    Creating a one million man Afghan army could be the beginning of the defeat of terrorist recruitment in Afghanistan, i.e., on the very basic economic front alone, it certainly would help alleviate the economic problem facing the Afghan man and his family. As we all know, it is not with military force that we will win, but by creating prosperity so that people do not want to become fanatics or to risk their lives by being terrorists or if you want, "rebels."

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  8. I have been giving this conflict much thought and I have reached the conclusion, as have many who comment here, that we need to get the hell out of Afghanistan.

    The reasons are legion, and not one of mine has anything to do with Afghans not being on the 9/11 planes. The fact is Afghanistan is the country that harbored al Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11. The Taliban deserved to be destroyed. If al Qaeda attacks us again, and they most certainly will, we can once again bomb the hell out of those who harbor them and then go about our business.

    As to the relentless and uninformed comparisons between the Vietnam conflict and the Middle East conflicts, [and yes Soris, Afghanistan is part of the Greater Middle East], there is no significant comparison. The terrain is different, the ideology is different, the technology is different, and etc. etc. etc. The only similarity might be that Afghanistan, like Vietnam, is not worth American blood.

    We need to get out because it does not serve us to be there. It is the absolute third world, a stone age nation, that has no value to the United States. We cannot win their "hearts and minds." Their hearts are tied up with crazed religious ideology and their minds are clouded with ignorance.

    Organized crime is rampant, and each tribe serves its own needs without regard to a national or global scheme. We need to get out. I don't care about Afghanistan. I care about America.

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  9. Okay, if we leave some sort of word of warning must be passed through the Afghanistan population from the regional warlord to the common dude just trying to stay alive. Excuse my humble, and very probably misguided opinion, but we need to let them understand that we will turn their country to molten glass without any regard to civilian deaths if any group a danger to the United States takes up refuge in their borders.

    Because if we leave I just don't see the current government lasting very long and where a vacuum exists the Taliban will come back in, after all they have made themselves quite at home in that wonderful place called Pakistan, and they have nukes too.

    Now the question after that is if Afghanistan falls will the Dark Forces of evil be happy with that backward and primitive country or after considerable success in making the Pakistan army look like the Keystone cops will they want to overthrow the already corrupt and unstable government.

    Yeah, I'm in a bad mood.

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  10. Did I mention Pakistan has nukes?

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  11. Hi Beach,

    Me? A lil worried but not in a bad mood, not yet...

    And you're right -- can't leave Afghans to the Talibans. Not the thing to do at all. Don't want them producing bin ladens all over the place. Wipe out the Talibans and then leave. But that's me.

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