In the FT, Daniel Dombey hears something absolutely scandalous from Adm Mike Mullen:
One senior official likens battling the Taliban to a game of “whack-a-mole”, a once-ubiquitous US arcade game where the player uses a mallet to bash a random and increasingly frantic series of moles back into their holes. Another official compares it to a “definition of insanity” – doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result…
Asked a few days ago what would constitute success, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said: “We will have a much better fix – in terms of clarity – towards the end of this year in terms of longer term what are the potential outcomes, and when those might occur, than we do right now.” This, mind you, after 10 years of war.
Asked if prevailing against the Taliban required the governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan to act in different ways than they have to date, Admiral Mullen said it did. It is worth saying that finding a US military official who believes Pakistan is really going to crack down on Taliban havens in North Waziristan is about as unlikely as finding an American diplomat who thinks Kabul will crack down on corruption.
There are a few things to extract from this exchange. The first is that it should be an absolute scandal that in June of 2011, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is asking for another Friedman unit before speculating about what success will look like. The second is that the entire strategy of defeating the Taliban requires two ordinarily recalcitrant governments in Kabul and Islamabad to somehow behave in a different way from how they’ve behaved in the past. Moreover, we’ve known this for years—even as we declare success in the south while simultaneously complaining about corruption and absent government, as we send our spymaster to beg the Pakistanis to please, pretty please, stop funding the murderous thugs who kill hundreds of Afghan civilians and dozens of U.S. soldiers each month.
The entire foundation of the war, in other words, is based on a concerted effort to ignore reality. If you think we’re about to defeat the Taliban and create enough space to withdraw, you must ignore the rampage of violence everywhere outside the south. You must ignore the fundamental inability of Kabul to send competent administrators and government staff to cleared areas. You must ignore the spike in civilian casualties. You must ignore Rawalpindi’s funding and training of the insurgency. You must ignore the horrible abuses of U.S.-funded militias.
The war in Afghanistan is a scandal. And it has been a scandal for years. At this point, if we are not sinking most of our time and resources into finding a political solution that includes the Taliban and excludes al Qaeda—even at the stage of moving beyond assumption and emotion to testing whether such a thing is possible—then we are, as a country, just not interested in ever ending the war. In which case we should pick up, pull out, and leave behind a stern warning that anyone who dares poke his finger into our chest again will be bombed into pieces.