The coming Kandahar campaign: War or political theater?

Living near Washington gives one a first look at how the federal government slicks Americans into thinking they are well defended. Yesterday, for example, I received an e-mail from the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) announcing a talk by “John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.” The talk is part of CSIS’s “Statesmen’s Forum” series and is entitled “On Securing the Homeland by Renewing America’s Strengths, Resilience, and Values.” The title of the talk ought to make you put your hand on the wallet and then prepare to defend yourselves.

Mistaking Mr. Brennan for a statesman is like mistaking a gelding for a stallion; they might look similar but to expect identical performances from each is madness. Indeed, the speaker and the talk’s title tell us volumes about the Obama administration’s incompetence and detachment from reality. Defending America by “renewing its strengths, resilience, and values” is not to defend the country at all. There is nothing about our strengths, resilience, and values that needs renewal; Americans are hard-working, fair-minded, religious, stoic, and suitably blood thirsty when it comes to protecting their country, family, and liberty.

What Mr. Brennan will talk about is Obama’s belief that these are the wrong values. The values Americans need to have renewed, Brennan will say, are the Obama values of (a) never naming the enemy, (b) pretending the war we are fighting has nothing to do with Islam or Washington’s interventionism, and (c) sending our soldiers and Marines into harm’s way on terms favorable to the enemy. The accurate slogan for Obama values is: “Defenseless at home, impotent abroad.”

The coming U.S.-NATO campaign in Kandahar probably is the reason for Brennan’s talk, the first piece in a media operation intended to continue slicking Americans. The Kandahar campaign was announced more than two months ago by General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who has been ordered by his commander, General Petraeus, to prefer dead U.S. service personnel to dead civilian supporters of the Taliban.

Now even a fellow like me, lacking a West Point education, can legitimately ask why a senior U.S. general would give America’s enemies 90-days warning of the operation. Did General Eisenhower call Field Marshall Rommel in February, 1944, and say: “Hey, Erwin, we’re coming to see you in June”?

When I heard the announcement, I thought (hoped?) McChrystal was lying and would switch the attack’s focus at the last moment to fool the enemy. But that now is unlikely as White House leakers have given secret data about the campaign to the Washington Post and the New York Times, and both have published stories about how the Kandahar campaign will determine future U.S. policy in Afghanistan. The writers of the articles played their part, sounding as if there is something unknown about how the operation will turn out. There is nothing unknown about it, except the number of U.S. lives that will be wasted in the coming episode of political theater.

One of three real things will happen in Kandahar:

  1. Gifted with 90 days advance warning, the Taliban and its allies will have moved most of their men and ordnance out of the area of U.S.-NATO operations and will have left behind a battle zone laced to the hilt with IEDS, landmines, booby-traps, and suicide bombers.
  2. The Taliban will have moved out large amounts of men and ordnance, but will have left behind the above noted panoply of explosives and a cadre of fighters who will put up a stiff fight before escaping. This is what happened at Marjah in Helmand Province earlier in 2010.
  3. The Taliban will put up a minimal resistance knowing that they own the territory and will get it back when U.S.-NATO forces move on to their next campaign.

Several false things will be said by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the real events:

  1. The White House will say the Marines and soldiers killed in the operation died to bring freedom to Afghans and improve U.S. security. Wrong: They will have died for nothing except a temporary removal of the main Taliban force from Kandahar that will last only as long as the full U.S.-NATO force is deployed there. Once the troops are gone, the Taliban will return. This is what is now happening at Marjah, a place General McChrystal calls a “bleeding ulcer.”
  2. The White House will claim the Taliban was dealt a shattering blow from which recovery will take many months. Wrong: As noted, the Taliban’s equipment and ordnance stocks already have been moved or hidden. And even if U.S.-NATO forces do destroy a larger-than-expected amount of Taliban materiel, America’s “allies” on the Arabian Peninsula — or at least their wealthy citizens — will pay to more-than-replace all losses.
  3. The White House will say the campaign was triumphant because Afghans yearn for freedom, democracy, and women’s rights and rushed to the coalition once the Taliban were driven away. Wrong: The presence of the coalition is opposed by all but the most corrupt and Westernized Afghans because it is seen: (1) as a foreign, infidel occupier; (2) as a Christian enemy threatening Islam; and (3) as an agent of a political system meant to destroy Afghanistan’s tribal culture. The campaign will appear triumphant only because the insurgents ran away so not to die uselessly fighting overwhelming military power.
  4. The White House will say that the Afghan army carried the brunt of the fighting, proving it is almost ready to control the country so Western forces can begin leaving. This will be announced about a month before the mid-term congressional elections. Wrong: The Afghan army agrees with most other Afghans that the U.S. and NATO are anti-Islamic, anti-tribal, and infidel occupiers. Once we are gone, the Army will break-up along tribal and ethnic lines to participate in a civil war.

What Brennan and the Kandahar campaign seem to be about is helping Obama hold the Democratic majority in Congress this fall. Brennan will tell the CSIS audience that our “extremist” enemies are people too, and that we need to use “our values” to win them over. He will celebrate Obama’s use of such “values” to terminate covert action operations that helped protect America; to revitalize the ludicrous idea that we can defeat the extremists with law-enforcement activities; and to assert that victory will flow from the administration’s refusal to use the terms Islamic, Islamist, and jihad when referring to our mortal enemies.

General McChrystal’s role in this melodrama seems to be to orchestrate a Potemkin victory that makes the United States look strong (pleasing conservative Democrats) and kills few people (pleasing most Democrats, the media, and the Europeans). McChrystal’s “successful” Kandahar campaign also will allow Obama to claim things are looking up in Afghanistan so we can begin withdrawing troops (in preparation for the 2012 election when he will he need every vote possible from his party’s pacifist, effete, Europe-loving, media-filled, anti-American base.)

Brennan and General McChrystal are an odd team. Brennan, a career-long sycophant who, with George Tenet, is largely responsible for bin Laden being alive today; McChrystal, a decorated veteran soldier who until now merited his country’s sincere thanks and respect. Both men now find themselves in the same place: they are playing at war and causing American deaths for political purposes. Both men know — or ought to know — that the only post-9/11 success attainable in Afghanistan was to kill as many of the Taliban and al-Qaeda as possible, and destroy as much of their physical and human infrastructure as possible, and then get out. Our current Afghan problem is the result of not following that simple formula. We have lost the Afghan war because, to paraphrase an old Roman emperor: “We came too late, we ignored reality, we did not conquer, and we stayed to fail at nation-building.”

U.S. and NATO forces are now pawns in this political game. Most of Afghanistan has turned against us, not wanting to trade atheist, anti-Islamic Soviet occupiers for Christian, anti-Islamic ones. As a result, the Taliban-led insurgency is growing in numbers and nationwide capabilities. We attack in Marjah, the insurgents attack Kabul and in northern Afghanistan. We prepare to attack Kandahar, the insurgents hit Kabul again and attack the airbases at Bagram and Kandahar. The insurgency is everywhere and U.S. and NATO troops appear able to concentrate on only one small area at a time. The latter is not surprising given we have about 90,000 troops — a total yielding 30,000 combat troops — in a country bigger and more mountainous than Texas with an entire population in arms.

One can only hope General McChrystal soon recalls three things he must have learned at some point in his long career: “If you do not kill the enemy, he will kill you;” “Never reinforce failure;” and “Politicians and their lap-dog advisers will always set soldiers up to take the fall.”

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.