Are we deluding ourselves about Afghanistan?

By Daniel L. Davis
April 25, 2012

Over the past month, a veritable who’s who of American opinion makers have been on the major television networks and in the most prestigious print media strongly reinforcing the notion that America’s mission in Afghanistan is “on track.” To be sure, they admit, there are “challenges” and “rough patches,” but the overall trajectory of the war is going according to the timelines laid out in the 2010 Lisbon Agreement. With so much star power locked virtually arm in arm, there are few who would publicly contend with such a group; most accept their stance without challenge.

But regardless of the titles, positions and resumes they cumulatively possess, if the evidence on the ground does not support their theory, it must be challenged. I contend the evidence overwhelmingly argues that our Afghan strategy has failed, continues to fail, and, absent a major course correction, will end in failure.

When the fundamentals of this war are examined, it doesn’t take long for common sense to kick in. With it comes the recognition that absent major change, we are very likely to suffer a strategic defeat by the end of 2014. Here are a few pertinent facts and hard questions:

  • It strains credulity to suggest that what we were unable to accomplish in the first 11 years of war (creating a self-sufficient Afghan National Security Force, or ANSF) we will do over the next two years, with tens of thousands fewer troops and less than half the training budget, which has dropped from $11 billion to $5 billion in a single year. Further, who will provide the logistics for the Afghan troops we’re leaving behind? Who will provide the trucks and repair their vehicles, who will supply the fuel and provide spare parts, as well as ammunition, water, food, intelligence support, artillery support, attack jet support, helicopter gunship support, medical evacuation, and medical support – all of which ISAF currently provides, at least in part?
  • Pakistan’s borders remain an ungoverned conduit for support of the insurgency, and evidence suggests they will remain so.
  • There is no functioning economy in Afghanistan – much less one that could attain self-sufficiency in just the next few years.
  • The Afghan government at virtually every level remains corrupt and barely lacks the capacity to provide basic services.
  • By any honest assessment, the various factions of the Taliban insurgency remain a formidable and viable force.

Further, while the aim of America’s population-centric counterinsurgency is to protect the people, every year of the surge saw a new high-water mark for Afghan people killed, the United Nations reports. Although many U.S. pundits are quick to point out that, according to U.N. estimates, upwards of 77 percent of the civilian casualties were caused by the Taliban, it doesn’t matter to the people who did the dying. All the survivors know is that the most powerful military alliance in the world couldn’t protect them.

It is therefore not surprising that the most recent Asia Foundation poll revealed in 2011 that 76 percent of Afghan people said they would have “some level of fear” traveling from one part of the country to another and encountered – not Taliban – but U.S. and other coalition forces.

After more than a decade of warfare, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that we have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Still, even at this 11th hour there are ways the mission could be salvaged. There is, for example, broad consensus among a number of key constituencies for a cease-fire. The best chance for a viable and lasting end to the war could be conducted in the absence of fighting, not during it.

However, until or unless we change our self-defeating propensity to characterize everything as we wish it to be rather than how it is, even the most brilliant plan would have little chance of success.

It is impossible to reconcile the upbeat and optimistic statements made by many of America’s best known opinion makers with the view that we are headed to a strategic defeat, which I and many others have expressed. It is imperative that the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hold comprehensive and open hearings. In late February, several members of the House sent a formal request to the speaker of the House and the Senate minority leader asking for hearings, but thus far their request has been met with silence.

The American public needs to know which of the divergent views of what is happening in Afghanistan is accurate. If the optimistic views shared by many public figures are right, the U.S. public should strongly rally around them. But if my views and those conveyed by so many others are right, we must contemplate fundamental and immediate changes.

Our vital national interests are at stake. So are the lives and limbs of potentially thousands of Americans, and likely a greater number of Afghan people. We owe it to them to be sure we get this right.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

PHOTO: U.S. soldiers from 5-20 infantry Regiment attached to 82nd Airborne walk while on patrol in Zharay district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner


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@ APR 26, 2012 10:56 PM EDT

That is sooooo well said!

Posted by brnwtrs7 | Report as abusive

You know folks, you cannot force feed your beliefs to a nation of people who don’t believe in your beliefs. Especially as you kill their people! How hypocritical is that to try to convince people that you are there to help them as you systemically kill them.

Posted by brnwtrs7 | Report as abusive

Except for the Warlords the Taliban fought, the Afghan people were fairly happy with the Taliban government, and didn’t mind Bin Laden’s presence.

Forget the neo-cold War policy of world domination by the US, The american people’s only interest in Afghanistan ws getting rid of Bin Laden, and that has been accomplished.

The american people want to leave Afghanistan NOW, and the Afghan peole want us out of their country NOW. We should forget the Bush family policies of “Nation building and spead of capitalism” and leave NOW.

The Republican party needs to forget the Bush family and Dick Cheney, unless they want an Obama landslide in NOvember. If Romney supports a conitnued presence in Afghanistan, victory in November will be impossible.

Eisehower got elected in 1952 to bring the boys home from Korea, and Nixon pledged to end the Vietnman War. The Bush Republicans gave us Iraq and Afghanistan–and elected Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to succeed them.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Posted by RPhillips111 | Report as abusive

Isn’t it quite possible all the supportive talking heads are being bribed (legally) for their support? The Bush administration paid for articles to support the war and knowing how important money is, I doubt it ever stopped.

WWI sent influenza back with the troops. That is one theory about the origin of the great influenza epidemic of the post war period.

I think the ME’s legacy to this nation will be the practices of bribery, graft, kickbacks and perhaps even nepotism (that one is harder to practice because it is easier to see). Political and economic systems that practice that will want lots of unquestioning patriotism and respect. Defeat will mean a reactive instinct – a kind of counter-reformation – could take hold here. The crooks taking the payoffs will want to hide it all behind a comforting show of political unity, respect for authority and they will throw up all sorts of phony defenses.

The major media will craft the message and they could be doing it all because it makes money for them.

It isn’t much mentioned, but some of the greatest warriors of history were chronic drunks. Alexander the Great, Marc Antony and U.S. Grant come to mind. They probably needed the sedative and maybe even the antiseptic effects of higher blood alcohol levels? OR they had to seduce their owns minds to continue their career objectives at any costs.

The last two wars were a kind of national binge. The huge funding was the intoxicant. Now we enter the hangover period.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Afganistan is Vietnam all over again.

Like the Viet Cong, the Afgan fighters have no place to go. This is a powerful motivator. Napolean said, “morale is to the number of soldiers in the ratio of 10 to 1.”

A chopper only holds as much as a good sized pickup truck and costs a fortune to operate and maintain. The Afgan fighters walk.

Afgan fighters are conditioned to endure harsh conditions of extreme poverty, heat, cold and hunger. Our troops are used to s much higher living standard and require extensive supplies.

We have an 8 thousand mile supply line. The Afgans live off the land and the local population. We supplied them with their AK-47s during the Russian occupation.

As in Vietnam we have very little to gain and very much to lose. The Afgans don’t need to win, they only need endure — time is on their side.

Posted by donhope | Report as abusive

paintcan, they discovered a few years ago that the influenza epidemic jumped from birds to humans at a Kansas Army base where soldiers were preparing to ship out to WWI. These soldiers then spread it across Europe and beyond. Of course they also then brought it back with them as well. Bottom line though, no WWI, then the conditions for the virus to spread so widely don’t exist.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

@BajaArizona – That’s amazing!

I know that WW1 started almost on automatic. I tend to think the “Great” war started because all the European powers had enmeshed themselves with mutual defense treaties that kicked into play like a market sell-off spurred by computer trades.

At the time of the first moves on Afghanistan, I thought the country really couldn’t say no. But I half hoped they would. Countries can’t seem to afford to “turn the other cheek”. Isn’t it wise to smell a rat or at least suspect a trap when something as spectacular and impossible to ignore like 911 occurs?

I had a long conversation in these pages with a Syrian a few months back and I have very little trouble accepting his statement that OBL was dead years ago. I thought he was too. There were no releases from him for years.

I accused Obama of pandering or engaging in psy-ops in a comment here. I even got a little hot with a returned VET down the street who just ignored me and tweeted or used his cell phone.

Since when is it good sense, or even thinking at all, to have to accept the statements of an elected government on faith alone?

What a load of indigestible baloney.

I have to work very hard now (I haven’t got much else to do) just to try to reconstruct a believable social, political and economic world order in my head, (most of which I actually had very little or no much formal education in)just to make sense of my memories and the stuff on this machine and Syrian Humanfriend cames along and knocked my stack of blocks over. And I never believed in them all that firmly to begin with.

Talk about Cognitive dissonance?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

The American people are not deluding themselves about Afghanistan, but the American politicians are deluding themselves while trying to delude the people.

The politicians are cutting education, while they are building schools in Afghanistan, schools that are then bombed by the Taliban.

The politicians claim the taxpayers cannot afford to repair the crumbling US infrastructure, but the politicians are building roads in Afghanistan, roads that then get destroyed by the insurgents—over and over and over again.

The politicians say the U. S. cannot afford universal health care, but they are building hospitals in Afghanistan. In the meantime, the politicians have the very best of health insurance and health care at a 70% taxpayer subsidy.

The politicians say that the U. S. populace must cut-back severely on everything, including Social Security and Medicare while the politicians are sending plane-loads of cash to Afghanistan that provide jobs for Afghans and the rich-life for corrupt Afghan politicians.

The politicians say that the rich are not getting richer, that they owe the country nothing while the common man must continue to pay and pay and pay—even while the politicians claim that pigs can fly.

The politicians say that Afghans (and other Muslims) want democracy—Western or otherwise—even as virtually every Arab Spring nation is voting for those who will support sharia law.

Perhaps the American people are deluding themselves that the US political system is not broken and that the American politicians are not corrupt?

How much blood and treasure will be enough to waste on people who will not fight for their own freedoms as they continually have their hands out for ever more, More, MORE from the American taxpayers? How many years in Afghanistan will be enough: Fifteen, fifty, one hundred?

How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb or a corrupt system? Theoretically, a majority—but even then, they cannot see the light.

Posted by Aprenous | Report as abusive