More U.S. Troops in Afghanistan?


1. Backward Causation
2. Counterinsurgency Has No Sound Objective
3. Hard Choices

1. Backward Causation

In this article, two eminent physicists, Holger Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya, hypothesize that the recent failures of the Large Hadron Collider are caused by - now this is the tricky bit - someone, or something, in the future that has taken steps to prevent it from working in the past. Nielsen and Ninomiya propose a simple card trick to validate their theory. Really.

At first, I experienced a vague sense of dismay that the collapse of science into abstract novelty might be at the root of the decline of rationality in our world. But then it hit me. Only backward causation could explain the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama.

Because it clearly could not relate to anything that he has done in the past, it must relate to something that he is going to do. Someone in the future has set a series of events into a backward causation motion resulting in his winning the prize. How could I have missed this? And here I was scratching my head at how out of touch the Nobel committee was.

Now that it is clear he has earned it ... or will have earned it ... I can't help but wonder what he did... is going to have did?...or will have did?...or will be going to have done?

My bet is that he won it for the peace accord with the Taliban that he is going to sign in 2014.

In late 2009, President Obama will authorize the deployment of an additional 35 000 troops. Then in 2012, after a surprising show of strength from the Taliban and the complete collapse of the fragile and corrupt civilian government, a further increase of 15 000 troops is authorized just before the President is re-elected (In case you're wondering: he carries the new state of Alberta and beats Meghan McCain in a squeaker).

By 2013, finally, a stalema te is won and the Taliban are more or less contained in their southern strongholds - the way they were back in 2008 and 2009. Then in February of 2014, President Obama accepts reality and, without the shadow of re-election, negotiates an end to the war and the Taliban ente r a power-sharing agreement with a new fragile and corrupt American-backed regime. Later that year, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee decides that Obama deserves the award but is afraid that the imminent collapse of the coalition in Afghanistan will make it look like a joke. So they arrange to have it awarded in the past. In 2009! It all makes such perfect sense.

It is not always easy to learn from our mistakes, especially the ones we have not made yet. But, in the here and now, in deciding whether to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, the President woul d do well to remember that old adage: Those who forget the future are doomed to repeat be going to repeat it?... to will have re-repeated it? - Beta

2. Counterinsurgency Has No Sound Objective

Putting aside all the cute stuff about backward causation, let us begin with a digression on the Nobel Prize. While everyone was surprised by it, including President Obama, it is unfair to say that it was for nothing. Aside from changing the dynamic between Islam and the West and affecting the global sense of security in similarly intangible ways, Barak Obama has already changed the game in the world of nuclear disarmament. Beginning with his speech in Prague, continuing with his strong pressure on agencies within the U. S. to alter American nuclear strategy and posture, and his concrete steps on missile defense have all had an impact. Might it have been more meaningful to wait until he advances the ball further down the field? Sure. But it was more than almost any other person did for global peace in the last few years.

Now, Afghanistan. Beta's actual point, it seems, is that Obama is going to cave to pressure to deploy the 40,000 troops being demanded by Gen. McChrystal, and that it will be to no avail. In the end, the U.S. will be forced to accept some kind of power-sharing regime that includes the Taliba n in Afghanistan.

First, it is actually not clear that President Obama is going to go down that road. There is increasing evidence that reisistece is building within the administration to further escalation, and that Joe Biden's lonely position is gaining adherents. There is exhaustive research being done within the various agencies, and even some intelligent debate in the upper levels of public discourse on how the suppression of a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan may or may not be in the interests of the U.S.

Of course, in the wider media and political hackasphere there continues to be meaningless chatter about "winning" and "victory", and how the "surge" worked in Iraq so surely it must similarly work in Afghanistan to bring us "victory". This is in part a reflection of the American tendency to see war in sporting terms, as some grand football game, to be won, los t or drawn. War is not a game. Clausewitz famously said that war is the continuation of policy by other means - and that one cannot consider the means in isolation of the objectives.

The question is what are our objectives in Afghanistan? The initial objectives of disrupting al-Qaeda's operations and overturning the Taliban regime that was sheltering al-Qaeda, all to stop the attacks on the U.S., were largely achieved. Now they have shifted. what is our objective in fighting again st a nationlistic mutli-faceted insurgency?

There has been no clear debate on the issue of what we are seeking to achieve, and more importantly, why. But as Richard Haas argued in a debate last week, suppressing the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and propping up an increasingly discredited regime, is certainly not essential to American interests. It is no longer a war of necessity, and the cost, in terms of treasure, blood, political capital, and misplaced foreign policy focus, increasingly seems to outweigh the benefit. There is reason for hope that Obama will not wade deeper into the morass.

Turning to Beta's second point, that the U.S. will be forced to accept a compromise that involves the Taliban in a some form of power-sharing arrangement, I would tend to agree. It is an argument that is also beginning to get significant play in the informed debate in Washington. Moreover, there is evidence that the Taliban of today is quite different from that of 2001, with very different agendas. But in any event, unless we are prepared to be an occupying army for several decades, keeping the Taliban's hands off the levers of power seems an unrealistic objective. - Gamma.

3. Hard Choices

Physics is hard. War is harder.

There is no victory for the US in Afghanistan - only gradations of defeat. The Biden option of focusing existing troops on rooting out Al-Qaeda at least allows for a claim of "mission accomplished" before packing the whole the circus up and coming home. But, let's be honest, it is merely a cut-and-run strategy dressed up to look pretty.

The risks of narrowing the focus and developing an exit strategy are profound. The Afghan government is corrupt and weak and could collapse at any time. The Afghan army is years away from being a credible force for stability. The narco-warlord complex is powerful and violent. And the Taliban are no-good thugs who, by all rights, should never be given a role in any government. The Biden option accepts those risks as trade-offs for an easier exit.

There are many things about this option that must gall Obama. First, it would mean trusting Biden's instincts which are often wrong. Second, it is a wholesale abandonment of the Afghan people, greater by so many degrees than how the U.S. left them high and dry after helping them repel the Russians. Third, it is a "do less" option and the President is a "do more" kind of a guy. Fourth, and last, it is a gamble and Obama hates games of chance.

But hard choices define great men. I can only hope that Obama can see that the deaths of hundreds more soldiers and thousands of more civilians will do little to change the situation. It is ... sadly, unsatisfyingly, tragically ... sometimes better to cut and run. - Beta.



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