Karzai to U.S.: ‘Bug Off!’
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met this past week with interviewers from the Washington Post in his Kabul offices, the “highlights” of which were published in today’s (Nov. 13, 2010) editions. The message he delivered was short and to the point: U.S.military operation in Afghanistan are doing more harm than good and must be stopped. Moreover, the Afghan people increasingly resent not only the American physical presence but the attempts by the Americans to attrite the Taliban using Special Forces to go after and eliminate their leadership. To summarize, his message to the U.S. government and population is clear: “We neither want you nor need you–bug off!”
This is an invitation that should be hard to ignore. If my ruminations in this space have been at all cogent, it is really the kind of opportunity the United States (at least the Obama administration) has been looking for–a way to extricate ourselves from an impossible situation while still claiming some shard of self-respect about having done so. Can we achieve a Nixonian “peace with honor” (his rhetorical goal while sneaking the country out of Vietnam) by saying sayonara to Karzai and the Afghans? Karzai certainly appears to be offering that opportunity. And there are certainly copious reasons to taker him up on the offer.
Why should the United States “cut and run” in Afghanistan and “abandon” our erstwhile allies? There have always been several good reasons to do so, and Karzai has added another: we are unwanted and unappreciated. At this risk of some redundancy, however, allow me to reitrate the case for taking Karzai up on his generous offer.
1. The United States is not and cannot “win” this war in any definable geo-political sense. Militarily, the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that General Petraeus helped to author and is trying to apply is not working, partly because it is inadequate conceptually (it only works when the target population is amenable to its success) and partly because there are nowhere near enough U.S. forces there to give it a chance. For COIN to work, the first and major requisite is providing security on an ongoing basis; the U.S. and its allies cannot do this amidst a hostile population (hostile at least partly, according to Karzai, because of its presence) with a force of 150,000 in a country the size of Texas. Politically, Afghanistan will never evolve a strong, representative central government, which is the political goal of our involvement: they never have had one, and nobody in the country is powerful enough to impose one. The effort, in other words, is Quixotic.
2. If even we could win, it would not be worth it. Other than keeping the Taliban from allowing Al Qaeda back in the country, what U.S. interests did the United States ever have in Afghanistan? Prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979 (which we had some small interest in opposing) and the birth of Al Qaeda, the answer was essentially none; other than Al Qaeda, that has not changed. Since Al Qaeda has now set up shop around the world, Afghan sanctuaries are no longer that big a deal, and the Taliban would almost certainly sell Al Qaeda down the river in return for an American withdrawal. If Al Qaeda is no longer an adequate reason for being there, why are we? Good question with no apparent positive answer. Even if Al Qaeda returns, is it worth our cost in blood and treasure? My answer is that is not unless one disinvents aircraft that can overfly Afghanistan and harass any Al Qaeda presence there.
3. The United States cannot afford its Quixotic, interest-deficient quest. Stupid extravagances are for the idle, more-money-than-brains rich, which the United States no longer is. The U.S. military needs some respite from ten consecutive years of deployment in harm’s way, and only our removal from Afghanistan can adequately provide for the necessary R&R. Moreover, the United States is pumping enormous amounts of monetary resources into the abyss at a time when spending less is the rhetorical goal of virtually every American politician across the ideological spectrum. Papa Bear and Baby Bear Paul are not right about much; they are right about this issue. Afghanistan is a money pit (and casualty pit) that we simply can no longer afford–especially since in the end, we are unlikely to get much (if anything) in return.
I am sure much of the political reaction to Karzai’s interview will be either to brush it aside (“even the best of friends have some disagreements”) or to use it to bolster U.S. efforts (“this just shows the need for redoubled efforts”), and only the political left (which wants us out) will embrace the interview. Karzai may have said these things out of personal conviction or because they were necessary positions for his government with the Taliban; it’s hard to say.
But who cares? The Karzai statements should be the basis for rejoicing in the United States, because he has provided us the cover we need to start our withdrawal. When your hosts tell you it’s time to pack up your bags and leave, it is boorish to stick around and outwear your welcome. Instead, Hamid is giving us a great opportunity to salute crisply, yell “HUA” (heard, understood, acknowledged), proclaim :mission accomplished” and get the hell out. Thank you for your suggestion, President Karzai!