This letter is written in response to comments you’ve made recently, as reported by the New York Times. I believe the intent of your comments was to encourage us, the American people, to keep heart and not despair regarding our Afghanistan mission. Several of your comments strike me – just an ordinary citizen – as anything but encouraging.
The Times quotes you as saying, “For the first time we will have what we have been working to put in place for the last year and a half.” I note that coming up on NINE YEARS after we invaded Afghanistan, it is somewhat less than heartening to hear that it is only now that “we will have what we have been working to put in place”! Coupled with the disparate “grand strategies” announced just this year (“clear and hold” in Marjah; build infrastructure in Kandahar), it seems far from clear that you or anyone else has any idea just what is needed to “win” in Afghanistan… whatever it is that “winning” might mean.
This highlights a second point deriving from your various public pronouncements this past weekend, again as reported by the Times. At no time did you articulate just exactly what the desired end state might be. With no clear strategic objective – an end state – in mind, it is impossible for you or anyone else to plausibly assure us, the American people, that you are putting in place a strategy to attain that objective. Your failure – whether due to inability or unwillingness – to paint a clear picture of just what it is we hope to achieve in Afghanistan, at the cost of American blood and treasure, speaks volumes! Given your willingness to explain so much else, your silence on this point is telling. Do you know just what it is we are trying to achieve? If so, could you tell us? If not, could you admit this fact?
Without telling us what the overall objective is, you nevertheless sketch, at least by implication, the elements of our current “mission”. Though the Times did not quote you, it reported that you claimed “progress on a number of fronts”:
1) routing Taliban insurgents from their sanctuaries,I note that in eight-and-one-half years of ‘routing the Taliban insurgents from their sanctuaries’, the U.S. and its NATO allies today face an entrenched an emboldened Taliban insurgency. Just exactly what will you do differently? The insurgency resembles a hydra: cut off a head and 2 or 3 grow back. This “strategy” has failed for close to nine years. How do you propose to make it work today?
2) reforming the Afghan government
3) preparing Afghan soldiers to fight on their own.
I note that our erstwhile ally, President Karzai, has demonstrated close to zero interest in establishing a legitimate government, free of corruption. You are quoted as saying that,
“President Karzai is the elected leader of a sovereign country. That is how the people see him by and large; he is therefore — and has to be, for sure — our partner.”Given that Karzai was “elected” only by virtue of widespread flagrant fraud – acknowledged by all international observers – your statement is disingenuous, as best, and, at worst, demonstrates your willingness to accept fantasy as political reality. Mr. Karzai’s government, by most independent accounts, is NOT respected by ANYONE, and does not rule in any meaningful sense outside Kabul.
Finally, as even Thomas Friedman has recently acknowledged,
"Why do we have to recruit and train our allies, the Afghan Army, to fight? That is like someone coming to you with a plan to recruit and train Brazilian boys to play soccer."Our Afghan allies know how to fight, as do the Taliban insurgents. Recall, Afghan Mujahideen chased the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Who’s training the Taliban? – have they resources equivalent to those provided our Afghan partners by the U.S. and NATO? No.
(What’s Second Prize, NYT Op-Ed, 22 June 2010, Thomas Friedman)
Our Afghan partners do NOT need to be “prepared to fight on their own”!
They need to be given a REASON to fight for a sovereign Afghanistan. Is any of the training delivered to our Afghan partners focused on developing a sense of national identity? Is any training designed to instill a sense of pride in a country worth defending?
If you’re teaching weapons and tactics, you’re spinning your wheels.
Again, General: why are we there? And what will be different in the next six months or six years that will give us, the American people, confidence that you know what you’re doing?