Putting tomorrow night in context

As we all await the president’s speech tomorrow night explaining his Afghanistan decision, there’s a lot of bloggin’ going on about Afghanistan.  Stuff worth reading and taking a moment to thing about.

Kings of War writes about the need to reconcile the ‘We’ll be in Afghanistan for decades’ camp with the ‘As soon as we can stop the hemorrhaging, we’re outta there’ camp.  I think it raises an important question:  If our goal is to exit from insurgencies and other non-interstate contingencies as soon as possible, do we really want to reorient our entire military (or even most of it) to counterinsurgency?  If we’re about to (informally) declare some sort of time limit on military deployments (a few years) from now on do we really want to get into the insurgency game where success can be expected to take longer than a decade?  And then, of course, there are all the potential consequences of that decision either way you go.  Either we need to be prepared to accept a much less secure (from our perspective) world or be prepared to get enmeshed in a whole bunch of small conflicts.  Uh, hi, devil-I-do-know could you introduce me to your friend? I don’t know him.

The Ministry of State Failure begins with a depressing post about the Kunduz airstrike which demonstrates that just because we say we’re trying to do things differently we’ve still got a way to go.  It ends up another option to dropping the bombs (and the subsequent humanitarian and PR nightmare of dozens of civilian casualties) was recommended and rejected.  Not good.

Next he pulls out some numbers to ask a question that’s been gnawing at me lately as well.  For all the talk we’re hearing now about how we can’t possibly afford the price of Afghanistan, where were these voices in relation to Iraq (or, for my progressive friends, during the election when Obama was declaring over and over again that he was going to focus on Afghanistan)?  2010 will be the first year that the cost of the Afghan War exceeds that of Iraq.  But just a cursory look at the numbers reveals how little effort we’ve put into Afghanistan and in fact:

The story that needs to be told is that funding for Afghanistan fell back already twice. First because of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, then because, well, the sh*t hit the fans in Iraq, in 2006.

Another thing to note is that even though CRS goes on to talk about OEF costs simply as though they would be identical to the costs of the Afghanistan campaign, you should remember that in fact OEF costs include the price of involvement in a number of other theatres as well, e.g. in the Horn of Africa…

I know we’ve been in Afghanistan for a very long time now but these numbers are yet another piece of evidence that most of what we’ve done in that country up until very recently is just bidding time.  Well, less than that really since our inaction really equaled losing ground relative to the Taliban, narco-traffickers, warlords, et al.

He ends with this bit of frustration…

Thought of bribing the Taliban out of play? Try and bribe Afghanistan into play. Bribe the Afghan police. At the very least, try these things at the same time.

The Armchair Generalist continues to make me feel uncomfortable by highlighting all the unsavory characters who are in my general vicinity when it comes to the ‘escalate or get out’ debate.  I will await the speech tomorrow before firmly coming down one way or the other but I’m not particularly fond of the company I might have to keep.

But I’m not alone in my quandary.  Fred Kaplan and I seem to be sharing the same boat.

I’ve studied all the pros and cons. There are valid arguments to justify each side of the issue, and there are still more valid arguments to slap each side down. And if the basic decision were left up to me, I’m not sure what I would do.

So here’s what it comes down to: This option [escalation] might be a good idea if it worked, but the chances of its working are slim (though not zero); all the other options seem to be bad ideas, but they might cost less money and get fewer American soldiers killed (though not necessarily).

This weekend I also finally got to watch the Al Jazeera special about Afghanistan called ‘How the East was Lost’.  It’s a pretty good overview of the situation and how we got there.  The most distracting thing about it, however, is that I realized I haven’t seen a comparable work from any of our 24 hour news channels.  And just to rub my nose in it, the version of the show I saw had an advertisement about a special they were running about elections in Belarus.

Now, when was the last time CNN, Fox or MSNBC even said the word Belarus, let alone devoted some of their precious air time to it or similar subject matter?  But allege a kid is in a foil balloon or you’ve got footage of a water skiing squirrel and stop the presses!  There will be no expense spared in inflicting upon us every nuance and bit of idle speculation that can be drudged up.

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