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Tuesday, September 01, 2009  

Urgently Needed--for Some Purpose

Another war, another general, another note of determined realism:

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy and increased unity of effort," McChrystal said in submitting his report.

McChrystal is not specifically asking for additional troops in this report, but a separate request for forces will be sent in the next week or so, sources tell NPR. The general is expected to offer several options for possible troops increases, from one brigade to at least three, pointing out the risks and greater timeframe inherent in not sending more forces.

This bureaucratic argot has become so depressingly familiar over the last eight years that it's hardly even recognizable as the rhetoric of empire. This kind of talk should make us shiver a little; history is littered with situations that were serious but still capable of success, given a proper implementation strategy, unity of effort, more troops, and a sober assessment of the relative timeframes involved in the different implementation strategies. Generals have been holding up the prospect of success until the day before the withdrawal occurs.

But to be fair to Gen. McChrystal, it's his job to cut-and-paste this nonsense. Generals aren't supposed to determine the mission, they're supposed to execute the mission chosen by the civilian leadership. And in this, some liberals are starting to see the costs of Obama's approach to our foreign engagements: we would get out of Iraq, but to the end of "finishing the job" in Afghanistan. Most of us were not so inclined, this time last year, to ask what that meant and how we would know we'd done it, so now no one in power seems to feel much need to tell us. Listen to Tom Bowman's depressingly hollow dispatch on the McChrystal report. We need this, we can succeed at that, but there is basically no consideration of the strategic goals behind all of this needing and succeeding. No assessment of cost, nor even a serious question about the benefit, is offered. The point of the operation--that the whole operation even has a point!--is just assumed by your typical Afghanistan dispatch.

This strange indifference was not nearly so effective in Iraq, since that war was more controversial and more costly. People from the start were asking what it was for and how we would get out. Afghanistan has benefited too long from a "good war" consensus that is only now beginning to break down. Not that it might not be a good war! But people are dying there and we're making enormous commitments without a very clear rationale, any publicly-understood goal, nor even a likelihood of success. Obama needs to get more upfront about these things or risk serious dissent from his own side of the aisle.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 1:35 PM
"This bureaucratic argot has become so depressingly familiar over the last eight years that it's hardly even recognizable as the rhetoric of empire."

It's not rhetoric of empire because we are not building an empire! Empires are/were built for one purpose and one purpose only: to establish remote holdings from which money will flow to the mother country. The U.S. has never done anything but pour money to Iraq and Afghanistan, and are clearly not empire building.
While I see the points many critics are making about never-ending wars that cannot possibly be won, we all need to step back and remember that not every war should have a magically assumed timeline of 5 years or less = success, >5 years = failure.
I don't think you're right about this. Empires have always been enormously costly, from the Syracuse expedition to the Surge. It's almost never a good deal, which is why prestige, national pride, and trumped-up claims of self-defense are the primary arguments for starting and maintaining imperial adventures.

This is not a fringe left-wing view, either:
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