General Petraeus' Catch-22

President Obama is in Lisbon today for the NATO Summit on Afghanistan
where political spinmeisters will be earning every dollar in their
paycheck. Things are bad and getting worse there, notwithstanding the
new and improved strategy announced a year ago complete with a
commitment of 30,000 more US troops. Majorities of the citizens of the
participating NATO countries have turned decidedly against the war,
including the United States. Under pressure to show tangible results on
meeting military "metrics" at the Lisbon summit and the
administration's December review, General Petraeus has decided to throw
caution to the wind and greatly expand US firepower and its military
imprint in Afghanistan.

Which has created what we knew in the Vietnam era as a classic
"Catch-22". Expanding the use of US/NATO firepower and its footprint in
Afghanistan is collapsing prospects for ultimate success.

Afghanistan President Karzai made a dramatic public appeal to the US
political elite when he told the Washington Post last week that the
stepped up use of nighttime military raids by NATO forces in Afghanistan
is unacceptable to the Afghan people and must stop. The nighttime
raids have more than tripled since July. He went on to say: "The time
has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the
presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan."

Apparently private appeals were not doing the trick. General
Petraeus, who is running the show in Afghanistan, was furious with
President Karzai's public appeals and canceled a long scheduled meeting
to show just how he felt about the President's position and his much
publicized remarks. To drive home the point, the Pentagon told the Post
yesterday that Petraeus has authorized the deployment of heavily armored
battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the war. These tanks
are a huge 68 tons and are propelled by jet engines. Their use in
Afghanistan had been previously rejected for fear that they would remind
Afghans of their last military occupiers, the Soviets. The nighttime
raids, huge tanks and increase in firepower has become a cornerstone of
Petraeus' military strategy and an absolute necessity for success,
according to the Pentagon. They are also angering and alienating the
Afghan people and reinforcing the Taliban narrative that the nation is
under military occupation by western military powers. That narrative has
been extremely effective in driving Afghans who are famous for being
allergic to occupying foreign armies, into their ranks.

In short, the United States finds itself in a classic "Catch-22":
The strategy that the military has determined is critical for its
success is the very strategy that is rapidly eroding the chances for
success. Everyone seems to agree, including General Petraeus, that a
military victory in Afghanistan is not possible. Reconciliation of the
warring parties and a political deal is the only way out, including at
least elements of the Taliban. The difference lies in how to create the
conditions to make political compromise and reconciliation possible.
From a military prism, that means inflicting so much pain on the enemy
that he believes his only option is to come to the negotiating table.
Seen through a wider prism, it becomes clear that while you might
succeed with every military tactic, including the use of massive
firepower, you simultaneously move further away from any hope of
success by alienating the very Afghan people on whose support success
depends. President Karzai felt he had no option but to speak out
against the expanding raids and growing US military footprint in his
country not only because they are counterproductive but because they
make him even more of a US/NATO puppet to Afghans than what he now
appears to be.

According to the Times: "Many Afghans see the raids as a flagrant,
even humiliating symbol of American power, especially when women and
children are rousted in the middle of the night. And protests have
increased this year as the tempo has increased." The Washington Post
reported this morning on a plea made by an Afghan farmer in the
Arghandab district of a NATO general at a recent community meeting: "Why
do you have to blow up so many of our fields and homes?" Good

These points, of course, are obscure at best when you are looking
through a military lens. When you are a hammer everything looks like a
nail. General Petraeus and the US military is calling the shots of US
Afghanistan policy. If you have any doubts about that, read Bob
Woodward's "Obama's Wars". Seen through the military prism, a larger US
military footprint and greater use of force can actually be helping to
bring unity among the Afghan people and their government. I am not
making this up. According to the Washington Post, a senior US military
officer explained: "By making people travel to the district governor's
office to submit a claim for damaged property, 'in effect, you're
connecting the government to the people'.

Perhaps the December report on progress in Afghanistan will be called
"Winning Hearts and Minds Through US Firepower" . Hopefully there will
be at least some members of Congress who will call it what it is:

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