I am reposting a couple of columns below from 2009, written at a time before the Obama "surge" in Afghanistan, based on Bush's "surge" in Iraq, was in full swing.
I have long argued that the Bush surge failed (explanation in three parts here). The Obama surge has failed, too, and for the same basic reason that has nothing to do with leaving Iraq "too soon," or, I deeply hope, "leaving Afghanistan" in 2014. It is vital to stress that these failures are not due to the bravery and sacrifice and skill of our military forces. These forces have resolutely fufilled their impossible missions, to say the very least. The failures lie in war-planning and political strategy, ignorance and fecklessness, at the highest levels of the Bush and Obama White Houses, in the Pentagon, and in the Congress that failed to check them.
(To such ignorance and fecklessness we may also add an epic show of institutional callousness.)
The simple fact is that an army from Judeo-Christian lands cannot fight for the soul of an Islamic land.
This is the obvious but untaught and thus unlearned lesson of these past twelve years of tragic, costly wars. They call us "infidel." We think that doesn't matter. The Koran is their guide and they build their constitutions upon its laws. We help them do so and order our soldiers to risk their lives upholding theses sharia-supreme documents in the fantasy-name of "universal" rights that exist nowhere but in the West. (See the madness begin here back in 2004). Meanwhile, sharia norms and masked Marxism are eroding liberty in the West while 99 percent of our political leaders do nothing.
They learn nothing, too. They set post-9/11 strategy in Iraq without seeing sharia norms and jihad doctrine as obstacles to "nation-building" on a (flawed) Western model -- as though sharia and jihad can be eliminated as the authoritative foundations of Islamic culture by wish or denial. Such a see-no-Islam strategy was doomed to fail, and so it did. But instead of retooling this failed strategy (which served mainly to the benefit of Iran, China and other enemies), they turned around and implemented it in Afghanistan.
We must win the people's "hearts and minds," Gen. Petraeus urged his men back in Iraq.
We must win the Afghans' "trust," Adm. Mullen and others stressed (or buy it).
Thus, our soldiers were ordered to take hills of the Islamic mind-world that infidel armies can never attain.
We must respect their culture, the generals insisted, seeking more and more common ground, but ceding ground (metaphorical and real) instead. Vital ground.
We must protect the Afghan people (at the expense of our own), ordered the COIN corps generals, led by Petraeus, who infamously ordered:
"Walk. Stop by, don't drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your [ballistic] sunglasses. Situational awareness can be gained only by interacting face to face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.
Such "situational awareness" came at a great and tragic cost -- but with little if any lasting benefit. Neither "protecting the population," nor restricting ROEs, nor insanely profligate public works projects have permitted the infidel counterinsurgency to achieve its goals -- winning Islamic hearts, minds or trust.
Cultural prostration hasn't worked either, but not for want of trying.
We must respect their culture (no matter how barbaric). We must uphold their culture (no matter how vile). We must protect Islam, too. We must submit to its laws, and punish Americans who don't. And punish Americans.
"Handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art," a memo to Joint Task Force Guantanamo ordered in January 2003. That wasn't enough. "We will hold sacred the beliefs held sacred by others," ISAF declared in 2012.
Soon we will have new and enduring allies in the war on "terror." What difference will it make if we can only fight together for the other side?
From April and August 2009 -- over one thousand combat dead and thousands of combat wounded ago.
From April 3, 2009:
"What Do You Mean: If We Ever Want to Leave Afghanistan?"
Beware, America. You are about to be duped by an alliance of Obama-niks and Bush-ites who, together, are laying the groundwork for nation-building in Afghanistan -- nation-building in Iraq having worked out so well (insert acid shot of sarcasm here). Only they are not going to call it "nation-building."
Worse, they are forging ahead without heeding the remedial lesson of Iraq: No matter how many American dollars spent, no matter how many American lives lost, it's not possible to transform an Islamic republic that enshrines Islamic law (Sharia) into an ally against Islamic jihad, even if Islamic jihad is euphemized as "extremism," "man-caused disasters" or "overseas contingency operations." That's because Islamic jihad is ultimately waged to extend Sharia. See the disconnect? Good. That's more than our experts can do, which is why it now looks as if we're going to give this flawed strategy another multi-trillion dollar try in Afghanistan.
This is what I heard at what you might call a "war is the answer" teach-in, Washington-style, at the Mayflower Hotel this week. There, a conference sponsored by the newly formed neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative, brought an audience of media and policy types up to war-in-Afghanistan speed. And, as usual in Washington, they did it without ever once mentioning "Islam" (until I asked a quick question at the end).
This was neither a secret session of the so-called "neocon cabal" -- although some charter members were present -- nor an Obama White House war room presentation. Still, I caught the faintest whiff of backroom smoke in talk of just how "clever," as Carnegie's Ashley Tellis put it, the Obama team was for packaging a nation-building agenda in the terminology of fighting Al Qaeda, a far narrower and presumably more popular objective. Robert Kagan noted that President Obama may not be talking about democratization, but his goals are similar. Hence, the warm enthusiasm for the Obama Afghan policy from such Iraq War proponents as Kagan, his brother and Iraq "surge" co-author Frederick Kagan, the Weekly Standard's William Kristol, and by John Nagl, a co-author of the U.S. Army's counterinsurgency manual and fellow of the Center for a New American Security, a left-leaning think tank associated with Obama defense policy circles.
And what are Obama's goals? Below the headline news of targeting Al Qaeda, and expanding Afghan police and army (but not enough, speakers agreed), the president spoke last week of advancing "security, opportunity and justice, not just in Kabul but from the bottom up in the provinces." That's a lot of security, opportunity and justice to advance even for Kabul, where the supreme court there recently upheld Pervez Kambakhsh's 20-year prison term for "blasphemy," and Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently signed a Sharia-influenced law that legalizes Shiite marital rape, among other anti-women measures, to curry favor with Shiite clerics. (One opponent said the law was "worse than during the Taliban.")
President Obama also discussed the importance of "not (turning) a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders." The fact that Afghan corruption -- an endemic, culture-based, veritable Afghan national pastime -- is now considered a U.S. problem is testament to the utopian lure of nation-building.
Question is, will the American people support this wild mongoose chase after six extremely mixed -- no, failed -- years of nation-building in Iraq? There, despite post-surge security gains, the nation we have built remains "fragile" and "uneven," according to the most recent Pentagon report, even as the United States prepares its exit. Had the State Department not granted Iraq a waiver, it would also be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the worst rating for religious freedom violations. Meanwhile, U.S.-liberated Iraq remains an enthusiastic participant in the Arab boycott of Israel, and an OPEC member that never even let a U.S. humvee fill up for free. And Iraq consistently votes with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) against the United States at the United Nations. Never mind -- what's a few trillion dollars among non-allies?
Onto Afghanistan, where we are told U.S. national security depends on denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda and related jihadists. Meanwhile, the world is riddled with jihadism in the form of active agents, sleeper cells, propagandists and sympathizers from the Bekaa Valley to Belgium, from Iran to London, from Saudi Arabia to South Florida. Nearly eight years after 9/11, the United States still has unsecured borders, but it is Afghanistan where we must establish security and clean government -- for our own good.
Why? Frederick Kagan said "we have to establish the legitimacy of the Afghan government (because) that's how you end an insurgency." John Nagl was more emphatic still, stating, "If we ever want to leave, we have to build an Afghan government that can accomplish those goals (of good government) on its own."
If we ever want to leave?
During a coffee break, I asked military historian Frederick Kagan whether there was any successful historical model for this strategy. Ticking off a few non-matches including the Boer War in South Africa, Malaya, and civil war in El Salvador, he, a little sheepishly, offered Iraq.
Heaven help the United States.
From August 14, 2009:
"All Those Boots on the Ground and No Imprint."
Question for Americans: How can we as a nation even consider using our military for another "surge" in Afghanistan when the "surge" in Iraq has left little more imprint on the sands of Mesopotamia than the receding tide?
This, to clarify, is not the antiwar Left writing. I am writing from a pro-military, anti-jihad point of view that has long seen futility in the U.S. nation-building strategy in Iraq, and now sees futility in the rerun in Afghanistan. Problem is, the same blind spot afflicts both strategies: the failure to understand that an infidel nation cannot fight for the soul of an Islamic nation. This, in essence, is what President Bush and now President Obama have ordered our troops to do.
I don't suggest these missions are ever considered in such terms, which implicitly acknowledge intractable differences between Judeo-Christian-based Western cultures and Islamic cultures. Doing so, of course, is a taboo thing -- a grievous violation in the PC realm where decisions are made. But the omission helps answer my opening question. I seriously doubt Americans would approve of re-running the surge in Afghanistan if there were an honest reckoning of the religious, cultural and historical reasons why the surge failed to achieve its promised results in Iraq.
This is not to say the U.S. military failed. On the contrary, the U.S. military succeeded, as ordered, to bring a measure of security and aid to a carnage-maddened Islamic society. Given U.S.-won security, surge architects promised us, this same Islamic society was supposed to then respond by coming together in "national reconciliation." They were wrong. Not only did Iraqis fail to coalesce as a pro-American, anti-jihad bulwark in the Islamic world (the thoroughly delusional original objective), they have also failed to form a minimally functional nation-state. And the United States is now poised to do the same thing all over again in Afghanistan.
I write this as the volume of talk of an Afghanistan "surge" is getting louder, drowning out the quiet undercurrent of eye-opening reports now emerging on post-surge Iraq. Late last month, for example, the New York Times reported on a bluntly revealing memo written by Col. Timothy Reese, an adviser to the Iraqi military's Baghdad command. In it, Reese urgently argues that the United States has "reached the point of diminishing returns" in Iraq due, among many other things, to endemic corruption ("the stuff of legend"), laziness, weakness and culture of "political violence and intimidation."
Reese considers Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) "good enough" -- just -- to keep the Iraqi government from toppling. That's reason enough, he writes, to leave early, by August 2010 instead of December 2011. Reese describes a "fundamental change" in the U.S.-Iraq relationship since the June 30 handover -- a "sudden coolness," lack of cooperation, even a "forcible takeover" by ISF of a checkpoint. While Iraq will still "squeeze the U.S. for all the `goodies' that we can provide," he writes, tensions are increasing and "the potential for Iraqi on U.S. violence is high now and will grow by the day."
And that's the good news. The Washington Times this week reported on an even more dire prognostication to be published by National Defense University written by Najim Abed Al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi police chief and mayor. Al-Jabouri focuses on problems within the ISF, where, he writes, the divided loyalties of what is essentially a series of militias beholden to competing "ethno-sectarian" political factions could easily drive Iraq to civil war. He writes: "The state security institutions have been built upon a foundation of shifting loyalties that will likely collapse when struck by the earthquake of ethnic and sectarian attacks. Iraq's best hope for creating a long-term stable democracy will come from an independent national security force that is controlled by the state, and not by political parties competing to control the state."
Al-Jabouri insists the United States should exert its "leverage" to revamp the ISF, which, given Reese's evidence of plummeting U.S. influence in Iraq, seems farfetched even if it were a good idea. Which it is emphatically not. An infidel nation cannot fight for the soul of an Islamic nation -- a truism that, in a more rational (non-PC) world, might bring surge enthusiasts to their senses.