Monday, December 14, 2009

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia

Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm a salesman and a scientist, not Secretary of State, and this may seem blatantly obvious to those who work in this field so I apologize now for my amateur attempt at foreign policy, but is anyone else concerned about this so-called surge in Afghanistan turning it into a bigger quagmire than it already is? I just don't understand why Obama thinks that this time, things are going to be different.

First of all, you can't do anything toward achieving your goal without Pakistan on your side. Pakistan, being largely Pashtun, falls decidedly on the side of the Taliban, whom are almost exclusively Pashtun. These are their brothers-in-arms, quite literally. You must also understand the structure of power in Pakistan -- President Zardari has chafed the shorts of the army, which has been the historical seat of power, by increasing the executive power of the presidency, which he is scheduled to cede back to parliament in March 2010, but just like Obama complained of the Bush presidential abuse of executive priviledge, now that he's in power has found them useful for his own purposes and is not so far letting go. I doubt Zardari will either. Anyway, Secretary Clinton has already tipped her hand by dealing directly with the Pakistani Army, which is the only organization that has legitimate means of communication with the Taliban. So Zardari will have to sit on the sideline as his power is eroded by the Army. Expect heavy criticism of American policy from Zardari.
Second, the Obama plan is to establish an Afghan top-down, military/police security force that the US can hand off their role to in the Summer of 2011. But even the casual observer can see that this is a pie in the sky over-simplistic approach. Has there ever been anything even remotely like a US-style National Guard in Afghanistan? No. At best, Afghans are a loosely organized tribal nation. Currently, the "Afghan Army" consists of mainly holdovers from the resistance rebels who fought the Taliban. They are predominately Tajiks. They are predominately poor and illiterate. This is the group the administration wants to yield power to (after they are properly trained, of course, which is difficult to do when basic education is missing). But considering Afghanistan on the whole, Tajiks are a minority of the population, yet they hold an unbalanced power in the military. Has that ever worked out well? Didn't we see this same thing during the breakup of Yugoslavia, where Serbs were in the minority but had control? Didn't Saddam Hussein rule with an iron fist by populating the military with his Sunni friends? How did that work out for the Shi'a and Kurds? So ceding authority to a Afghan central security force is not going to happen anytime soon, and even if it does there will be an imbalance of power. Not an encouraging scenario.
Next, we have the Afghani president reelected under rather suspicious circumstances, but we certify the election (and sacrifice a senior diplomat in the process) because he's the devil we know. Then he picks 24 cabinet members and we reject 17 of them. We are off to a great start with our shiny new political relationship.
Lastly, back to the role of Pakistan. We are already dropping bombs on their citizens. In general, that's not a good way to win friends. A surge will push thousands of refugees over the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is poorly marked and approximately 1,600 miles long, not to mention the Taliban fighters who will move back into an area that is easily more friendly to them than American forces (sorry, multinational freedom restorers or whatever). We say up front that if you retreat and wait us out, we'll leave What could possibly go wrong?