Martin Bento (explodedview) wrote,
Martin Bento

To Save Afghanistan, We Must Leave Iraq (and Dems must say so)

Richard Armitage, who is reasonable and intelligent by (former) Bush official standards, has hammered the last nail into the coffin on Iraq. Afghanistan is in serious danger of being lost to the Taliban, and, if it is lost, the instability is likely to quickly spread to Pakistan. Pakistan has had nuclear weapons and is a signatory neither to the Non-proliferation Treaty nor the non-first strike agreement (rival India is a signatory to the second, but not the first). Their longstanding conflict with India, also a nuclear power, threatened to escalate to all out war just a few years ago. And, of course, Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, was a place where we had a legitimate, or at least defensible, casus belli: to capture or kill bin laden and dismantle al queda.

The Taliban has regrouped and taken control of some territory. They have a safe base in Pakistan. The various warlords who mostly control the rest of the country have only the loyalty of convenience to the central government; as soon as the bread is better buttered elsewhere, they are gone. This winter and spring could be decisive as to whether Afghanistan falls into an Iraqian vortex.

I had thought for a while now that the final argument for leaving Iraq is that the situation in Afghanistan is savable, but only with a major redeployment of forces from Iraq. We cannot prevent Iraq from sliding into chaos - it already has so slid - and we cannot prevent a similar disaster in Afghanistan unless we reallocate our resources. I saw only one legitimate counter-argument: that the immediate consequences of collapse in Iraq were worse than Afghanistan in that the collapse of Iraq would be more likely to immediately draw in the neighbors. However, Armitage is perhaps the only major (former) Bush administration figure who actually does have significant background in the region, having worked in Iran for the DOD in Iran in the 1970's, directed aid (and no doubt pulling attached strings) to former Soviet republics, mostly central Asian, and having been a special emissary for King Hussein of Jordon. He's a PNACer, and I don't like his politics, but I will credit him with some expertise, and listen to what he says if I can distinguish no motivation to lie.

And Armitage says it is the Afghan conflict that will spread more rapidly. And the country it will spread to first has nukes and has been flirting with war with India for decades, not least recently. Indeed, an attempted terrorist bombing of the Indian Parliament that took 14 lives (5 perpetrator and 9 police) was blamed by India on two Pakistan-based terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Should the Pakistani government fall, these groups are among the players who will be vying for power.

When the Dem Congress needs to do, then, is to attach to all subsequent military appropriations a directive that the Afghan conflict must be first priority. This will probably not be legally binding, particularly not against a President who think he can "signing statement" away any legislative branch noise he doesn't happen to like. But it draws a line in the sand: Bush has lost Iraq, but he, and only he, will be responsible for ensuring that Afghanistan does not also falter. The rhetoric should be that "Afghanistan and the war against al queda must not be lost to incompetence, indifference, and the pursuit of unobtainable objectives", with the clear implication of "as Iraq has been". The difficulty of Dems now opposing Bush on Iraq stems in part from the fact that many of them voted for the resolution that Bush took as authorizing the war. By taking a "don't lose Afghanistan too" position now, the Dems put themselves all on the side of success in Afghanistan and put the onus on Bush to show that he is not on the side of failure. He becomes the star of any future backstab myths.

Specifically, the Congress should call on Bush to move 20,000 more troops into Afghanistan, and then to move whatever additional troops are needed to secure the country and resume the hunt for bin laden. Whether these troops will be withdrawn from Iraq and brought in otherwise should be left to the Administration, with the caveat that it must make sure that the forces are in full fighting condition: that is to say, not exhausted from insufficient rotation out of combat, and not people of an age or condition unsuitable for combat situations. The ball, then, is in Bush's court: he can draw down from Iraq, he can draw down from military bases elsewhere in the world, he can take the rest of the reserves and the National Guard, or he can institute a draft (I'm unclear whether Congressional approval is required for this, as the formal procedures were put in place under Carter, and I don't know if more than a Presidential directive is required to hit the "Start" button. If anyone reading here has insight into this, please pass it along).

None of these are good alternatives, but draw down from elsewhere is the most viable. The remaining reserves are insufficient, and taking the whole National Guard has a very unpleasant Katrina ring - it will be very hard to do politically and probably still insufficient. I think that bringing people in from Korea, Kosovo, or Germany will not ultimately be sufficient. There will have to be drawdown from Iraq, but, by not directly calling for this, the Dems avoid "backstabbing" the Iraq effort. And I think that, as Kissinger said about Vietnam (paraphrased), troop drawdowns are a drug; once the public tastes some, they will demand more and more. Once placed into relationship to Afghanistan, Bush efforts to "win" Iraq by increasing forces become double errors; he will be blamed that these fail in Iraq and also blamed that Afghanistan is failing because of them. The overall Dem strategy should be to lay down parameters and standards of success that Bush must meet. What Democrats must not attempt to do is micromanage: to take over the wars. To micromanage is to own, and these wars are and must remain Bush's baby, as the neocons see now that the cause is lost and are well into Operation Shift the Blame. However, in the name of accountability, we must demand that Bush succeed or be held accountable for failure, and we can define what success means (provided we limit ourselves to definitions the public will accept). This both provides the best hope for what limited forms of success (for example, in Afghanistan) or at least less drastic failure (in Iraq) will be possible, while also keeping the blame for this whole fiasco where it belongs (Note: I am here defining "success" and "failure" in terms of the administration's stated goals. I do not wholly accept that these are the actual goals, but, for the purposes of political rhetoric, they have to be provisionally accepted until the public itself sees through them).

One more thing: about the draft. If Bush does try to reinstitute the draft, the Dems should oppose it, arguing that troops should first be redeployed from Iraq. While I think that Rangel's advocacy of the draft as a deterrent to facile wars, combined with an option of non-military national service has merit, the time to make that move is not in the middle of a war (Iraq) that the country is losing. A draft in such circumstances just enables the government to feed more American flesh into the meat grinder with no greater eventual hope of success. And, if there is going to be any draft talk, let the Republicans bear all the blame, as they created the wars that are pushing us in that direction.
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