Saturday, July 3, 2010

What Does Deep Water Horizon and the Afghan War Have in Common?

Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill

Area of Taliban Control

The most obvious answer is, they both haunt President Obama and threaten his legacy, and hope for a second term. But there is a broader comparison. Both continue to defy the best efforts of the forces arrayed against them to be controlled or stopped. In the Gulf the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill  is an engineering problem, facing an unknown amount or oil contained in the recesses of the Mississippi Canyon forty miles south of Louisiana. Each effort by BP, it's allied companies and the United States have been trumped by the force of oil continuing to flow around every barrier placed in its way. The head of BP, shoots his mouth off with ill advised words which leaves the preception that their strategy is adrift. This is mirrored by our leadership team in Afghanistan channeling frat boys and inviting a reporter along as if they were in competition with Paris or Lindsay for the latest new bite on TMZ.

Here is how the Afghan War against the Taliban and what our government says is left of al Qaeda resembles the oil spill. In many ways Afghanistan is like a massive leak, the flow of war fighters and material seem to be an unending stream that in an impoverished country just does not seem to jive. Where is all this support coming from? Our own intelligence agencies point to Pakistan who wants to have an ally on their western border that would not be friendly with India or China. Then we have the Saudi Princes who pour millions into the coffers of the Sunni Taliban, in an effort to keep a regime that would be a hostile counter-balance on Iran's eastern border.

The question on the lips of most Americans is why we can't cut off the flow of support and then soak up the resistance. Well the word is related to energy, and a by-product. Oil is the Saudi's mutually assured destruction weapon, so the United States and NATO tread lightly when confronting them about turning off the flow of Euros and Dollars into weapons and material for the Taliban. In the case of the Pakistanis, it is the actual bomb that keeps the worlds military forces on a leash when confronting the overt support coming from Pakistan to the Taliban. As we embark a new commander on the ground with the strategic and tatical capital to buy more time we Americans must also regroup and reflect on whether it is worth it to continue, or as the President without saying alludes, cut and run in 2011.

Let us for a time reflect on why we decided to stay after toppling the Taliban and driving al Qaeda into the mountains of Northwest Pakistan. Two of my favorite blog friends took in the film Restrepo.

Here are their reviews.

Mark Zafranski:
...First, RESTREPO makes more explicit the harsh terrain in which the war is taking place for the young men of second platoon. If you have ever driven through the mountains of Tennessee or West Virginia, imagine those states as semi-arid, with steeper elevations and go back in time to circa 1900 so that the deeply impoverished residents are struggling to scratch a living out of sand and rocks with little or no comforts of modernity. The valley appears to always be dusty, sunny and very hot. Except up in the hills where it snows - then it looks cloudy and cold. That’s what Korengal looks like...
Read More:
Movie review: Restrepo

Lexington Green:
...The movie depicts the troops as facing an insurmountable task, trying to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign where they are bottled up in firebases and cannot come out to provide security for the population. The Taliban rule the countryside. The Americans can foray out, and bring down heavy firepower when they encounter the Taliban, but the fundamental mismatch between what the troops have been asked to do and the means provided to do it is apparent throughout.
I kept thinking as I watched this, feeling increasingly frustrated, what would von Clausewitz say about this effort? Gerald Templar? John Boyd? Frank Kitson? Dwight Eisenhower? The mismatch between means (inadequate) effort by the troops (admirable, to the last ounce of their energy) and the goal (beyond their reach) was extremely frustrating to watch. The lack of a strategy that would bring these factors into line was glaringly apparent, at least in the tiny slice of the war depicted in the film.
Lex, goes on to describe how the filmmaker, author Sebastian Junger offered his take on the war.

Junger made clear that he did not think the war in the Korengal Valley could be taken for a microcosm of the war in Afghanistan generally. To the contrary, the Korengal is one of the worst parts of Afghanistan, and not typical. He made clear that he considered the American involvement in Afghanistan mostly in a positive way. He did not think the war was futile. He claimed that in the ten years of Taliban rule, 400,000 Afghans had been killed, and that “only” 16,000 had died during the period since the USA and its Northern Alliance allies toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. He said that the soldiers believed that what they were doing in Afghanistan was defending us, and they knew and accepted that many people they were defending would not agree with that or approve of what they were doing. He said that if he had a son, and his son wanted to go in the Army, he would support him. I suspect that his book probably conveys more of these assessments than the movie did.

Read more of Lex's thoughtful post:


Looking farther into the eye of this gushing flow of resistance comes this from the Institute for the Study of War who has this insight on what they describe as the The Irreconcilables: The Haqqani Network.
As the Karzai administration continues to press ahead with preliminary outreach to insurgents, Pakistan has quietly stepped in to offer their assistance. The Pakistanis have reportedly offered to help reach out to the murderous Haqqani organization in the hopes of bringing the movement’s leader, Siraj Haqqani, to the negotiating table; however, any proposed deal with the Haqqanis is directly at odds with President Obama’s reaffirmed commitment to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Haqqanis rely on Al Qaeda for mass appeal, funding, resources and training, and in return provide Al Qaeda with shelter, protection and a means to strike foreign forces in Afghanistan and beyond. Any negotiated settlement with the Haqqanis threatens to undermine the raison d’etre for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the past decade.
Here is a run down of what the blogs are saying about Afghanistan and the war.

Schmedlap: Is Afghanistan an Arena?

Great Satan's Girlfriend: New Afghanistan

Thomas Barnett on Afghanistan

Small Wars Journal: The one souce for small wars study

And now we have this newly discovered leak to contend with.

The chairwoman of the House subcommittee responsible for foreign aid said she was stripping from pending legislation $3.9 billion in funding for Afghanistan following revelations that billions of dollars, including large amounts of U.S. aid funds, were flowing out of the country through Kabul's main airport.
At least $3.18 billion in cash has been flown out of Afghanistan since 2007 after being legally declared to customs officers, according to documents reported Monday in The Wall Street Journal.
Read more and weep!
Money Leak!!

If Afghanistan is worth the effort, it is a decision for all Americans to make. As a republic that saw its birth 234 years ago tomorrow we owe it to those who will follow to get it right, or consign them to the chaos of terror and viral diversity gone mad or spend a generation or two trying to to fix something that defies change and ends in the collaspe of our own system as nations on the sidelines watch us stumble along alone.

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