A stock photo of ret. BG Mark Kimmitt, West Point Class of '76
The title of this post was the title of a panel this week sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the same group that sponsored a conference last spring I wrote up as "What Do You Mean `If We Ever Want to Leave' Afghanistan?" The group includes many of the conservative/neoconservative champions and theorists of the Bush war strategies, including the vaunted "surge" in Iraq, and now supports a similar strategy for Afghanistan as specifically laid out in what I consider to be the appalling terms of population protection by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. GIven softening Democratic support for the war, this largely Republican/conservative group seems to be Obama's core Washington think-tank ally in advocating and securing continued backing for the war -- if, given Obama's own reversing intentions, he even wants such an ally.
Almost six months after the first conference, there was a very different feel to this week's affair. Whereas the last gathering conveyed an almost triumphal pre-triumphalism vis a vis the Obama administration's then-apparent committment to democratization and nation-building in Afghanistan, today's discussion much less ebulliently focused on the need to stay Gen. McChrystal''s COIN course. Talk of "good government" as the key to ending the insurgency had given way to talk of "population protection," which seems to be the term of art for what McChrystal has called protecting the Afghan people from "everything that can hurt them." There was not one single solitary mention of Islam (nothing new there) and just one reference in passing to the unconscionable burden McChrystal has placed on troops by restricting already restricted ROE in the unicorn-like pursuit of Afghan hearts and minds.
This whole policy of COIN population protection started in Iraq, of course. Remember back in May 2007 Gen Petraeus wrote: "This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground." More on Petraeus' "hearts and minds" here.
Back to the conference. That single glancing reference to our troops came when Rep. Mark Kirk noted that when he served in Afghanistan (the first congressman since 1942 to serve in a war zone), "force protection was everything." That's all changed under McChrystal's COIN strategy, which places Afghan protection above all, and that's "the right way to go," said Kirk.
Do these people know what they're saying?
The short and long answer is no. There is no reckoning for culture clash in their analysis (and that goes in spades for the Bush people), not even any sense that culture clash exists, and certainly no understanding that it renders hopeless our grovelling, humiliating attempts to now curry favor in Afghanistan by giving Afghans things -- not beads and trinkets, mind you, but multi-million-dollar infrastructure projects and troops to guard them, metric tons and tons of wheat and troops to guard them, lots of cash to compensate for "civilian" casualties and troops to guard them, etc.
Supporters of this strategy say we would lose face by leaving Afghanistan. I'm sorry, but we lose face every day we force our bravest, most promising citizens -- our soliders -- to execute this humiliating and impotent policy to submit to Islamic sensibilities to try to make them like us. And our enemies, particularly in the Islamic world, understand this.
But our Washington patriots do not. Every problem in Afghanistan is just a matter of transferring more money, more men, more resources from Here to There. Endemic corruption? More mentors needed. Taliban sympathies? More massive construction projects. Disinterest in security work? More trainers.
This is policy-making by magic wand, and there was plenty to behold at the FPI conference this week -- as when Zhalmay Khalilzad listed tasks to accomplish in Afghanistan as though he were making a grocery list that included eliminating Pakistani sanctuaries, infusing Afghan government with rule of law and justice, fixing Afghan unemployment and poverty....
There was also the same air of permanence to the Afghanistan project now as in the spring. I noticed this particularly when ret. BG Mark Kimmitt argued that what he called "the center of gravity" in the war had shifted. It was "not defeat of enemy forces," and "not support of local population." The "center of gravity" in the Afghanistan war was now maintaining the support of US population. In other words, the war in Afghanistan was now a war for the support of the American people. And that would be "the center of gravity" in this effort "for the next 10 years."
You almost don't know where to begin with these people, but asking "how an infidel nation wins the heart and soul of an Islamic nation" seemed like a good place to start with Gen. Kimmitt when I spoke with him afterward. Kimmitt, by the way, was described as having participated in the strategic review that led to the Iraqi surge and later as having helped negotiate the SOFA with Iraq. (Yes, that.) He offered up Kuwait as an example.
Kuwait? Since when did we nation-build Kuwait? Harkening back to Desert Storm, the "100-hour war" to repel the aggression of Saddam and nothing more, is simply not comparable to our investments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is no ally of ours, which he disputed, speaking of a long-term relationship, and pointing out that Iraq is still fighting "al qaeda" within its borders.
My feeling, which I kept to myself, was, Whoop-de-do. Instead, I asked the general to consider the SOFA with Iraq (which he helped negotiate). It doesn't even allow us to use bases in Iraq from which to attack Iran if we wanted to.
That's not what the SOFA says, he replied. It says we can't attack any country from Iraq. That means not Syria or Turkey, either.
Boy, was this a weird conversation. A prohibition against US action across the board was a good thing? I remained incredulous. That's good for American interests? I asked him.
He replied: You don't mean to say that you think that if Iran attacked Iraq (far-fetched notion), Iraq wouldn't call on us to help?
Again, this was supposed to be a plus. Churlish me, I don't find it a great privilege to be a rent-a-cop for Iraq and I told him so.
We're a rent-a-cop for Canada, was his reply.
I was utterly amazed. He was lumping Canada and Iraq in the same strategic and historical and cultural breath. But there you have it.
Watch the Arctic, he said.
I'll just do that, general. And you, um, too ..................
It would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic.