Archive for Barack Obama

Baghdad Bombings and Afghan Peace

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Getting out of Iraq, Internal Violence in Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, US Domestic Politics with tags , , , , on November 7, 2010 by whatafteriraq

There is a curious peace process going on in Kabul. It is curious partly because it is so low key and private. Of course, diplomatic processes are supposed to be held behind the curtain, so that the participants can negotiate freely and reach compromise outcomes that could look like, and be exploited by, opponents as defeats if one knew negotiating postures in advance. While that is actually a sign of the health of the process, it is still curious in an electronic age where secrets of any kind are increasingly impossible to keep. Hopefully someone involved will tell the rest of us how they did it after the process is over–at least unless the process included draconian mutilations of attempted leakers.

Another source of curiosity is the American role. When the talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban began, the American role providing security for and ferrying Taliban negotiators to Kabul was widely publicized for a couple days, but since, there has been not a word about that continuing role–and it certainly does continue. What is interesting about this aspect of the process is that the Taliban actually trusts the United States to act in that capacity. What is more interesting is what this willingness says about the United States and its attitude. What it says to me is that the United States desperately wants to find a way out of Afghanistan and will do virtually anything short of a unilateral withdrawal to find a way out.

A third source of curiosity is exactly what role outsiders are playing in whatever talks are ongoing. The American role is especially veiled: what outcomes does the United States want? What is it willing to accept short of what it wants? And what leverage does it have to move the process toward what it wants out?

One can offer tentative answers to these questions. The answer to the first (what do we want?) is that the United States wants out, but in a way that we can plausibly argue victory (at least in some vague way) or, more minimally, the absence of defeat. That translates into a post-agreement Afghanistan that is non-Taliban and has a strong, stable government. This latter requirement is almost certainly unattainable (Afghanistan never has a strong stable government, and there is really no party that can lead a plausible attempt to create one). That leads to the second question (what, short of our preferred outcome, will we accept?).

The answer to that question is crucial, and it depends on two calculations. The first is domestic in the United States. Like it or not, Barack Obama’s reelection campaign for 2012 is in full motion, and the critical Afghanistan question it faces is, what about Afghanistan will do the president the most good (or create the least harm)? The answer again seems two-fold. By a healthy majority, the American people want out of Afghanistan, an outcome with the secondary benefit of possibly saving money and thus appearing fiscally responsible. Thus, getting us out or well on our way out before 2012 makes political sense. However, there is a second part of the answer: to make the political right, who believe Afghanistan is a righteous cause, the withdrawal has to look like it is done on American terms: there must be an appearance of victory/lack of defeat. An outcome that does this will not gain the support of the right for Obama, but it will make their opposition less convincing and maybe even less shrill (picture Mama Grizzly here). The other consideration is what the parties themselves will accept. It is gradually being recognized (and I suspect we will find later is the real joint interest that created the possibility of talks) that what virtually all Afghans want is for the Americans and their allies to be gone: Karzai so we will quit hectoring him about honest government, the Taliban so we will stop shooting them. If that is the case, they have reason to accede in a peace process wherein the Americans can declare “mission accomplished” and depart.

This brings us to the Baghdad bombings. In the past week or so, what had been passing for tranquility in Baghdad has been shattered by a string of bombings by dissatisfied Iraqis. The process that has just been described for Afghanistan is indeed essentially what happened in Iraq for the past couple years, and what is now going on in Baghdad is its net result. The Americans came, stayed, and seemed intent on staying indefinitely. Faced with that distasteful prospects, the Iraqi factions came together and negotiated enough of a peace agreement to make it look enough like peace had broken out so the Americans, anxious to go, could conclude an arguably accomplished mission, and withdraw combat forces.

Everybody who knew anything about Iraq knew the peace would not hold, and the bombings are just the tip of the iceberg of lingering Iraqi instability. Peace has not taken hold in Iraq, and it will not for a while–but with a difference. The United States retains a physical presence, but we have withdrawn in a psychological, political sense. Nothing likely to happen in Iraq will affect the 2012 election. In answer to the third question about Afghanistan (what is American leverage?), the answer is close to zero, and no amount of proposed American postwar assistance (which we will probably welsh on anyway) will affect that much.

Will the same thing happen in Afghanistan? Almost certainly. The peace process will, in due time, produce what both sides and the United States can agree is an honorable, stable peace. No one involved will really believe that, but it is a necessary kabuki dance to a) get rid of the Americans and b) remove Afghanistan from the 2012 election campaign. Will the peace hold? The answer is about as well as it has done in Iraq, but like Iraq, if we have managed to establish a psycho-political distance from Afghanistan, who cares?


The Afghan Peace Process

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, US Domestic Politics with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2010 by whatafteriraq

There was encouraging news out of Afghanistan this week–for a change. That news was that the Karzai government in Kabul and the Taliban leadership (which part or parts unspecified) have entered into preliminary discussions about meeting face-to-face to pursue a peace settlement to their civil war, in which the United States insinuated itself in 2001 and out of which it seems unable to extricate itself. After a midweek flurry of coverage in which the initial sticking point seemed to be finding a place to talk where the Taliban would feel safe from capture and bland U.S. assurances that the idea of Afghans talking to one another was okay with us, the discussions have gone appropriately subterranean. Now we wait and see.

This initiative may not go anywhere, but it does symbolize the kind of process that will probably eventually lead to a meaningful attempt to bring what passes for peace to Afghanistan. A process involving the internal parties but without a visible, overshadowing outsider (i.e. American) role is clearly preferable to one in which the U.S. is clearly prominent. For one thing, it can resemble the classic, loya jirga methodology by which warring Afghan tribal factions normally conduct their business, including cessation of warfare among them that is such a recurring part of Afghan history. Second, it is an Afghan process that is more likely to produce an outcome with which the Afghans themselves feel comfortable than one that the Americans “impose.” Third, if the United States does not like the outcome enough, we do not have to embrace it. Fourth and most importantly, an Afghan-negotiated peace represents the cleanest way for the United States publicly to wash its hands of the entire situation–arguing that we have done our job and that the rest is up to the Afghans itself. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of the United States–extrication from a situation in which there is no reasonable hope the U.S. can plausibly achieve anything that resembles “victory.” This is Afghanistanization in practice, the legacy of Vietnamization and Iraqification.

What might an agreement acceptable to all (or at least most of the primary) Afghan actors look like. It must have two bottom lines: the Karzai government in Kabul must remain at least officially in power (although probably part of some power-sharing regime with the Taliban) and with the non-Pashtun areas of the country not under Taliban control–the status quo from a government vantage point. It must also leave the Taliban in effective control of the rural Pashtun regions (those dominated by the Ghilzai Pashtuns who are its base) and along the border with Pakistan, to hasten a retreat if peace breaks down (always a possibility in Afghanistan). In addition, the Taliban will require some symbols of power, such as more than token representation in the Karzai cabinet. Brokering exactly what that might mean (which cabinet portfolios the Taliban gets) will prove to be tortuous, as the ongoing Iraqi situation is testimony. Also, no agreement is probably possible (at least not from a Taliban perspective) if it does not include for a rapid removal of NATO/American combat forces from the country.

This latter part of the equation is the tricky part, because, as we are already beginning to see in Iraq, American influence wanes directly in proportion to the reduction of American forces in the country. As in Iraq, the United States would always retain the formal ability to reassert itself, but everyone will know that once the Americans pull out, there is no way politically to send them back.

This presents the United States with its greatest risk in this process. The United States can live with a power-sharing political outcome in Afghanistan, IF it includes a provision that the new regime will not allow for an Al Qaeda return to an Afghan safe haven. Such an agreement will almost certainly be part of any peace outcome: the Karzai government certainly does not embrace Usama bin Laden and his supporters, and the Taliban is likely to abandon their Pashtunwali commitment of hospitality to Al Qaeda in return for getting rid of the Americans. The question is whether the new Afghan regime will–or be able to–live up to such a pledge. It is an imponderable, and a chance the Americans will have to take.

Will such an outcome guarantee peace and stability in Afghanistan? Of course not. For one thing, such an outcome would necessitate a strong central regime in Afghanistan, and that almost never happens in that country. The outcome will have to be a reversion to basic tribal autonomy, and such outcomes have never resulted in long-term stability. Afghanistan is simply not a very peaceful place, and that is unlikely to change. For another, it must be apparent to all concerned that the current situation is a stalemate unlikely to be resolved decisively in one direction or another and that the alternatives are indecisive war without end or at least a peace respite. Better something than nothing.

From an American (and especially administration) viewpoint, the outbreak of a peace process is a rare window of opportunity to get ourselves out of this mess in  a way parallel in structure (if hopefully not in ultimate outcome) to getting out of Vietnam and Iraq. The appearance of peace and a settlement where the interests we have backed at least have a plausible chance at success (if not a guarantee) was the kind of atmosphere in which we got out of Southeast Asia and Iraq, and it is also the best environment we can hope for here.

I personally hope the Obama administration has realized all this and has been working hard and successfully to bring about the peace process the tip of the iceberg of which we saw last week. It is no revelation that the elections in two weeks are not going to go well for Mr. Obama, that the 2012 presidential election campaign will kick off no later than the second week of November of this year, and that the administration needs a triumph and issue to energize a skittish base. Moreover, the federal deficit would certainly benefit from an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Republicans would, of course, howl about the dire consequences of getting out, but they are not going to vote for Obama regardless of what he does there. Beginning an accelerating process of extrication from the morass in Afghanistan could be just what the doctor ordered.

Killing Olive Trees–and Peace Prospects

Posted in Israel-Palestine Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East Conflict, Middle East Peace with tags , , , , , , , on October 9, 2010 by whatafteriraq

The essentially cadaverous Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” took another of its periodic turns away from any meaningful or likely movement in the direction of a peace settlement in the past week, after the equally ritualistic and doomed staging of another peace meeting in Washington last month between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mohammed Abbas in Washington, presided over by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and special emissary George Mitchell. Some things never change in basic dynamic; only the peripherals are different.

There were two symbolic events that submarined the latest episode in this geopolitical soap opera. First, the Israelis refused to bow to international pressure and extend the ten-month moratorium on new settlement construction on the West Bank. Instead, the Israelis quietly let the ban expire and thus opened the way for more new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Regardless of the position one might take on Israel’s “right” to build these additional Israeli enclaves in the disputed territories, there is no denying that doing so is an absolute deal breaker in terms of any progress in reaching a lasting accord between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinians, quite simply, will and politically never can accept this usurpation (in their minds) of parts of what they believe should be parts of the sovereign state of Palestine to Israeli control. Since the Netanyahu government bases critical parts of its continuing tenure on support from the settlers who want to expand their domain on the West Bank, the result is an impasse that cannot easily be overcome. More settlements=no peace agreement. It is really as simple as that.

The other event was described in a New York Times article on October 9, 2010, and it involved attacks on Palestinian olive trees (cutting off branches, cutting roots to kill the trees) by what are described as Israeli “extremists” from the settler community. The incident is not unique, apparently, but it does point to another factor that makes progress toward a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian situation all the more problematical: the dominant role of political extremists on both sides who are opposed to any peaceful settlement (one acceptable to both sides), who will act violently to stir up animosities as a way to preclude peace, and who are sufficiently powerful in both communities that neither government will (or can) rein them in.

The Palestinian extremists are better known in the West, because the Israelis and their allies have been more successful in bringing them to our attention. Hezbollah and Hamas have become synonymous with terrorism and acts of atrocity against the Israelis that harden Israeli opinion against the peace process, which is the intent of these actions. The Palestinian Authority has been unable or unwilling to suppress the activities of their extremists, fueling Israel’s position that the Palestinians cannot be trusted with a sovereign state. There is merit to this assertion.

What is less well publicized is Israel extremists. Most of these characters come from small, yet fanatical fringe groups, and they are totally and absolutely opposed to any accommodation with the Palestinians. The fact that many of them are settlers whose homes might be the subject of negotiations adds to their dedication and vitriol. In the past week, the olive tree incident was accompanied by another act, the desecration of a Mosque on the West Bank, including the burning of copies of the Quran by Israeli militants. The Israelis hardly lift a finger (despite pious denials of their indifference) in the face of such acts intended, quite simply, to destro the peace process; the Times story on the olive tree killing, for instance, states that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) brought to the scene simply implored the Israelis committing the acts to stop doing so.

The dynamics of Palestinian and Israeli extremism are remarkably similar. Israeli right-wing extremists want to preclude a movement toward peace, and their method–like that of Hamas or Hezbollah–is to create so much outrage in the Palestinian community that they cannot negotiate with the Israeli government. Like  the PA, the Israeli government is unwilling or unable to suppress their fanatics, partly because these provocateurs have some public support and partly because the ruling coalition depends on them to maintain power. Continuing extremist violence (on both sides)=no peace settlement. It is also as simple as that.

Where is Middle East peace headed? It is not evident that it is headed anywhere. As long as Israeli settlements proliferate on the West Bank and political extremists on both sides operate to effectively block progress, the process can go nowhere. Solving these problems may not be sufficient to move the situation forward, but doing so is clearly necessary for that result.

How Many More Years in Afghanistan? For What?

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 29, 2010 by whatafteriraq

In the past week, a number of retired or retiring military leaders have weighed in on the question of how much longer the United States should plan to remain in Afghanistan. Presumably, their assessments are prompted by the July 2011 date that President Obama has set to begin the withdrawal of combat forces there and their realization that nothing saubstantial is likely to have been accomplished by then. Putting aside for a moment the obvious questionof whether anything worthwhile can be accomplished regardless of how long we stay, these stern-looking, serious souls suggest that Americans should accustom themselves to the idea we will be in Afghanistan as long again as we already have been. Nine More Years? You have to be kidding!

But apparently they are not kidding, since, as best I can tell, none of them have a discernible sense of humor about anything, and certainly not this subject. Nine More Years? You have to have something funny in your drinking water to even consider such a proposal. Those who argue to keep plodding on like to portray themselves as the tough guy realistswho do not shrink away from tough decisions with tough consequences. But nine more years is not tough guy realism; it is Tinker Bell fantasy. Why?

For one thing, such an assessment assumes there is something WORTH such an investment for the United States, but they won’t tell us what it is. Al Qaeda? Have to prove they will be there if we leave and that keeping them out justifies the multi-billions/trillions we’ll spend keeping them out, and that is not only not easy, it’s impossible. A stable Afghanistan? There has never been one before, and aside from the ubiquitous Al Qaeda, why does the United States care one way or the other about Afghan domestic politics (especially when that caring is translated into treasure and blood). The defenses of American long term (to say nothing of short term) continued involvement in Afghanistan simply do not add up.

The only way to justify keeping the effort going is to ignore the geopolitical reality of the situation. Very simply, continuing this war is not, and never has been, a major geopolitical priority of the United States. There are no vital American interests engaged in the outcome. Certainly, it would be nice to Al Qaeda-proof the country, but Al Qaeda can be contained otherwise, and at a lot less expense than a major military adventure in Afghanistan that has absolutely no likelihood of succeeding. Saying that would probably not have been very popular at Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin’s rally in Washington yesterday, but it is nonetheless the truth.

In this vein, Foreign Affairs journal reached what I think was a new low in its just-released September/October 2010 issue, which contains yet one more baseless defense of the Afghanistan by the Army’s favorite suck-up, Michael O’Hanlon (“Staying Power”). Once an aparently rising star in the defense intellectual community, O’Hanlon has become the pro-Afghan War’s favorite lap dog, willing to defend without evidence any and all justifications for the continued (and endlessly continuing) involvement there. In summarizing the case for staying, O’Hanlon inadvertently makes the case for leaving. He argues, “a significant level of success–represented by an Afghan state that is able to control most of its territory and gradually improve the lives of its citizens” with “several more years of resolve” on our part. Control “most of its territory” and “gradually improve” people’s lives? That is an objective worth major American sacrifice? Foreign Affairs should be ashamed for publishing such drivel. Nine more years indeed!

July 4, 2010 and 2011

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by whatafteriraq

General David Petraeus accepted formal command of the nominally allied forces (International Security Assistance Forces or ISAF) today, July 4, 2010, replacing the departed and scarcely lamented General Stanley McChrystal, whose Paris night on the town brought new meaning to the old saw that “loose lips sink ships.” For Petraeus, the move was technically a demotion, since McChrystal reported to him as commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), and it placed him in an odd position. McChrystal was not replaced for pursuing a faulty strategy, but for insubordination, in effect. Instead, Petraeus is now charged with making successful a strategy that he helped craft and which McChrystal was apparently pursuing as well as it ould be pursued.

The problem, of course, was that the strategy was not working, and there is no particularly good reason to think a change at the top (particularly since it will not be accompanied by any strategic change of direction or emphasis) will make it work. It is arguable the strategy never has had any realistic prospects of success, because the mission it seeks to accomplish cannot be accomplished. A good strategy cannot accomplish an impossible task, and this seems to be the primary problem the Americans and our allies (including the Afghans themselves) seems to face.

Consider a remark by Petraeus in assuming command (reported by Dexter Filkins in the Washington Post on July 4, 2010 as “Petraeus Takes Command of Afghan Mission”). He is quoted as saying, “We must demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that Afghan and ISAF forces are here to safeguard the Afghan people, and that we are in this to win.” Whoa!

Consider two elements of that quote that, in my mind, define the quixotic nature of the American quest in Afghanistan. First, it admits that the Afghans do not consider our presence liberating in any of the ways we have advertised as our intent, and that after eight and a half years, we still need to “demonstrate” that is what we are doing. If we have failed in convincing them we are the good guys for that long, the Afghans must have a pretty firm idea that we are in fact not that liberators, but something else (as in conquerors?). Second, this problem obviously extends to the Afghan government and Afghan forces as well, a rather blatant admission that we may be backing a congenital loser. These things being the cases,convincing the Afghans “that we are in this to win” rather obviously begs the question, “win what?”

Fast forward to July 4, 2011. At that point, American forces will, according to the Obama plan that Petraeus has very publicly supported, be beginning to come home. The question that must be asked is how, or whether, things will be any different then than they are now. Some, like John McCain, argue that telegraphing our departure date defeats the mission because it tells the enemy how long they have to lay low before we are gone and they can go on the offensive again. Implicit in this argument is that if we stay there in an open-ended commitment, the strategy will work. But where is the evidence for that?

The other position is that things will not change, because the whole Afghan enterprise is a mission impossible. No one has or can argue that the United States is making progress in the fight there: when was the last time one heard any encouraging words from Marjah, the centerpiece of the spring offensive, or about Kandahar, which has been delayed repeatedly as we try to convince the inhabitants that they want to be liberated? Is it too difficult to imagine that the Afghans simplydo not want us there and that they will fight and resist until we are gone (like countless invaders before us)? Is it also possible, as I suggested in an earlier post, that our presence is simply making matters worse FOR US, because our actions are simply creating Afghan jihadi intent on paying us back for what we are doing to their country by attacking ours in terrorist attacks? The latter–retribution–is, after all, why we went to Afghanistan in the first place: is turnabout only fair play?

Finally, what if the result of another year is simply to leave the situation essentially unchanged except for more American casualties? How will we treat those who simply allowed our young men and women in uniform to fight and die for an impossible cause ring at 2011 Independence Day celebrations a year from now?

Military Drinking and Truth Telling

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, US Domestic Politics with tags , on June 26, 2010 by whatafteriraq

Although everyone who reads this may not believe me, I had actually planned to write last week’s entry as a semi-tongue-in-cheek advocacy of reinvigorating the military officer club system (which has basically disappeared except as a lunchroom in many places). The reason behind this advocacy was that it might encourage officers to drop by for a drink or two after work (something frowned upon by our current holier-than-thou military leadership). The reason for that, in turn, was that maybe if we got a few high-ranking general officers sufficiently far into their cups,they might express themselves candidly about what they thought of the militarily insane policy we are conducting in Afghanistan (my assumption, based on some personal observation, is that drunks–despite their other shortfallings–generally tell the truth, because their more “refined” defense mechanisms have drowned in a pool of Jack Black or Yuengling beer).

This line of reasoning, unfortunately enough, was both vindicated and overcome by events last week, as General Stanley McChrystal and his merry band of yes-men aides drained a Paris bar of much of its supply of adult beverages and engaged in a bit of truth-telling about what they thought of the national security team that had made up the current strategy (on which, of course, their boss had signed off). As might have been expected of a military staff, they blamed everybody except the general for the problem (sycophancy being one of the most prominent qualifications for service on a general staff), despite his wide public association with the counterinsurgency strategy that is so spectacularly not succeeding in Afghanistan.

There is nothing wrong or even uncommon about military people bitching; it’s part of the culture. There is also nothing wrong with military candor, up to and including saying “can’t do” rather than “can do” when given a task at which they cannot succeed.

There are, however, times and places specified for registering complaints, and President Obama was quite specific in his remarks sacking McChrystal to emphasize that no one had used the prescribed channels for registering dissent to complain. If the mission had been imposed upon them (there is no public evidence it was), they–read McChrystal–could have registered his reservations at the time the orders were issued, and if they were not modified to provide what he considered to be reasonable  expectations of success, he could have declined the command or, as he will end up doing anyway, resigned his commission. That may be a harsh set of options, but they are also the rules that military leaders accept when they “pin them on.” If there was still bitching to be done, it should have been confined to some very dark, private little place where nobody who might even conceivably record and transmit the complaints could hear them. The back room in one of the officer’s club, with the door closed, comes to mind. Then the drinking and alcohol-induced truth telling could have begun.

The rules do not, however, extend to getting wasted and bitching in a Paris bar in front of a magazine reporter (from notoriously liberal Rolling Stone, at that) who has placed a tape recorder on the table and is recording the proceedings. In the aftermath, the sycophants are crying “foul,” arguing that what was printed was off the record–not for attribution or reporting. Give me a break! Anything you say to a tape recorder is on the record, and it even leaves an indelible record that cannot be denied. Is it a surprise that the commander-in-chief and those defamed would respond to “VP Bite Me” by playing a little “bite me” to the perpetrators.

The actions by General McChrystal and his staff were both reprehensible and stupid. They were reprehensible because they violated the military’s own justice code (the UCMJ) and were, should anyone care to pursue them, potential subjects for courts-martial. McChrystal bears the responsibility for this. Given the nature of military staffs, it is absolutely inconceivable that any of the staff members quoted in article would have said the things they did if they had any reason to believe Stan the Man disagreed or disapproved of those sentiments. Sycophants don’t do things like that.

Moreover, and in my mind most damning thing, however, was the sheer stupidity of the episode. We have been bombarded for months about what a bright, even brilliant, guy McChrystal is, and yet he organized/condoned what has to be one of the most mlonumentally boneheaded non-military actions by a military officer in recent memory. What was done in front of that reporter goes well beyond simple bad judgment; it borders on criminal stupidity. 

The general and his boys drank and bitched. That’s what I had hoped they would do. But, they did it wrong, and their judgment was awful. I trust all the aides who took part in this disgraceful display of inanity are falling on their swords next to their leader. The problem, though, is that Stan McChrystal has lowered the bar: who is going to believe claims of brilliance when the next guy with stars on his shoulders smiles into the camera? The fact that such a question can now reasonably be asked may be the lasting legacyof Stan the Man.

An Aiken Solution in Afghanistan?

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by whatafteriraq

This week marked a dubious watershed in the U.S. military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the number of American forces in Afghanistan passed the troop total in Iraq. The Iraq side of the ledger is the result of the continuing withdrawal of American combat forces from that country, and Admiral Mike Mullen promised today on CNN that theschedule by which all American combat troops will be out in Augustis right on track (50,000 “support” troops will remain). The Afghan total, of course, reflects the buildup authorized earlier by the Obama White House to over 100,000.

These are developments of differing attraction. The Iraq total suggests the United States is following the spirit of the late RepublicanSenator from Vermont, George Aiken, and declaring victory in Iraq, leaving the final definition of what that means to the Iraqis themselves. At any rate, when the last American combat forces leave, the American direct military role will effectively be over, since no political leader lacking a highly developed suicidal streak would suggest reinserting troops in Iraq once they are out. Would that the situation be similar in Afghanistan.

As reported repeatedly here, the drums keep beating in Afghanistan, if the tune is uncertain. We will soon have over 100,000 troops there, are attempting to liberate Kandahar without hurting anybody or breaking anything, and are committed to the official notion that the Karzai kleptocracy has somehow seen the light and is reforming. It must be hard to see the sky in Kabul for all the flying pigs in the sky!

Maybe this is the time for an Aiken solution in Afghanistan as well. As will be recalled, the Vermonter suggested in 1966 that the United States declare military victory in Vietnam, because the enemy had largely quit the field and the United States controlled the physical ground. His reasoning was that the war could then return to being an internal political struggle between factions in Vietnam itself, allowing the United States to return home with some sort of pride intact. He favored the solution because he could not see any other way out. American historyof the late 20th century would cdertainly be a lot different had his advice been taken.

The situation in Afghanistanis not quite the same, of course, since the United States does not control the country physically. We might, however, simply declare that the situations is as stable as it can be and that only internal political discussions will move toward a lasting solution. This, of course, would be partly fictitious, since a permanent, stable situation is not one of the normal parts of Afghan existence, but if one could be maintained long enough for us to depart, it might be worth the twisted analogy.

An Aiken solution is a good idea if one assumes (as I do) that there is no truly favorable outcome for the United States in this conflict no matter how long we stay. If you believe that our staying will produce a “victory” over whatever our enemy is there, then you probably don’t want much to do with old George Aiken’s idea. But it sure is worth thinking about.