As President Barack Obama contemplates the strategy for Afghanistan going forward, the neo-conservatives are hard at work making their pitch for continuing the war and doubling down with an additional commitment of troops. This is the same crowd that miscalculated and misled the American public into a war of choice in Iraq at the expense of the effort in Afghanistan and is now leading the charge once again. By leaking confidential reports to the Washington Post, writing op-ed commentaries in the New York Times, and making guest appearances on a variety of TV and radio shows, they seek to build public support that has otherwise been on the decline.
Some of the cheerleaders, like Kimberly Kagan, have advised the field commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and participated on his strategy review team, likely at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Others include Frederick Kagan, a resident at the right-wing and military-industrial complex-connected think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. After squandering eight years in pursuit of a failed strategy, America has seen Afghanistan morph into a narco-state and Osama Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora.
Why should we listen to these people? They have done more to undermine our national security than can quickly be summarized here. While they hold themselves out as “experts,” it is clear that they and their sponsors are set to benefit financially from a continued massive war effort. In turn, their right-wing congressional allies will get their campaign contributions even as they publicly bemoan the massive federal deficits. This is nothing less than the entrenched military-industrial complex in action — which President Dwight D. Eisenhower had the courage to warn the American people about as he left office.
A limited objective
The president should make his decision on what is the best strategy to protect the vital interests of United States. As he has articulated, our primary interest is to “disrupt, dismantle, and destroy the al-Qaida network” to prevent future attacks on the U.S. homeland or on our NATO allies. This limited objective doesn’t include nation building, nor does it include a massive counterinsurgency effort in support of an inept and corrupt Afghan government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, handpicked by the neo-conservatives years ago, arguably now lacks legitimacy since the corruption has extended to the ballot box.
The choice now being advocated — send more troops or lose the war — is a false choice and one that they have used before. Despite the fact that our military has been stressed and overextended, they have brilliantly executed every mission that they have been asked to do. They will not be ejected from Afghanistan unless we foolishly choose to expand the mission into an unsustainable effort of nation-building. The smart strategy is to lower the military footprint, limit both military and civilian casualties, and use our intelligence and Special Forces assets to strike al-Qaida.
This is exactly where Gen. McChrystal has the expertise. The “experts” also know that counterinsurgencies are not won by a foreign occupation force, no matter how noble the motives. Afghans must stand up for their own country — and while our NATO allies have provided support, they mostly have done so with restrictions on the use of their troops in a direct combat role. Using them to help train Afghans will complement this lower profile strategy.
Getting bogged down would limit options
The United States has many vital interests around the world, and we cannot afford to have our Army and Marines bogged down for another extended period, as happened in Iraq. That strategy will only limit the president’s options to deal with some future crisis, whether it is in Africa, Asia or even potentially just south of our border in Latin America.
Additionally, we cannot afford the financial commitment to rebuild another country while the infrastructure in the United States continues to deteriorate; neither can we afford the continued casualties — of which more than half are attributable to IED’s or accidents, not actual fighting.
The president must be clear on our vital interests around the world and match our national strategy accordingly. Only then can a proper decision be made about the troop levels. I trust that he will make a wise choice.
Col. Leonard Kloeber is a West Point graduate and retired from the U.S. Army after 30 years of active and reserve service. He resides in Prior Lake, Minn., and is the author of “Victory Principles, Leadership Lessons From D-Day.”