Afghanistan: Buckle Your Seat Belts

Obama's decision to go along with the Petraeus/McChrystal campaign for a massive escalation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands contradicts every precept of sound strategy and statesmanship. Rarely, if ever, has a great power so willfully set itself down the path of self-destruction with so little reason. This is pathological behavior that cries out for diagnosis and correction.

The stake is the supposed presence of less than a hundred al-Qaida personnel who long ago lost control of their loose franchise operation and have next to no capacity themselves to do us harm. As for the Taliban, strictly a local outfit, we are not their enemy - except as occupiers of Afghanistan. It is impossible, therefore, to reach our zero tolerance threshold for any "bad guys" active anywhere in AF/PAK for evermore - that is the fanciful goal of Obama's doomed policy. The costs and hazards are enormous. They include severe political strife and, perhaps, civil war in Pakistan of which we are a primary cause. Yet, public debate is non-existent. Why?

Afghanistan is not a "people's war"; it is a war of America's political class that is nearly unanimous in endorsing its ends and means. A clear majority of the public opposes the Obama escalation - 54% at last tally. This is stunning given the drumbeat of ritual war cries from every corner. Not a single elected official of stature has denounced it. The dread Americans feel that 9/11 might happen again is eclipsed by an instinctive fear of the high price and the risks of becoming custodian of this alien and violent land.

One explanation for the discrepancy lies in the residual trauma of 9/11. It has been so effectively exploited for eight years that public deference tends to be taken for granted. Among leaders, that horrific event continues to fire audacious schemes in the most remote corners of the world, commitments that are open-ended and ill-defined.

A second explanation is the fallacious analogy with Iraq, where our ruinous experience has been cynically recast as a success. Let's face it: Iraq is a lost cause - whether the cause was using it as a model of American style democratic virtue or as a bridgehead for American power in the region. Its future is beyond our control or even influence. The Iraqi Shi'ite leaders are showing us the door and welcoming the embrace of their Iranian co-religionists who are omnipresent and have intimate ties to every faction. This kick in the face has been easily concealed because Americans tuned out as soon as they were given a palatable story, i.e. the tall tale of Petraeus of Arabia, to cover the nation's shocking failure.

The sad truth is that the summary firing of General McKiernan and his replacement by General McChrystal was inspired primarily by the Pentagon's desire to have a colorful man in charge who was adroit at public relations. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said just that at the time. McChrystal, he explained, was someone who could work the Obama administration, Congress and the public via shows of flair on Sunday morning talk shows. That is exactly what he has devoted his time to doing between occasional appearances in the war zone.

The Afghan "surge" will not produce even the veneer of "success" that its model did in Iraq. Perhaps if we manage somehow to hang onto a rough outline of the script, we'll still be in Kabul when the Taliban blow up the Finance, Justice and Foreign Affairs Ministries - as the Iraqi insurgents recently have done in Baghdad. The corresponding date, using 'surge' day 1 as reference, is February 16, 2013. Just in time for a re-elected President Obama to announce the next 'necessary' war - God only knows where.

Is the implication then that Obama's ends in the Greater Middle East are no different at their core from Bush's? That is to say, to reconfigure the political terrain of the entire region so as to eliminate any forces hostile to the United States and thereby regain the absolute security lost on 9/11? Everything Obama has done in practice, as opposed to word, conforms to that reading. The common denominator is Washington's conceit and unjustified faith in our intrinsic superiority and omnipotence.

Obama now has given his blessing to a drastic troop increase even as he muses about an 'off-ramp.' We all know what happens when you eye the off-ramp going at high speed - whether it is 70, 80, 90 or 100 mph. He and his 'dream team' seem imbued with the Lamborghini ethos: if you go fast enough, all accidents occur behind you. Perhaps all things seem possible when viewed while airborne at 38,000 feet. On the ground, it will be McChrystal pressing the hammer to the floor, Petraeus navigating, Hillary in the backseat tele-messaging Bill for triangulation directions, Biden yapping about the Islamabad turn-off and Holbrooke mumbling that we'll know the off-ramp when we see it. More probably when we feel it.

One thing is sure, the financial burden will fall on taxpayers - whether today or tomorrow. Let's put things in perspective. This year's supplementary funding request alone is $40 billion. Wall Street's projected bonus pool for 2009 is $38 billion. A neat match - for a President less prone to sublimating awkward facts. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sach's CEO, has sworn this weekend that he "is doing God's work." Is it not time that he and his colleagues pledge fealty to Patrie and Duty as well as God by forking over the $38 billion as a patriotic act? The Heavenly Father Himself may find such a selfless act reason to credit Mr. Blankfein's otherwise suspect avowal of faith.

In all seriousness, we should ask ourselves a deeply troubling question: What is it about the American political elite and foreign policy community that impels them to act as masters of the world when they so obviously have neither the wits nor the aptitude nor the resources for succeeding in their grandiose ambitions? Why the relentless effort to demonstrate that a Democratic administration can be as stubbornly wrong as its Republican predecessor? What is behind the impulse to jump into the Afghan cauldron when our rear is still being singed in Iraq? Is this American pro-activism run amok? Is it the last fling at proving that we indeed are God's chosen instrument for redeeming the world? Or, frankly, are there too many power-point warriors whose self esteem depends on vicarious acts of heroism?