Monday, August 10, 2009

Worse Than Nam?

Taken together, one has to consider the downside of the aggressive policy the U. S. is now staking out in Afghanistan.

From the WSJ, we hear that Taliban Now Winning:

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency's spiritual home.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come. . .

Gen. McChrystal said the Taliban are moving beyond their traditional strongholds in southern Afghanistan to threaten formerly stable areas in the north and west.

The militants are mounting sophisticated attacks that combine roadside bombs with ambushes by small teams of heavily armed militants, causing significant numbers of U.S. fatalities, he said. July was the bloodiest month of the war for American and British forces, and 12 more American troops have already been killed in August.

The prospect of more troops rankles some of Gen. McChrystal's advisers, who worry the American military footprint in Afghanistan is already too large.

"How many people do you bring in before the Afghans say, 'You're acting like the Russians'?" said one senior military official, referring to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. "That's the big debate going on in the headquarters right now."

The Econblog Review question, for the purposes of an economics blog: is how does the U. S. afford all this? I'm ready to believe that the Taliban are bad, bad guys. But if our guy, Karzai, and his people are also bad guys, then it gets back to the Country Joe and the Fish question revamped a bit. Their question about Viet Nam was, "What are we fighting for?" Now the question becomes, "WHO are we fighting for?" And, can we/they win it?

Then there's an expansion of the war that is strange coming from a legalistic government preparing to criminally try low-level CIA operatives for alleged "War on Terror" misdeeds. From the NYT, U.S. to Hunt Down Afghan Drug Lords Tied to Taliban:

In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American generals serving in Afghanistan said that major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency have been put on the “joint integrated prioritized target list.” That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time. (Emph. added)

So we are going to be borrowing lots of money from poor Chinese and rich Arabs to kill narcotics traffickers in one of the most remote countries on the globe? Heck, we can't even win the War on Drugs in northern South America, in our backyard! And, how is this legal? It sounds like murder. As the Times delicately puts it:

The policy of going after drug lords is likely to raise legal concerns from some NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries initially questioned whether the new policy would comply with international law.

“This was a hard sell in NATO,” said retired Gen. John Craddock, who was supreme allied commander of NATO forces until he retired in July.

You bet it was a hard sell. Dollars to donuts it was crammed down the throats of the allies, who must be wondering which President is/was really the cowboy. As the Times reports, the Bush team was loath to take this action:

When Donald H. Rumsfeld was defense secretary, the Pentagon fiercely resisted efforts to draw the United States military into supporting counternarcotics efforts.

Barack Obama may be more like LBJ than any other President: ramp-up of a possibly unwinnable land war in Asia despite running as the peace candidate (using questionable tactics such targeting civilians) and while using a massive Congressional majority to bring large-scale social changes.

The U. S. has repeatedly failed to win land wars in Asia. Look what the losing war in Viet Nam did for our economy. Iraq is for now a draw, but it was costly and most people say it was not worth the effort, especially Barack Obama. Our broken economy can ill afford a costly loss in Afghanistan, but Mr. Obama not only appears to be going for it, but he is doubling down by also trying to "take out" a more difficult foe than mere Taliban fighters, namely the most difficult of all: druglords.

Mr. Obama, like LBJ, may be picking (at least) one fight more than he, or the country, can handle. If you're interested in American financial matters, you may be able to stay at least somewhat ahead of the crowd by keeping up on the Af-Pak situation.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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