America's Commander in Chief will soon announce whether the US will send more troops to Afghanistan. Among other things, this means many of the West Point cadets in the audience will learn what their immediate futures have in store.
According to a "leaky" White House, President Obama will comply with General McChrystal's request for an additional 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers. Obama has reportedly said that these young men and women will be asked to "finish the job."
Of course, the question remains: What exactly is the "job"?
For eight years, forces on the ground have been struggling to find the mission. Hopefully, tomorrow all of us will hear what their "job" is and why it will entail deploying thousands of extra soldiers. Thanks to McChrystal's assessment we understand some of what more soldiers will do. The influx of troops will certainly build and train the Afghan army and police forces, and arm militia-style provincial patrols. They will also use counterinsurgency tactics to target Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban while protecting average Afghans, and add a dash of nation building.
Unfortunately, this multi-billion dollar strategy ignores the reality of Afghanistan.
No one can easily summarize the challenges and complexities there. The country comprises a conglomeration of cultures, ethnicities, languages and beliefs, enveloped by problematic neighbors. History has shown, however, that large-scale interventions never work, and that treading more lightly makes a difference.
Hopefully, Obama kept this in mind during the strategic deliberations. Provincial successes come from small, non-governmental institutions that work with little, but give everything they have to empower the people - not the warlords or corrupt government officials.
Further, Afghanistan cannot be governed by military force alone, unless the goal is to establish an extended period of martial law. Without a functioning government, all those troops training and arming the Afghan forces will make little difference.
US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry recently urged the US to delay sending more troops. His argument was colored by the mismanagement and corruption he's seen within the Afghan government, afflictions that have also affected many international aid organizations.
To date, billions of dollars have been poured into fighting a war without clearly defined objectives, and to building a central government without first drafting a sensible blueprint (something I have seen first hand). Both military and civilian leaders need to revisit their management and cooperation efforts, and better define their "jobs" if any progress is to be made.
Unfortunately, the military fix seems to be moving forward without first determining its overall aim. Without that, there is no way to "fix" the problem and also win public support (domestic and foreign) - not to mention smoothly exiting the country once the insurgency is quelled.
It would behoove Obama to remember the old adage, "Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires." Despite the lessons of our predecessors, the US seems bent on re-enacting past failures by shooting first and asking critical questions later.
Obama's speech must be concise about the job he is asking our soldiers to endure while explaining how his team asked the right questions to come to this conclusion - the type that view the situation from the commanding heights of history - before the final tally in money and blood climbs even higher on all sides.
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