When five days pour forth a lead story on the way “a coordinated assault” of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan has caused a grave risk to American interests; a lead about the serious counter-offensive mounted by Pakistan; a flash suitable for any date but run as a lead concerning the heroin trade of the Taliban (“Vast Network Reaps Millions from Drugs”); the launching of a serial memoir by a reporter “Held Captive by the Taliban,” which will extend to five parts; a flattering stoic-soldier profile of General McChrystal in the Times Magazine; a Pakistan follow-up suggesting that Pakistan’s army’s now fights well but is “meeting strong resistance” from the Taliban and cannot win without help; a sequence of three stories by different hands, tracing with approval the acquiescence of President Hamid Karzai in calls for a run-off (the very agreement the administration made a precondition for expanded American commitment); two op-eds over three days by military men not of the highest rank, urging escalation; and a reckless “scoop,” filled sparsely with random and often anonymous interviews regarding the supposed discontents within the armed forces at the length of the administration’s pause — when all this is the fruit of five days’ harvest at the Times, the conclusion draws itself. The New York Times wants a large escalation in Afghanistan. The paper has been made nervous by signs that the president may not make the big push for a bigger war; and they are showing what the rest of his time in office will be like if he does not cooperate. [continued…]
The White House logic that a decision on sending further troops would have to wait for the election debacle to be resolved is faulty, however. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates was among those willing to point that out. “We’re not just going to sit on our hands, waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul,” Gates said Tuesday. “The outcome of the elections and the problems with the elections have complicated the situation for us. But the reality is, it’s not going to be complicated one day and simple the next.”
Indeed, for purposes of creating a representative government as the foundation of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, the key flaw of Afghanistan’s August election was not the widespread ballot fraud; it was the fact that almost 3 out of 4 voters didn’t show up at the polls because of the Taliban security threat. So, while a runoff election might satisfy the fraud complaints, it won’t make the resulting government much more representative unless millions more voters show up at the polls this time. But the deteriorating security situation and limits of the appeal of both candidates give little reason to expect that the rerun would see a voter surge; turnout in a runoff, if anything, could be even lower.
What’s more, despite the findings of the electoral commission, there’s widespread doubt in Kabul over whether a runoff vote will actually proceed. A power-sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah is considered the much more likely outcome. But in reality, the manner in which the electoral stalemate is resolved doesn’t substantially alter the basic choice facing Obama: either send tens of thousands more U.S. troops, which U.S. commander General Stan McChrystal says are necessary simply to halt the Taliban’s advance, or draw down to a policing operation against al-Qaeda and abandon the goal of defeating the Taliban. [continued…]
Every military counter-insurgency strategy hits up against the probability that it will, in time, create more enemies than it kills. So you blow up a suspected Taliban site and kill two of their commanders – but you also kill 98 women and children, whose families are from that day determined to kill your men and drive them out of their country. Those aren’t hypothetical numbers. They come from Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who was General Petraeus’ counter-insurgency advisor in Iraq. He says that US aerial attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border have killed 14 al-Qa’ida leaders, at the expense of more than 700 civilian lives. He says: “That’s a hit rate of 2 per cent on 98 per cent collateral. It’s not moral.” It explains the apparent paradox that broke the US in Vietnam: the more “bad guys” you kill, the more you have to kill.
There is an even bigger danger than this. General Petraeus’s strategy is to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan. When he succeeds, they run to Pakistan – where the nuclear bombs are.
To justify these risks, the proponents of the escalation need highly persuasive arguments to show how their strategy slashed other risks so dramatically that it outweighed these dangers. It’s not inconceivable – but I found that, in fact, the case they give for escalating the war, or for continuing the occupation, is based on three premises that turn to Afghan dust on inspection. [continued…]