20 October 2010

"Obama's wars" by Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is the nearest equivalent to Television in the print media.  He provides instant history with erudite and dispassionate analysis.  In "Obama's wars" he lets us have a peek at American thinking and policy making about the war in Afghanistan.

The war has several features that do not appeal to common sense:

1. No clarity of purpose.  US policy makers debate endlessly on the mission.  Destroy Al Qaeeda?  Destroy Afghan Taliban?  Degrade Afghan Taliban?  Prop up Karzai rule?  Usher Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan?  Catalyze economic development in Afghanistan?  Eight years into the war, the debate on purpose seems endless and pointless.

2. Tactical disadvantage.  The current opponent in the war theater, Afghan Taliban, has a unique advantage.  Whenever threatened, the Taliban can retire and rest in the safe havens of Pakistan (beyond the reach of the US war machine), re-equip and return with greater zest and motivation. No way to fight a war!

3. Bet on the wrong horse Episode 1:  Conventional thinking in the US is that Pakistan is a friend keen on helping US but beset by worries about local popular support and not free from threats from India.  There is little discussion on a more plausible alternative:  Pakistan is keen in prolonging the war (since the war is a source of income and US support), ensuring Afghan Taliban live to rule another day.

4. Bet on the wrong horse Episode 2:  Karzai.  US has a consistent track record in supporting power bases that quickly lose popular support for various reasons.  In Karzai's case there is just one reason: corruption.  He makes people long for Taliban!

5. Inappropriate belief by US Army that it should control (not just influence) war policy.  The young President wants more than one meaningful option; and desires to make a cool decision in the private environs of his situatino room.  The Army provides its preference flanked by meaningless options to drive Presidential decision in the direction the army desires.  The army feeds public thought by clever leaks to newspapers and calculated testimonies to Congress.

6. Insufficient sense of purpose and prolonged analysis in war policy.  The President seems to want to keep aiming for a long time before pulling the trigger.  At times, a sense of purpose and vision should drive strategy than perpetual and meaningless analysis or consensus building.  Such an approach worked in the magic campaign and would have worked in Government too.  Alas, the young senator was courageous because he had nothing to lose.  The young President seems weighed by his legacy-in-progress and seems lost in building conensus.

After spending ten years, almost a trillion dollars and the lives of a few thousand Americans, it is funny that the only thing the players could achieve is a statement that they would pull out at a pre-determined future date.  The Afghan Taliban now know when they can buy their return tickets to Kabul.

America is the last hope for peace worldwide.  It is a pity that Americans have the calendars and clocks in this war while Taliban have the time!

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