Chuck Spinney Sends: The attached article, “Generals Open New Front in Washington,” by Pat Buchanan describes how the time honored practice of Versailles Groupthink is now closing in to circumscribe President Obama’s strategic options in Afghanistan and Pakistan, much as it did to Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam.
Note how the “strategic” options for Afghanistan are boiling down to a consensus view of an either/or decision. Either a large escalation of US ground forces or an escalation of destabilizing Predator attacks, particularly in Pakistan, or a compromise on some combination of the two. In all cases, there will be a large increase in the size of the Afghan Army. That questionable enterprise is taken as a given by the emerging consensus view. If Buchanan is right about this either/or choice … Obama is being set up big time by advisors, because, as near as I can tell, Obama has no access to outside or dissenting views. There is no third or fourth way, because there is no one in the role of George Ball to just say no (who LBJ ignored much to his chagrin), and there is no one on Capital Hill with political or military smarts or the stature to shape a third, more practical alternative.Obama’s strategic review, therefore, has all the ingredients for a disaster, and if it plays out like Buchanan implies it will, nothing can save Obama or, what is more important, the U.S. from a horrendous humiliation with enormous economic as well as political ramifications. Consider please the following:
The Afghan Army currently stands at 90,000 soldiers, and it already costs $8 billion per year. The current approved plan is to increase it to 134,000, which will increase its budget further. The Afghan GDP is about $11 billion per year. Quickly expanding the Army to 240,000 under the MacChrystal plan virtually guarantees that the Afghan army will cost more than the Afghan GDP. Moreover, as I indicated here, there are serious questions about the effectiveness of this Army, and MacChrystal’s plan does not even acknowledge, much less analyze the impact of these questions. Finally, almost tripling the size of even a super effective, highly educated military organization in a short time guarantees a reduction in soldierly quality. This effect will be magnified greatly in an army having the kind of problems that exist in the Afghan Army (corruption, illiteracy, tribal and clan loyalties, etc.).
So in terms of practical economics, the Afghan government and Afghan Army can never stand on their own feet, even if they clean up the massive corruption and incompetence, which is most unlikely. Both will remain heavily dependent on continuing US monetary aid and a US military presence, possibly including US military reinforcements, for as far as the eye can see. Add in the political-economic effect of an escalation of US forces by as much 40,000 troops, together with the virtual certainty that the escalation will be perceived as an intensifying occupation by a majority of the Pashtuns (who comprise 40% of the population and almost all of the Taliban), and the bottom line becomes inescapable: Neither groupthink option being served up to Obama has even a fig leaf of a formula for the stabilization of an independent Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.
Since there can be no light at the end of the tunnel under either option, the logical implication is that American forces and political-military aid must stay in place indefinitely. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that Obama’s strategists can not define an end state that permits a reasonable definition of a successful exit strategy — a fact that is now in the open. Last August 13, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a card carrying member of the Versailles apparat, said as much, when asked about the nature of victory in Afghanistan, by answering glibly, “we’ll know it when we see it.”
Holbrooke’s hogwash was tantamount to admitting we don’t know what we are doing, and that we either stay in Afghanistan forever (which is impossible) or until events overwhelm us, and we are forced to leave in a panic against a background of a compete collapse. That is the real choice the groupthinkers like MacChrystal, Clinton, Jones, Holbrooke, Biden, et al, have served up to Obama.