The White House, the Pentagon and Congress fear the surge. Not the recent shipment of a few troops to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but the surge of angry American voters in November. Not only are those voters afraid that the Obama administration and the Democrat-led Congress will bankrupt the nation, they are also impatient with the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So how will President Obama and his congressional cronies survive the coming November tsunami? Simple. Declare victory and get out of the Near East. Retreat from Afghanistan will be well underway before November this year, and the Stars and Stripes will be on a fast freight out of Iraq before the U.S. presidential election in 2012.
It is often difficult to discern everything happening in Afghanistan, and even more difficult to understand why it is happening. Pieces of the puzzle are scattered from India to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Russia, but there is a pattern to it all.
Let us first examine this year’s string of so-called victories over the insurgents. My last count shows six “Afghan Taliban” leaders arrested and two killed, along with two senior “Pakistani Taliban” arrested and four more killed. It is not clear the arrests are really arrests or even when they happened, since all the reports came from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate (ISI). The ISI does not allow us to get our hands on the bad guys for fear they will tell us about nefarious ISI operations. Nevertheless, the Pentagon and White House spin doctors are hard at work, leading mainstream media by the nose. They have managed to side-step the uncomfortable fact that a deal has been struck with Pakistan, and that the ISI is now running the Afghan show. For its part, the ISI is rolling up troublesome insurgent factions inside Pakistan they protected since the regime of Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, and they are also giving us intelligence about connections those factions have along the Afghan border. Our drones do the killing.
The American/Pakistani deal that sparked the sudden success against the insurgency leadership is never explained by the White House or the Pentagon even though the agreement is quite straightforward: In exchange for a desperately longed-for sphere of influence in Afghanistan when U.S. forces leave, the ISI has agreed to disrupt the insurgent command structure, betray their former friends to drone targeteers, and give most of the credit to the American military and the CIA. That will help create an image of victory and will expedite withdrawal of U.S. forces. The essential part of the deal, as far as Pakistan is concerned, is that the keen interest of Hindu India to encourage a more secular regime in Kabul must be ignored. Muslim Pakistan will then be able to align with Muslim Afghans to insure that Pakistan’s vulnerable ‘back door’ border with Afghanistan is not opened by India, and will remain safely in the hands of their Kabul co-religionists.
Understandably, India is not amused. Not only have they invested much of $1.2 billion they pledged to improve Afghan roads, dams, and infrastructure, they have endured a series of murderous attacks instigated by the ISI. To date, bombings of diplomatic buildings and attacks on Afghan project sites by ISI client insurgents have killed upwards of a hundred Indian diplomats and workers. That does not include the 2008 attack on Mumbai, India’s financial center and most populous city, which claimed at least 173 more lives. The Mumbai attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group based in Pakistan and officially labeled a terrorist organization by India, the United States and the United Kingdom, among others.
India’s initial response to Washington’s deal with Pakistan was to announce that India will not withdraw its workers and diplomats from Afghanistan. The second response came swiftly afterwards.
Last Friday New Delhi signed five deals in Moscow to purchase over $7 billion worth of hardware and expertise from Russia, including an aircraft carrier, a fleet of MIG-29 fighters, defense and space technology, and at least 12 nuclear reactors. American manufacturers were tipped to win the critical fighter aircraft competition, but now it looks like Northrop Grumman will have to downsize the big New Delhi office they opened in 2007 in anticipation of the fighter contract. Of course, one of the invisible 800 pound gorillas in the room with Russia and India was China, their mutual antagonist of old. But the Afghanistan deal between Washington and Islamabad was in there too.
Even as Indians and Russians were getting ready for caviar and vodka, more pieces of the Afghan puzzle appeared. We were treated to the incongruous photograph of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, still in his Pentagon pin-striped suit, sitting in a military helicopter with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahman Wardak on 10 March. What was Mr. Gates learning about the Afghan situation in a helicopter that he could not better learn at his Pentagon desk? Nothing, of course. He was there to make a statement that would sound much more credible delivered from Kabul than if he said it in Washington.
The Gates message was that things look so secure, U.S. forces could start leaving the country even before President Obama’s announced withdrawal date of July 2011. There is no general election in 2011 however, so a few hours after Secretary Gates’ statement congress got into the act.
Like other Americans, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are mighty worried about their jobs. They want to appear patriotic these days. So when a resolution came up to set a timetable for withdrawal by the end of this year, they defeated it, 356-65. Despite this momentary confusion between Washington’s legislative and executive branches, we can be sure withdrawal will be well underway, if not completed, by the presidential election in 2012.
Meanwhile, we are still fighting on that miserable Afghan battlefield with the mission and role of our soldiers dictated by political wrangling inside the Pentagon and out in the field. When two four-star generals, McChrystal and Petraeus, and lots of other stars are managing a war involving only 100,000 troops, the result is constant wrangling, rivalry and gamesmanship that is complicated by the presidential aspirations of Petraeus. Added to which, no senior policy-maker, civilian or military, wants to wipe out the insurgents. That would mean lots of troops, firepower and collateral damage. What is wanted is the appearance of victory. That is what the deal with Pakistan will provide, and the subsequent withdrawal will become the ‘October surprise’ of the 2010 elections.
Finally, whether U.S. troops are slogging through opium poppy fields or not, history teaches us that endless war will continue in Afghanistan until a ruthless strongman appears and seizes leadership. Who in the White House or Pentagon is wise enough to identify the man best suited to the American national interest?
Chet Nagle is the author of IRAN COVENANT.