Prezident Obama gave his big Afghanistan speech last night, and it was, of course, a mess.
It was rhetorically deceptive -- what with the 9/11 jihad further attributed to "men" from al Qaeda, a "group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions" -- and it was symbolically diabolical, what with the lives of those dewy-faced cadets in the audience in the balance. The point of it all? The 44th POTUS ordered up 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to begin bringing them all home by 2011.
More depressing still, however, was the conservative reaction, which was all about seeing its glass half full. (Make that three-quarters full.) The futility of "nation-building" anywhere in the Islamic world lost on these poor infidels, they are now saying the president's message is correct -- sending a big chunk of troops as requested by Commander On-the-ground to carry out the chimerical "counterinsurgency" -- even if it was marred by an exit date.
In other words, the leftist White House and conservatives are pretty much on the same stupid page when it comes to this suicide pact to sink ourselves ever deeper into the Islamic Pit -- I mean, Republic (I get them confused) -- of Afghanistan.
For no achieveable thing.
Not that our military, unleashed, couldn't achieve whatever it darn well wanted. Four years to roll back Nazi-occupied Europe, but eight years and counting to roll back Taliban-occupied Bedrock? Ours, however, is a military that will continue to be tightly leashed, hands beind its back, bound by criminally perilous rules of engagement and limited strategies that actually cause US casualties, all in a criminally misguided effort to put over a hearts-and-mind ivory tower thesis to "protect the Afghan people from everything that can hurt them," which is how Gen. McChrystal memorably and shamefully put it.
Worse than ridiculous, but that too.
But this isn't a conventional war, my critics say. There's no comparison between WWII and today.
You can say that again. But why isn't there? Why couldn't there be? Or, to turn the question around, what if WWII had been fought as a "counterinsurgency"?
What if, instead of firebombing every important German city and killing tens of thousands of civilians from Hamburg to Dresden, and instead of firebombing Tokyo and nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki and tens of thousands of Japanese in the all-out effort to defeat the Axis powers and End All Fighting, the Allies had sought instead to win hearts and minds?
What if Gen. Eisenhower, like Gen. McChrystal today in Afghanistan, wandered through German towns, asking das volk, "What do you need?" What if Gen. MacArthur had charged his troops with Japanese population protection over US force protection, to guard them from everything that can hurt them -- namely the "extremists"? What if the US bought and paid fora "Nazi awakening"? Rewrote constitutions, enshrining Naziism in the German one, and Shintoism in the Japanese one, and then supported these governments against the "extremists" who had distorted and defiled their respective ideology/religion?
Maybe those of us on the East Coast would be speaking German, and those of us on the West Coast, Japanese.
Back to reality. News reports indicate that one of the first targets (love the utter disregard for operational secrecy) of the new "surge" will be the Taliban stronghold of Marjeh, a city of 50,000 in Helmand Province. Marjeh is known as the hub of the Taliban opium trade and the manufacturing center for the roadside bombs that kill, de-limb and cripple our troops. This summer's mini-"surge" (oh, to do away with that word) of 4,000 Marines left it untouched -- particularly after Karzai put the kybosh on a US led assault for fear of civilian casualties, or was it for fear of denting the opium trade? (See below.) As the Washington Post recently noted about Marjeh:
The U.S. offensive, however, was not able to dislodge the Taliban from places like Marjeh, a city of about 50,000 people in central Helmand that remains a major center for the opium trade. After several months of fighting, senior Marine officials concluded that they did not have enough troops to expand into Marjeh and a handful of other Taliban havens while holding onto the gains they had made in the province.
Guess what? If Marjeh is so important to this war it should be bombed into surrender or smithereens, whichever comes first.
But no. Not so long as Gen. Conway is at the switch. Such a tactic doesn't occur to him or anyone else in today's military. Meanwhile:
"Where we have gone, goodness follows," Conway said.
"But the fact is that we are not as expansive as we would like to be, and those probable additional number of Marines are going to help us to get there."
The Marines' inability to push the Taliban out of these key sanctuaries led some Afghans in the area to doubt U.S. resolve.
Translation: Why aren't more of you dying for us faster, infidel? Question: What about supposedly non-Taliban "Afghan" resolve? Why don't they push Taliban out themselves? Why are supposedly non-Taliban Afghan men so darn helpless against other presumably Taliban Afghan men?
The Taliban has used its haven in Marjeh to produce roadside bombs and plan attacks on areas where the Marines were trying to build the local government and police forces.
Um, if this is a war and everything, wouldn't it be a good idea to, um, destroy this all-too-safe enemy haven of bomb and tactical supply? Just wondering.
This month, Taliban fighters from Marjeh killed three Afghan city councilmen in the nearby city of Nawa, which Marines have held up as a major success story in the province.
Still wondering. But not BG Nicholson. Remember him? (Hint: "Eat lots of goat, drink lots of tea .... " Yup. That's him.)
"The two questions I get from Afghans are 'when are you leaving' and 'why aren't you going into Marjeh, because that is where the real enemy is,' " said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the senior Marine commander in the province.
Sure, go into Marjeh. Send your young warriors out for some nice urban warfare. Well worth their time and limbs, general. But how about if you go, too?
Marine commanders have little doubt that the additional 9,000 troops moving into the province will push the Taliban out of their remaining sanctuaries in the province.
But the gains will be transitory if U.S. forces do not build effective local police forces and foster a government that is relatively free of corruption and able to provide for the Afghan people, U.S. officials said.
"This will be a credibility test for the (Afghan) government to see if it can deliver," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for McChrystal.
A credibility test. To see if they can deliver. Using real, flesh-and-blood Americans as game pieces. Sickening. And, more important, sick.
Already, there is cause for concern.
The Afghan government appears likely to commit only 60 percent of the troops that Marine and local Afghan commanders estimate that they need for the assault, a senior Marine official in Helmand said. That means more Marines will probably have to be posted in the city after the initial attack to ensure that the Taliban does not return.
Of course, it does. How about just leaving them there forever -- giving them as tribute, as janissaries, to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan?
"To have American Marines standing on a corner in a key village isn't nearly as effective as having an Afghan policeman or Afghan soldier," Conway said.
Earlier this year, Karzai intervened to halt an attack into Marjeh by U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan troops after residents in the area complained of excessive civilian casualties, said senior military officials. The coming assault on the city will be a measure of Karzai's willingness to buck allies with ties to the opium industry, these officials said.
Sure. Let's throw sacrifice some Marines to see what Karzai does next. That's a great idea.
The other major area of concern is whether the Afghan government and the U.S. military will be able to meet the aggressive new growth targets laid out for the Afghan army and police force in the Obama administration's war strategy.
"We have to increase recruiting. We have to increase retention, and we have to decrease attrition this year," said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, who leads the U.S. training effort in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
The administration's new plans for the Afghan army and police, which are likely to be a heavy focus of Tuesday's speech, call for increasing the size of the army to about 134,000 troops by next October, four years earlier than the initial goal of 2014. To meet that target, the Afghan Ministry of Defense must bring in about 5,000 new recruits a month and dramatically cut attrition in existing battalions. In November, the defense ministry missed its monthly recruiting goal by more than 2,000 troops.
Afghan soldiers and police officers were recently given a 40 percent pay increase, but it is too early to tell whether the extra money will fix the recruiting problem, U.S. officials said.
"The pay extra pay literally brought us to parity with what the Taliban are offering," said a senior military official in Kabul.
Just wait. Soon we'll be throwing in a signing bonus of 72 virgins.
But remember -- like the Sergeant Major says -- "You can rent an Afghan, but you can't buy him."