Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brown's "Afghanization" Another Step Towards Defeat

BRITISH PM GORDON BROWN MADE THE announcement on Monday night that Britain was going to shift away from having a combat role in Afghanistan, starting next year. This is a very big change in attitude and is clearly a response to rising levels of disgust with the conflict in Britain. 100 British soldiers have been killed in the conflict, primarily in Helmand Province. Why is he making this announcement now? There is certainly no chance that the Afghan National Army will be ready to take over fighting by next year.
This announcement, along with President Obama's delay in announcing the expected surge of tens of thousands of US troops, is a response to growing skepticism internationally to the disaster of the AfPak strategy. Obama is facing his own pressure on Afghanistan. The California Democratic Party - the largest party in the largest state - has passed a resolution whose title is "End the US Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan."

The resolution calls for establishing "a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel" and seeks "an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties."
The California Democrats and every pundit on the planet is comparing this moment of decision to the one faced by President Lyndon Johnson when he decided to ramp up the war in Vietnam. It ultimately destroyed his domestic agenda and his presidency. With Pakistan increasingly destabilized and the insurgents controlling most of the country, President Obama could easily make the same mistake and his already shaky support - after so much enthusiasm for his election - will drop through the floor.
Obama's delay and Brown's announcement are thus intended for two audiences - the homefront and for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They need his regime to show that it is serious about tackling corruption. And Obama needs to demonstrate that he's taking this very seriously. In fact, no doubt he is taking it seriously with both his chief of staff and his vice president opposed to increasing troop numbers. 

However, the problem they face is that no matter what they do now, it is likely just different paths to the same result: defeat. As I reported previously, if the US pulls out any time soon the Afghan Army will likely fracture and collapse in short order. But if the US pours more troops into the country, it will be a temporary surge that will lead to a dramatic rise in the number of body bags coming home and an endless stream of headlines about death in Afghanistan. And it will strain the already strained US Army to the limit. As Dahr Jamail recently reported, soldiers facing court martial for going AWOL are being pressured to accept deployment in return for charges being dropped. In addition, troops with serious health conditions are being sent back, even when doctors diagnose them as "undeployable." This can't go on forever. The best that Obama could do would be to listen to the California Democrats.

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