Two Questions

by Daniel Russ on September 6, 2009

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A few days ago I posted some of these comments from conservative columnist George F. Will who, despite the blistering and even incoherent discourse between the left and right in this country has maintained his wits and his level headedness. I don’t agree with him on most issues. And of course this is a military blog, and a historical and cultural blog as well. However, Americans are dying overseas, and we are left with a media that is so lame and trivial that bad mothers and missing children get covered 24/7/365 and trump covering the difficult and often heavy fighting that we and our allies are involved in. It is time for another national debate about why we are occupying two countries that do not want us there, bleeding quite literally money and lives and what is left of out soft power.

One Way Or Another, Leaving Iraq

By George F. Will
Friday, September 4, 2009

Since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq’s cities, two months have passed, and so has the illusion that Iraq is smoothly transitioning to a normality free of sectarian violence. Recently, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. troops there, “blanched” when asked if the war is “functionally over.” According to The Post’s Greg Jaffe, Odierno said:

“There are still civilians being killed in Iraq. We still have people that are attempting to attack the new Iraqi order and the move towards democracy and a more open economy. So we still have some work to do.” …

… More than 725 Iraqis have been killed by terrorism since the June 30 pullback of U.S. forces from the cities. All U.S. combat units are to be withdrawn from the country within a year. Up to 50,000 can remain as “advisers” to an Iraqi government that is ostentatious about its belief that the presence of U.S. forces is superfluous and obnoxious.

The advisers are to leave by the end of 2011, by which time the final two years of the U.S. military presence will have achieved . . . what? Already that presence is irrelevant to the rising chaos, which the Iraqi government can neither contain nor refrain from participating in: Security forces seem to have been involved in the recent robbery of a state-run bank in central Baghdad….

,… Many scholars believe, Pollack says, that nations that suffer civil wars as large as Iraq’s between 2004 and 2006 have “a terrifyingly high rate of recidivism.” Two more years of U.S. military presence cannot control whether that is in Iraq’s future. Some people believe the war in Iraq was not only “won,” but vindicated by the success of the 2007 U.S. troop surge. Yet as Iraqi violence is resurgent, the logic of triumphalism leads here:

If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner. …

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All that said, Joe Galloway of McClatchy Newspapers made this call, pulling out what he calls the Powell Doctrine. I have a problem with modern figures rewriting history. Powell wasn’t the first guy to ask these questions. Powell is also credited with coming up with the three to one overwhelming force advantage formula; however so did B.H. Liddell Hart and Clausewitz.

That said, these are important questions we all should be asking.

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Commentary: Afghanistan isn’t worth one more American life

Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

September 03, 2009

The debate over our creeping military mission in distant Afghanistan grows ever hotter, and before we march even deeper into trouble, perhaps it’s time to dig out the old Powell Doctrine and answer the eight questions it poses.

Gen. Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said these questions all must be answered with a loud YES before the United States takes military action. He listed his questions in the 1990 run-up to the Persian Gulf War, drawing heavily on the Weinberger Doctrine that was laid down by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during the debate over America’s ends and means in Lebanon.

  • 1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  • 2. Do we have a clear, attainable objective?
  • 3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  • 4. Have all non-violent policy means been exhausted?
  • 5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  • 6. Have all the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  • 7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  • 8. Do we have broad international support?

Those questions weren’t asked and answered before we invaded Afghanistan late in 2001, and by the time we invaded Iraq early in 2003, then-defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was declaring the Powell doctrine “outmoded” as he ran premature victory laps around a fleeting success in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration is gone, but both Iraq and Afghanistan are still with us, and now a new president is overseeing a slow-motion U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and a slow-motion U.S. escalation in Afghanistan.

It can fairly be argued that not a single affirmative answer can be given to Gen. Powell’s eight questions with regard to the actions now planned or underway in Afghanistan. Had those questions been asked about Iraq in early 2003, not a single affirmative answer could have been given.

There was, in the beginning in Afghanistan, a vital national security interest in toppling the Taliban government and killing or capturing the Taliban’s murderous guests, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorists. We toppled the Taliban, but we let al Qaida flee over the rugged, mountainous border into Pakistan.

Even before that, we began to let Afghanistan fester, starved of U.S. manpower and money, and turned our attention to Iraq, where Rumsfeld had estimated that victory would be ours and our troops would be home in six months or so.

We no longer have a vital national security interest or a clearly attainable goal in Afghanistan. Our stated goal is to deny any future sanctuary to al Qaida in Afghanistan – but al Qaida isn’t based in Afghanistan and hasn’t been for years.

So I have to speak my mind here and ask when Americans are suffering, millions out of work, millions losing their homes, and millions have no health care, what exactly are we trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. Save face? That’s a poor reason to send someone to a grave, or take advantage of a young man’s patriotism.

At least while I scratch my head and wonder what the mission is, I am not alone.

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