Perception is all too often reality. Add to the Afghan debacle syndrome that 31 out of 50 U.S. states are seen as insolvent. Some local governments are readying bankruptcy proceedings. State governments can only default; California is on the verge of taking up the option. State and local governments have unfunded retirement obligations of at least $2 trillion. But the United States still spends more on defence (Iraq and Afghanistan included) than the rest of the world put together. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, writes, “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost – to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs – will nonetheless be immense.”1
In Afghanistan, the U.S. has violated the first principle of war, “Selection and maintenance of aim,” thereby axing any possibility of bringing the Afghan War to a successful conclusion.
Policies concerning Afghanistan cannot be viewed in a geostrategic vacuum but must be analysed within the framework of the prevailing global geopolitical mosaic, wherein the interactive ripple effect of actions and reactions induced by distinct policy decisions have direct bearing on the outcome of other unrelated geopolitical issues. More so in the case of the United States, whose interactions in the global sphere are much greater than other states. International and domestic policies are intricately meshed.
“Scarcely a day goes by without a major story about Afghanistan in mainstream newspapers and TV channels in Britain and America. The tone of these reports is increasingly sombre. More and more journalists and politicians are now convinced that the quicker western forces pull out, the better.”2
The writing on the wall is clear. Washington’s Afghanistan strategy is in a nearly irretrievable mess while there are many ongoing global and domestic policies that are in delicate circumstances and have a bearing on whatever decision President Obama may take.
The Afghanistan Development
To start with, it is pertinent to note that in the 8 years and 10 months that the American coalition forces have been fighting the so-called war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the chief executive in Washington, be it George W. Bush (Republican) or Barrack Obama (Democrat), has failed to enunciate a precise political or military objective,3 resulting in the launch of massive military forces into a political and strategic void. The result is best epitomised by an Indian phrase hawa maen lath marna. Military commanders with massive air and ground forces are waging a directionless war with no specific mission to achieve—consequently depleting human, material and monetary resources meaninglessly and weakening perceptions of American infallibility in the eyes of the world. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has violated the first principle of war, “Selection and maintenance of aim,” thereby axing any possibility of bringing the Afghan War to a successful conclusion.
“¦the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was the first step required to propel this larger strategic template.
This flaw was further compounded in March 2009, when President Obama attempted to spell out the objective for the ongoing war in Afghanistan through a white paper, “Affirming that the core goal of the US must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”4 Of note is the shift of the focus away from Afghanistan, further south, to Pakistan, thus introducing new, and hitherto unplanned for, mission objectives in the prevailing military operations.
The cause of this debilitating situation is the inability of the U.S. administration, which has many axes to grind, to fit the Afghanistan policy homogeneously into the larger national strategic matrix,5 which included occupying Iraq for access to its oil resources6 and military-basing facilities to stabilise the Middle East,7 creating a launch pad to restrain perceived Iranian aspirations to develop a nuclear weapons capability, gaining unfettered access to central Asian oil and gas resources8 by exercising influence/control over the central Asian states, extending the centre of gravity of the U.S. security matrix into Asia by subverting the southern states of the Russian federation by extending the NATO footprint eastward9, containing the extension of Chinese influence westward10, and so on. Actually, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was the first step required to propel this larger strategic template. However, the belief, amongst the Bush administration in general, and the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon in particular, of the absoluteness of the American military power led to discordant initiatives that ate into the resources required to coherently apply all political, military and economic might into completing the very first phase of its strategic programme, i.e. total subjugation of Afghanistan.
In its tenth year, the American war against terrorism in Afghanistan is a grievously threatened operation, with dwindling military resources, domestic political pressures demanding termination and troop withdrawal, and increasing human and fiscal costs of supporting logistics to sustain the military operation bordering on the unaffordable.
The recent collapse of the Dutch government was brought about by a dispute over demands to withdraw the country’s troops in Afghanistan11. Consequently the 2,000 Dutch soldiers fighting in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan look certain to be pulled out this year after the prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, a Christian Democrat, failed to persuade his coalition partners in the Labour Party to extend the mission beyond August, when it is due to end. This has reinforced fears that NATO’s front is crumbling and that other Western nations may bow to mounting domestic public pressure to withdraw their forces. Current indicators are that Canada intends to commence withdrawing its forces with effect from 1 July 2011,12 and Germany is to begin its pullout from Afghanistan in 2011, gradually, which is expected to last through 2013.13 Even the British prime minister indicates that he wants all British soldiers to return home before the next general election, in 2015.14 The rats appear to be leaving the sinking ship. A simple addition shows that this will result in the larger portion of NATO troops being withdrawn, leaving the United States holding the baby it had conceived.