Friday, April 09, 2010

Today's Reading Assignments

Fouad Ajami, in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, on "Afghanistan and the Decline of American Power." He notes the recent, hostile rhetoric from Afghan President Karzai is a reflection of President Obama's declining influence in the region. A few particularly salient paragraphs:

President Obama's "war of necessity" in Afghanistan increasingly has to it the mark of a military campaign disconnected from a bigger political strategy.

Yes, it is true, he "inherited" this war. But in his fashion he embraced it and held it up as a rebuke to the Iraq war. The spectacle of Afghan President Hamid Karzai going rogue on the American and NATO allies who prop up his regime is of a piece with other runaway clients in far-off lands learning that great, distant powers can be defied and manipulated with impunity. After all, Mr. Karzai has been told again and again that his country, the safe harbor from which al Qaeda planned and carried out 9/11, is essential to winning the war on terror.


Still, this recent dust-up with Mr. Karzai—his outburst against the West, his melodramatic statement that he, too, could yet join the Taliban in a campaign of "national resistance," his indecent warning that those American and NATO forces soldiering to give his country a chance are on the verge of becoming foreign occupiers—is a statement about the authority of the Obama administration and its standing in Afghanistan and the region.

Forgive Mr. Karzai as he tilts with the wind and courts the Iranian theocrats next door. We can't chastise him for seeking an accommodation with Iranian power when Washington itself gives every indication that it would like nothing more than a grand bargain with Iran's rulers.

In Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East, populations long in the path, and in the shadow, of great foreign powers have a good feel for the will and staying power of those who venture into their world. If Iran's bid for nuclear weapons and a larger role in the region goes unchecked, and if Iran is now a power of the Mediterranean (through Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Beirut), the leaders in Kabul, whoever they are, are sure to do their best to secure for themselves an Iranian insurance policy.


All this plays out under the gaze of an Islamic world that is coming to a consensus that a discernible American retreat in the region is in the works. America's enemies are increasingly brazen, its friends unnerved. Witness the hapless Lebanese, once wards of U.S. power, now making pilgrimages, one leader at a time, to Damascus. They, too, can read the wind: If Washington is out to "engage" that terrible lot in Syria, they better scurry there to secure reasonable terms of surrender.

The shadow of American power is receding; the rogues are emboldened. The world has a way of calling the bluff of leaders and nations summoned to difficult endeavors. Would that our biggest source of worry in that arc of trouble was the intemperate outburst of our ally in Kabul.

In his op-ed, Ajami relates a particularly telling analogy from the late Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq, who was a key U.S. ally until he died in a suspicious plane crash in 1988. Zia said an alliance with Washington was the equivalent of sitting on the bank of a great river, where the land is lush and fertile. The only problem, he observed, is that America--like the river--changes course every four to eight years, leaving former "friends" in a barren desert.

The thrust of our foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia, leaving many strategic partners feeling isolated and vulnerable. No wonder so many are trying to curry favor with Iran. In this latter-day version of The Great Game, the tilt from Washington to Tehran is both evident and disturbing.
ADDENDUM: Similar thoughts from Ralph Peters, in his recent New York Post column. Here is Colonel Peters' take on how events play out in the region:

Coming perhaps as early as this year (certainly within the next few years), the Karzai Compromise will at first look like this:

* Karzai remains the titular head of the Kabul regime.

* Iran "owns" western Afghanistan.

* Pakistan replaces the United States as the Kabul government's security guarantor.

* NATO grabs the excuse of "national reconciliation" to dash for home.

* The United States won't be far behind NATO, although we'll continue to pour in aid to "avoid destabilizing the situation."

This being the Greater Middle East, the deal won't last. Karzai holds too weak a hand; national ambitions are in conflict; the hatreds go too deep. Here's what will come next:

* The Iranians and Pakistanis will struggle for influence. The next phase of the endless Afghan civil war will be a proxy fight between Tehran and Islamabad (alongside the internal factional warfare).

* Al Qaeda will align with Pakistan, gaining clandestine sponsorship.

* Karzai will be replaced by a tougher ruler backed by Pakistan, while the Iranian side elevates its own contender for power based in Herat.

* India will side with Iran. China will support Pakistan.

* Pakistan will find itself unable to control its Afghan proxies, after all. Another military regime will take power in Islamabad, as Pakistan finds itself bogged down in an Afghan morass and violence spreads at home.

* The Taliban will fight everybody and outlast everybody.

As our troops surge slowly into Afghanistan to save the inept Karzai government, they may already be irrelevant. We're no longer in on the deal. Everybody knows it but us.

We agree with all of Peters' points except the last one. Mr. Obama and his national security team know exactly what the "deal" is. They're more than willing to wash their hands of Afghanistan (and Iraq), allowing them to slash the defense budget and free up more money for nationalized health care and other progressive schemes. That's why our troop surge in Afghanistan came with an expiration date.


planethou said...

I don't know whether I'm happier our young men and women will be coming home instead of being killed and maimed in an area of the world that, it seems to me, we've come to a point of diminishing returns, or whether I'm more troubled that our enemies will be in control of more of the world where we have little influence.

Paul G. said...

You left out the quote where Ajami points out: "Mr. Obama has not given the protagonists in the Afghan war the certainty that he is in it for the long haul." Well thank God.

Considering Afghanistan and Iraq have lasted longer than World War II and are costing the U.S. taxpayer $2 billion a week I don't have much of a problem with US power declining in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if we did tell Karzai we are in for the "long haul", you really think he's not going to court Iran? They're his NEIGHBORS!

By the way, instead of grouching about 'nationalized healthcare' I suggest that you take a stand and reject your government provided care and pension and retiree healthcare and medicare and social security that the liberals have forced upon you. Tell your congressman that Obama should NOT have increased the VA budget. Damn those progressive schemes.

Opus said...

Gee Paul, it's not like anyone would use Afghanistan as a base of operations to train and attack the U.S. and other western countries should we lose all influence.
That'd be ridiculous,absurd...laughable, no one would ever do something like that.

Regardless of how misguided your ideas on the subject may be it's quite interesting that your main objection is the cost of the war and the not a word about lives lost. At least most other misguided folks such as yourself tend to at least claim to care about the troops first.

Unknown said...


Just a couple of points: what are you getting for that $2 billion a week? Well, for starters, no major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9-11. Yes, we have paid a price in blood and treasure, but when you consider the thousands that might have died in domestic terror attacks--possibly using chem, bio or nuclear weapons--it's money well spent.

As for "renouncing" my military benefits, there's a difference between a military retiree (or disabled vet) and those Obama followers who've been showing up at medical facilities over the past three weeks and demanding their free health care.

And what is that difference? In short, we earned our benefits. Uncle Sam "owned" me for more than 20 years, sending me to such garden spots at Haiti, Korea and the Middle East for up to a year at a time. I missed birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, school events, ball games and all those other family events that civilians take for granted. In exchange, I was promised a decent pension and medical care for myself (and my wife), assuming I fulfilled my end of the deal by serving honorably and faithfully for at least two decades.

Don't get me wrong; I value my military career--it was the best "professional" decision I ever made, creating opportunities that I would have missed as a civilian. I left with a sense of satisfaction and achievement that I've never found in other lines of work. And, I must also say that my sacrifices pale in comparison to those who now serve. My tours in various hell-holes are nothing compared to what the current generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are experiencing.

In return for my service, I am now enjoying the benefits promised me upon enlistment. But there's just one catch; when I joined the military almost 30 years ago, I was promised on-base health care for life, at virtually no cost. But, as I approached retirement, the military came up with something called TRICARE, an HMO-style arrangement that pushes dependents and retirees into the civilian health care system.

Again, I'm grateful for what I have. With TRICARE, I'm covered for life. However, the system is far from perfect. Many health plans in the private sector cover a wider range of services, with lower co-pays.

And, in areas that don't have military bases, it's sometimes difficult to find providers who will take TRICARE Prime, the "Cadillac" plan in the program. Seems that most doctors don't like all the red tape and low reimbursement rates associated with the program. When my wife fell and broke her arm in northern Mississippi last year (during a visit to see our son), we had to drive all the way to Memphis to find an orthopedist who would accept TRICARE. Sounds like a preview of Obamacare to me.

And one more thing: the current military retirement system is hardly a progressive scheme. It was largely designed by the armed forces, and approved by Congress. Left up to the progressives, I can only shudder to think about the kind of "retirement" I'd have.