Overshadowed by the Great Debt Ceiling Battle, the Great Downgrading, and the Miracle of the Job Free Recovery, the US has reached a very critical crossroad in Afghanistan. In truth we haven't just reached it, we have pushed for it, rushed to it, and sought it with the eagerness of a drowning man clawing for the sky.
The US wants out of Afghanistan in the worst sort of way. With the exception of some military people, most but not all of senior rank, the current political leadership of the US along with most of We the People want out, right now if possible, but tomorrow at the latest. This is the ground reality regardless of President Obama's patent bromide about pressing on regardless delivered in the wake of the Chinook shoot-down and the deaths of more than two dozen men from Boat Six.
Of course, We the People, the congress, and the Clueless Guy in the Oval would like it best if the US can get out of Afghanistan with a modicum of dignity and a sufficient simulacrum of success to offset the billions of bucks spent and the hundreds of lives sacrificed on the alter of "nation-building." Congressman Ron Paul was speaking for many besides himself at the Iowa debate when he denounced the American adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan while warning against any repeat in Iran. Heads no doubt nodded in agreement across the country as he delivered his neo-isolationist message for the umpteenth time.
One unnecessary and unjustifiable war is reaching its quite unsatisfying conclusion. As the Iraqi excuse for a parliament dithers over whether or not to invite American "trainers" to remain in country after the last day of this year, it has become brilliantly clear that only Saddam Hussein lost to a greater extent than did the US over the course of this long, bloody exercise in regime change.
Iran has emerged as the big winner in the contest as shown by Baghdad's alignment with Tehran over the question of Syria. This is simply the most recent, most dramatic example of the triumph of Shia faith over all other considerations in the deeply divided human terrain of Iraq. But, far outside of international politics, in the quotidian dealings of business, it is instructive that US companies have lost out repeatedly and consistently to competitors from China, Russia, and Europe for the lucrative opportunities available in the country which was--we were assured--going to pay for the costs of liberation, rejoice in new democratic freedoms, greet American troops as the French did after D-Day, and generally rally to the American flag.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the US lost in the Iraqi gambit. And, now, we face losing in Afghanistan as well. No, we will not be defeated in the field by Taliban, the Haqqani network, and their Pakistani backers. There are simply not enough lucky shots by RPGs to do that. Rather, we will conspire in our own defeat at the hands not of Taliban alone, nor by the combination of Taliban and Pakistan but rather by the joint efforts of "our man in Kabul," Hamid Karzai, the Pakistanis, and Taliban.
Karzai wants out of the war with a fervor which surpasses even that of the US and its partners in the ISAF. To this end he has been seeking a species of separate peace with Taliban for some time now. He has been seeking this goal not through the public means of the Supreme Peace Jurga, a large, unwieldy and totally implausible group, but through low key, private, and ever-so-discrete conversations in the presidential palace as well as out of country locations.
The glue which would hold any peace agreement together is simply that Karzai as well as the overwhelming majority of Taliban is Pashtu speaking. They are all good Pashtuns on the Secret Peace Bus. As the Pakistanis understand and support the Pashtun super-tribe due to its domination of the key border areas of the FATA, there is no doubt but Islamabad is well represented on the Peace Bus as well. This means their strategic political position in Afghanistan will be protected in full.
The ethnic Uzbeks, Tajjks, and Hazaras constituting the majority of the population in northern Afghanistan are not represented on the Karzai-Taliban-Pakistan All Pashtun Peace Express. These are the same people who suffered the most under the rule of the Taliban and whose Northern Alliance comprised the bulk of the indigenous fighters cooperating with the American invaders ten years ago.
It is not surprising that the old Northern Alliance is silently reforming. It is no surprise that the non-Pushtu population is rearming at a great rate of knots. Nor will it be surprising when renewed civil war greets the announcement of a peace brokered by Pushtuns for the benefit of Pushtuns. Last of all, there will be no surprise when the US greets the peace with loud applause and the ensuing internal war with a complete and utter silence.
It is not that the Deep Thinkers around the Oval are unaware of what is taking place in Kabul. Even if the totality of American intelligence assets was detained on matters of tactical and operational focus, the US is aware of both the ongoing Karzai effort and the probable outcome(s.) The former head of Afghanistan's premiere intelligence service, Amrolah Saleh, has been all but shouting it from the minarets since he was forced from office last year by Karzai.
Saleh is not only very highly respected by intelligence professionals from the US, the UK, and elsewhere, he is personally honest, not at all corrupt, and, most important, committed to the notion of an Afghanistan which includes all the several ethnic groups on a basis of equality before the law as well as in politics. He is post-tribal to a fault. And, in Afghanistan, being post-tribal in worldview is a grave fault.
Saleh's message is simple, easy to corroborate, and very well rooted historically. Should the Great All Pashtun Peace Express arrive at its destination, the result will be fatal for Afghanistan. In short, Afghanistan will return to what it was the day before the first American boot hit Afghan soil. A predominantly Pushtu, religiously predicated, and robustly violent Taliban will run the southern two thirds of the country to the advantage of Islamabad while the reconstituted Northern Alliance will fight a defensive insurgency based upon ethnic identity in the final third.
A decade or more of war, hundreds of American lives, billions of dollars to say nothing of the indescribable sufferings of the Afghans caught in the crossfire, will finally result in a back-to-the-future ending. Worst of all, there is virtually nothing the US can do about it.
We were doomed in our efforts the moment George W. Bush and his neocon ninny crew decided to engage in nation-building in Afghanistan in lieu of a simple, straight forward punitive expedition. In the rush to invade Iraq so as to teach the Arabs a lesson in how to elect good men which was not needed or indicated, the men of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration assured we were on a mission-impossible in Afghanistan.
Now we must reap the harvest of the seeds those intellectually challenged, ideologically driven men planted. We can see the crop now, a government which is a broken, rotten travesty, a people demoralized and victimized by a war in which none have a direct stake, an army and police force which exists more in name than in the field, and an "ally" in Pakistan which is an adversary in all but name. All that is needed to complete the harvest is the "success" of the Karzai-Taliban-Pakistan All Pushtun Peace Bus.
When that happens--and it is question of when not if, the US will be (including Vietnam) 0 for 3 in large scale interventionary operations. That record is not simply pathetic, it is one of self-inflicted defeats unrivaled by any other major country in recent history. (Even the French were only 0 for 2.)
Does this mean that Ron Paul is right? Does it mean the US would be best served by an isolationist posture? It does imply that the US is so preposterously pathetic in its efforts at muscular nation-building that we should abandon any future efforts in that direction. Of course, the world may not be willing to let us off so easy--and we may not be able to resist future temptations to do good.
The Geek has some thoughts on those questions. (No shock there.) Stay tuned. He will be back.