Two articles and one op-ed in the news today are sufficient, if not over-abundant, evidence that success in the Afghan war will be tortuously difficult to achieve. First, General David Petraeus is faced with the Herculean task of rapidly setting the conditions for a handover of the security effort to an Afghan government that seems utterly incapable of ensuring its own survival:
NATO officers, like Petraeus’ predecessor McChrystal, have openly admitted that the local government-in-a-box that was supposed to backfill NATO efforts is not yet providing adequate services. U.S. and Afghan officials privately complain that Afghan officials extorting bribes from the people they were hired to serve also remains commonplace.
Questioned about some of those obstacles, Petraeus said it was too soon to guess how much progress would be made on security, or governance, over the next year.
A member of Petraeus’ staff explained the thinking – that they were “hunkered down,” in “fingers-crossed” mode, because the whole plan’s success depends on the Afghan government doing what now seems unthinkable: rooting out graft in a country where every level of government subsists on a latticework of bribes leveraged against impoverished Afghans. And the decision to do that is in the hands of an Afghan president whose own family is accused of benefiting from corruption.
It’s bad enough that the locals see more upside in plundering their own people in the here and now than governing them in the future. What’s probably worse is that the real power centers in neighboring Pakistan seem unwilling to do what it takes to excise the cancer growing in their own back yard:
Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the National Security Council coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also traveled with Jones and Panetta to Pakistan. He supervised the writing of a three-page trip report to the president that Jones signed.
It contained a pessimistic summary, noting first the gap between the civilian and military authority in Pakistan. The United States was getting nowhere fast with these guys. They were talking with (Pakistani President Asif Ali) Zardari, who could deliver nothing. (Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq) Kayani had the power to deliver, but he refused to do much. Nobody could tell him otherwise. The bottom line was depressing: (The trip) had been a charade.
Jones said he was alarmed that success in Afghanistan was tied to what the Pakistanis would or would not do. As he saw it, the United States could not “win” in Afghanistan as long as the Pakistani safe havens remained. It was a “cancer” on the plan the president had announced at the end of 2009.
Finally, and perhaps more alarmingly, the WaPo is reluctantly considering the possibility that the president’s Afghanistan strategy was not just destined to fail, it was intended to:
In Mr. Woodward’s narrative, Mr. Obama repeatedly rejects the notion of a military campaign in Afghanistan lasting eight or even five more years. Yet Gen. Petraeus and other commanders have made it clear that success will require a long-term commitment.
Perhaps the most damning assessment of the president comes from Gen. Lute, who Mr. Woodward says concluded that “Obama had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, in effect, that it couldn’t be done . . . the president had treated the military as another political constituency that had to be accommodated.” For the sake of the Americans fighting in Afghanistan, and the families of the 360 service members who have died there this year, we hope that is not the case.
As do we all, while remembering that hope is not a strategy.