Obama’s War

by Sekundar on 9/29/2010 · 4 comments

Earlier tonight on my way home I stopped at a Borders (or Barnes and Noble; I forget) and read through half of Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars.  I was left with the distinct impression that the president does not favor the war in Afghanistan as it has been fought. Considering the efforts, lives, and monies that have gone into it, I don’t blame him, but I am upset that he committed 30,000 troops (plus their thousands of contractor and civilian counterparts) despite his misgivings. As covered in the Washington Post, Woodward seems to have gone out of his way to illustrate the similarities in military influence over Obama’s decision-making process and the mistakes LBJ made in regards to Vietnam.

For the record, Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Everyone should acknowledge that. The insurgency in Afghanistan is not a nationalist movement, does not have a majority behind it, and the U.S. has learned to stand by their man (no offence, Amb. Cabot) and gather international support. But momentum has been, and continues to be, slipping away from ISAF. A massive surge involving not extra brigades but extra divisions (the cop on every street-corner) may have stymied the lawlessness and growth of insurgency, but at this stage it does not seem the 150,000 ISAF troops are doing it. The democracies fielding the soldiers are increasingly unable to justify the commitment to their constituencies, and it seems that within five years the war will be for all intents and purposes over.

The question remains, then, as to whether Afghan security forces will be able to function effectively by mid-to-late-2011, the projected beginning of the American force reduction. I remain unconvinced, especially as ISAF and the Afghan government arm and legitimize tribal levies to make up the difference. Try as I might, I can’t see how this war will end well, for Afghanistan or ISAF. Woodward’s book seemed to say much the same, and that the confusion was shared by the U.S. government. Could somebody please tell us how this ends?


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Sekundar works in national security, and has worked and studied in Central and South Asia.

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{ 4 comments }

Don Anderson September 29, 2010 at 4:01 am

Thanks Sekundar..The Woodward Book brings up a lot of interesting points about the debate last year in the White House. Some things are coming out which allow us to see which way the wind is blowing for 2010/11.

A. Obama wants a transition, one way or the other. But a transition it will be.

B. Obama in retrospect feels DOD basically hijacked the process. He asked for options and got none. He wanted to send 10K new troops but settled on 30K after being bureaucratically ambushed. This next round of analysis on the war will be different. The President now knows the ropes and the push back is on.

C. In his mind, 2011 starts the drawdown. Gen Petraaus and Gates will as they are skilled organizational warriors will do their best to string this out, but the President knows now where he wants to go. The Surge troops are on their way out now. The dates have just not been announced.

D. Obama will not give this project 889 Billion that this was going to cost.

E. The end game is on. Obama wants to somehow avoid a collapse but we are not going to expand the war. This is the last year. The Afghan’s in control era should be starting now. Whether it does or not depends on how fast ISAF and Embassy get the message. The project is over.

F. The decision is clear, Afghanistan is not central to our National Security. We will continue to do CT operations and advisory support for both ANSF and the Pakistan Army but the days of ISAF running this war are now in full ebb.

G. COIN and Country building are now finished. The party line will continue to pay lip service to this effort, but available resources will not be there. The GIRoA will need to work with less and find within itself the strength to turn this around. The US will be there to support in a strong way, but it is now the Afghan’s who must resist the Opposition forces.

H. The estimate is that the situation in Pakistan will not deteriorate too rapidly leaving the US drawdown as a main feature of the next electoral contest in 2012. As usual the election timeline is critical. If we end up with a two term President-Pakistan will get more of the support and Afghanistan less in the future. 160 million citizens of a nuclear Pakistan are deemed more central long term than 29 Million Afghans.

I. Next year will be very interesting as the “stake holders” (I so hate that term) begin to jostle for position and wager on various sides.

J. Actions speak louder than words. Although the Administration and ISAF will declare emphatically that the program is continuing the overall policy has already changed. They are not turning off the lights, but not much will be left in the room.

K. The final arbiter of this struggle will not be ISAF, it will the ANSF designed and trained by LTG Caldwell. The future of GIRoA is in its hands alone. The future will tell if they are able to hold the line against the Oppostion forces. This will be not known until the handover of Provinces begins to occur.

L. Pakistan holds the best cards at the current time, and Washington is neutral on the outcome. Transition and Draw down are the operative words for the next 5 years in Afghanistan.

K. The Surge is over. Bring on the marching band.

sayke September 29, 2010 at 11:04 am

mr. anderson –

you may be right. perhaps the obama strategy whitepaper is out the window, and we are willing to see if the GoA will be able to prevent a taliban reconquest of afghanistan on its own. i do hope, though, that that’s not the case while karzai is running the show. if so, well… good thing ANCOP is on the road between the embassy and the airport…

Steve Maghribi September 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

I agree that Afghanistan is not central to our interests. There is more going on now and we must alter our focus with it.

The future of the War on terror has now been decided. Yemen is the model , not Afghanistan or Iraq. We have reached the high water mark for military involvement in this conflict and all others.

The budgetary situation is dictating a rethink. SecDef Gates will probably leave in a year or so and with his departure, we enter a new era.

We can expect no further invasions of nations to counter terrorism. Drones, Counter Terrorism using local national forces and upgrade of local governments to fight the battles is going to be the new MO.

We will be involved in many nations but with a smaller footprint. The military’s focus will return to more traditional regional roles especially in East Asia and counter terrorism though a long term fight will no longer be the only focus of the force.

The main wild cards will be the eroding situation of Egypt, the Islamic revolt in Pakistan, and the rise of China. The Israel issue vis a vis its neighbors and Iran is not going away either, and can be seen as the only sure continued cause for strife.

Afghanistan is only important as a tether for our overall interests in Central Asia, which may or may not play as a focus because both Russia and the United States are leaning towards peaceful coexistence in these tough economic times.

As new powers continue to rise their conflicts will be moved to future front burners. India China, The Koreas, China Japan and South East Asia will consume more of our interest as the War on Terror becomes a constant but not singular interest.

A new Era is starting. The last decade can be seen more as an opening act for a new multi polar century of conflicts on the main stage. The War on Terror is not going to be cold war, but it will not be World War III either.

Terrorism is not going away, and the US may suffer more attacks but as President Obama said we must be prepared to absorb them without losing our focus everything else at the same time.

That statement marked the end of the post 9/11 philosophy and the start of the rest of century-a restart if you will as 9/11 forced an unplanned direction in history. Terrorism will now be an expected burden, but other conflicts will be provided for as well.

Don Anderson September 29, 2010 at 11:22 am

Sayke-Well you will NOT need to run right away to the airport, still in the future and a lot can happen.

Remember the “Peace Initiative” is also part of this. If there is a collapse, it will be long after the next election and not resemble 1996 at all. No immediate collapse is on the horizon.

I was just trying to outline where the policy is going. This is the general direction and parameters.

Things will get stressful (yes I know, they are already stressful-but really stressful) when the handovers start and the ANSF is tested for real the first time. Still a ways off in the future. This is being planned so that there is no quick collapse-I promise you.

The main ISAF focus will go through to 2014, and the drawdown is not immediate but gradual and steady. However it is definitely a draw down. The ANSF will be in charge in the end.

In some ways, the end game here will be the most interesting phase of all. There are a lot of variables, and we need to see how things evolve.

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