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Time to Get Out of Afghanistan by George Will

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Is he right?

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Time to Get Out of Afghanistan

By George F. Will

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"

Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament."

U.S. strategy -- protecting the population -- is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.' " Afghanistan's $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

georgewill@washpost.com

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"Those people who will not be governed by God


will be ruled by tyrants."



William Penn

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Of course he's right. He's as right about our need to get of Afghanistan (where there's nothing to be gained or won) as he is right about our need to get the hell out of Iraq sooner rather than later.

Time to leave Iraq

By George Will, Washington Post

In Print: Sunday, September 6, 2009

Since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq's cities, two months have passed, and so has the illusion that Iraq is smoothly transitioning to a normality free of sectarian violence. Recently, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. troops there, "blanched" when asked if the war is "functionally over." According to the Washington Post's Greg Jaffe, Odierno said:

"There are still civilians being killed in Iraq. We still have people that are attempting to attack the new Iraqi order and the move towards democracy and a more open economy. So we still have some work to do."

No, we don't, even if, as Jaffe reports, the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops "serves as a check on Iraqi military and political leaders' baser and more sectarian instincts." After almost 6 ½ years, and 4,327 American dead and 31,483 wounded, with a war spiraling downward in Afghanistan, it would be indefensible for the U.S. military to loiter in Iraq to improve the instincts of corrupt elites. If there is worse use of the U.S. military than "nation-building," it is adult supervision of other peoples' politicians.

More than 725 Iraqis have been killed by terrorism since the June 30 pullback of U.S. forces from the cities. All U.S. combat units are to be withdrawn from the country within a year. Up to 50,000 can remain as "advisers" to an Iraqi government that is ostentatious about its belief that the presence of U.S. forces is superfluous and obnoxious.

The advisers are to leave by the end of 2011, by which time the final two years of the U.S. military presence will have achieved … what? Already that presence is irrelevant to the rising chaos, which the Iraqi government can neither contain nor refrain from participating in: Security forces seem to have been involved in the recent robbery of a state-run bank in Baghdad.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius correctly argues that "without the backstop of U.S. support," Iraq is "desperately vulnerable" to Iranian pressure. He also reports, however, that an Iraqi intelligence official says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's links with Iran are so close that he "uses an Iranian jet with an Iranian crew for his official travel." Whenever U.S. forces leave, Iran will still be Iraq's neighbor.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, writing in the National Interest, notes that although rising Iraqi nationalism might help "heal the rifts between Sunni and Shia," it also might exacerbate relations with the Kurdish semistate in northern Iraq, where control of oil and the city of Kirkuk is being contested.

The militia parties that ruled Iraq from 2003 to 2007 remain, Pollack says, the major political parties, although mostly without militias. They "still bribe and extort," "assassinate and kidnap," "steal and vandalize" and try to prevent the emergence of new political parties that are "more secular, more democratic, more representative, less corrupt and less violent." If they succeed and "America is forced out," Pollack says, "the glimmers of democracy will fade and Iraq will be lost again." But if democracy is still just a glimmer that will be extinguished by the withdrawal of a protective U.S. presence, its extinction can perhaps be delayed for two more years but cannot be prevented.

The 2008 U.S.-Iraq security agreement must be submitted to a referendum by the Iraqi people. If they reject it, U.S. forces must leave the country in a year. Pollack believes that if Maliki pushes to hold the referendum in January, coinciding with the national elections, the agreement will become the campaign issue and will indicate that Maliki wants U.S. forces removed in order to enlarge his freedom of action. The United States should treat this as a Dirty Harry Moment: Make our day.

Many scholars believe, Pollack says, that nations which suffer civil wars as large as Iraq's was between 2004 and 2006 have "a terrifyingly high rate of recidivism." Two more years of U.S. military presence cannot control whether that is in Iraq's future. Some people believe the war in Iraq was not only "won" but vindicated by the success of the 2007 U.S. troop surge. Yet as Iraqi violence is resurgent, the logic of triumphalism leads here:

If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner.

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