Friday, August 11, 2017
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch – Defeat Looms in Afghanistan
We are a nation distracted and facing severe jeopardy from so many quarters. North Korea looms large. The Russia-collusion investigation slips in to grab an occasional headline. The President’s battle with just about anyone who disagrees with his policies, as inarticulate and vague as they may be, seize hard news focus occasionally… recently an attack on his own party’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Trump’s continuing threat to force the Affordable Care Act to fail, effectively forcing premiums to soar, sneaks in now and again. What is clear to most of the rest of the world is… er… our rather dramatic lack of political policy clarity.
With increasing frequency, top administration officials issue mutually contradictory policy statements, often trying to counter or contain “off the cuff” policy tweets from the President. For our opponents, this rudderless inconsistency at the top, led by a man with no real understanding of geopolitics or history, a “non-reader” by his own admission, is a glorious opportunity.
We’ve long-since lost our modest influence in Iraq, a Shiite-majority nation that has firmly allied itself with Shiite-majority Iran. The Iraq War began on March 19, 2003 and officially ended over eight years later (although Americans continued to die after that end-date). “The United States would suffer more than 4,480 deaths through the Iraq War's official end on Dec. 15, 2011. More than 32,000 others would be wounded. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians would die violently, according to the website Iraq Body Count.
“The price tag for the war, according to nonpartisan congressional researchers, was at least $806 billion, although that figure doesn't take into account related expenses such as coming decades of veterans’ benefits and other costs including medical treatment and job retraining for wounded soldiers. The massive spending contributed to the nation's current financial troubles and limits U.S. ability to respond robustly, if needed, to other international threats.” USA Today (3/17/13).
But the Afghanistan War continues, 17 years after it began, costing even more, with the corrupt government we installed facing a Taliban resurgence that has the latter controlling more territory than at any time since that regime was ousted. Russia is laughing… and implementing its “payback” plan against the United States for our “interference” in their own, earlier efforts in the region.
We “secretly” armed radical jihadists (“mujahedeen,” pictured above) – the precursors to al Qaeda and ISIS – in Soviet Russia’s own Afghan War (1979-89), a failed military effort that is listed as one of the major contributing factors to the downfall of the entire USSR shortly thereafter. Those radical fighters then turned their focus on Western interests, including those of the US. Vladimir Putin was young KGB officer back then, but pretty obviously, he remembers.
There was, “back then,” a seeming double-edged “benefit” to US policy interests in arming “Sunni” mujahedeen forces during that 1979-89 war. Not only did we help take down our Soviet foe, but we were implementing a policy of “containment” of our latest enemy – the then-newly-installed Shiite, Ayatollah-dominated, deeply anti-American Iranian theocracy – by arming anti-Shiite, Sunni mujahedeen on Iran’s northern border. This combined with a Sunni-minority-led Iraq (Saddam Hussein’s regime) on one side and Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia to Iran’s south circled Iran. Time passed as regional Sunnis, living in Shiite controlled countries, were isolated and persecuted. ISIS and al Qaeda stood up to protect these helpless citizens.
Severely Sunni ISIS declared an unsubtle war on the West… and more importantly, against Shiites wherever they stood. Notably Iraq and Iran and their allies (like Shiite-led, but majority Sunni, Syria). The United States, fearful of another massive disastrous Middle Eastern military-suck, held back in fully supporting the assaults on ISIS, providing aid, some special forces, but mostly addressing the attacks on ISIS from the air, bombs and missiles. Putin began grinning. The opportunity to take on the United States, in a surrogate war in that region (including Afghanistan), was just too attractive to ignore.
Aligning with the Shiite alliance attacking ISIS while courting Sunni powers like NATO’s own Turkey, Russia stepped into the void… big time. As ISIS went down, with lots of direct Russian involvement (including massive support for the repressive Assad regime in Syria), Russia has turned its focus to rearming the Afghan Taliban to confront both the United States and the rapidly collapsing US-installed government in Kabul. In a stunning turn of events, Russia has convinced two traditional enemies, Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Shiite Iran, to begin to work together. Arms to Taliban fighters flowed in… from Iran… and menacingly, Russia.
Knowing that nothing short of a massive new commitment of hundreds of thousands of American troops to reverse the process, a rather completely untenable political choice for the United States, Putin is acutely aware (from his understanding of the failed Soviet Afghanistan efforts) that the United States can never win the war in Afghanistan. So he is doing to us what he believes we did to the USSR back in the 1980s: arming the modern version of the mujahedeen – the Taliban – to take down American interests rather completely, sapping our economy, and placing Russia as the only major power with sufficient influence in the region to matter. While Donald Trump clearly did not start this Afghan debacle, he most certainly does not know what to do to stop the hemorrhaging, both in dollar costs and the growing and critical loss of global political influence.
By way of further understanding what is happening in Afghanistan, I will turn to an August 11th The Cipher Brief interview of Mike Sulick, former Director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service: “[You] you do have to take seriously statements by the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, in front of Congress where he didn’t dispute information about Russian arms being sent to the Taliban. The chief of U.S. Central Command, Joseph Votel, has also said it is fair to assume that there has been Russian arms support for the Taliban… Russians, by their own admission, say they have contacts with the Taliban, and they’ve had meetings with them. The Russians claim that it is to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table…
“There are a number of objectives. Locally, Russia wants to ensure stability on the Afghan northern border in Kunduz that is adjacent to Tajikistan, which for all practical purposes is a satellite of Russia. They also want to counter the spread of ISIS-affiliated militants in central Asia.
“Bigger picture, for Russia long-term, it’s another hot spot for Russian President Vladimir Putin to exercise his influence and portray himself as a problem solver and a peacemaker, while at the same time, show that the U.S. is incapable of doing this. It’s a similar scenario to what happened with Syrian chemical weapons. Doing this also helps undermine the U.S.-NATO alliance.
“The Russians have already held meetings on Afghanistan and have managed to lure in representatives from a number of countries including China, Pakistan, and Iran among them. So that is more of a long-term objective for Russia… The Russians probably look at this ‘role reversal’ as a delicious irony and a payback for their own involvement in Afghanistan years ago. They have a long memory. I’m sure many of them still resent the U.S. provision of weapons to the Afghans and eventually, the Russians walking from the area with their heads held down.”
Moscow is dealing with a U.S. president who seems to identify with Putin, even thanking the Russian leader for saving America money by expelling 755 American diplomats stationed in Russia. Said very sincerely if you saw the video. Not remotely sarcastic as claimed later. Putin has to be incredibly pleased with, at worst, this seeming Manchurian Candidate and, at best, a thoroughly ill-prepared, Donald Trump. These are only a few of strong reasons for the obvious retreat by our own allies in their relationship with the United States. Tired of winning yet?
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is increasingly apparent that the damage being perpetrated against the American people (and too many in the rest of the world) by Donald Trump will take decades to reverse… if such damage can really ever be significantly reversed at all.