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Afghanistan: Defeated or defeatist?

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10 March 2011 17:39

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

The problem with the blogosphere is a bit like the problem with life: wins are few and far between, problems are rarely solved, issues are partially addressed, and all of us take a set position and are rarely moved.

I was reminded of this when I read Raoul Heinrichs' post on Gillard and Afghanistan. I feel that we have been around this buoy time and again, but in the spirit of repetition, let me make some comments.

Why should an accelerated withdrawal be a defining challenge for our Prime Minister, more defining than actually achieving a successful outcome' If, in 2001, Australia and other US allies had had a presence tailored to the strategic and tactical need, we might have achieved honourable objectives by about 2005.

Why should military 'presence' unrelated to numbers or effectiveness or equal burden-sharing create a status for allies as 'loyal and steadfast' rather than opportunistic and minimalist, ready to fight to the last American' Why is the situation 'hopeless' only three months after the first serious attempt to match the tactical military and non-military situation with adequate resources'

How can anyone say definitively that 'the war is lost'' Raoul implies that due to 'profound asymmetry', such wars cannot be won. I don't know what he means by 'winning', but for interventionist forces like us, 'winning' is providing time for Afghanistan to be able to win or lose the Afghanistan war some time in the future. There is a fair chance that this is achievable by 2014. We have won these wars before when people said they were hopeless.

Many are not able to tell the difference between 'impossible' and 'very difficult' in relation to war, and I can understand that. Through our mismanagement of the war, it is now very difficult. It is my judgment, based on my experience, that this war is not yet impossible. Perhaps we can still mismanage it to where Raoul thinks it is now, but every indication I get is that we are not there yet and there is a fair chance (again, my judgment) that the interventionist forces could be successful by about 2014. That is about as good as it gets in war. If you want certainty, do something else.

Of course, Pakistan makes it even more difficult, but why does Pakistan make it impossible' A change of Pakistan policy involving moves against the Afghanistan Taliban would probably be decisive for the Afghanistan conflict. Instead of whingeing about how the war is lost, let's work on Pakistan. A lot of people are. A change of policy there might be unlikely but it is not impossible.

Raoul's (and sometimes Hugh's) view that US withdrawal will begin this year is simplistic. Obama's policy is far more complex than statements made at West Point. Remember, Obama also said he would close Gitmo.

Raoul seems to imply that negotiating with the Taliban is an indication of defeat. That again is simplistic. If you negotiate from a position of weakness, then it is just surrender. If you negotiate from a position of strength, with conditions, it is logical. It is what happened in previous wars, and it is the only way to go. A Taliban member who accepts the Afghanistan constitution, renounces violence and joins the political process is called an Afghan. And this is all about military and non-military leverage, leverage that the Coalition now has and which it will apply over this year.

Raoul seems to allow only 'direct interest' in Afghanistan. The interest that we have in Afghanistan as it applies to the struggle against extremism is not a bad place to start, indirect and vague though it might be. And there are others.

The logic of then pointing out our relevance in a possible future confrontation with China is fascinating. Is Raoul saying that the US needs us and therefore we can act anyway we like' An interesting moral position. The willingness of the US to manage the rise of China may depend on the willingness of its allies to actually assist. None of America's allies have a good track record on actually assisting rather than just offering tokens.

It is interesting to consider why the US would consider us a good ally in a confrontation with China when we have maintained a minimalist strategic policy for so long. Why would we change in relation to China' What would be our direct interest in China' We did not act like a good ally in Iraq even when we had troops in the country, and we have limited our commitment in Afghanistan even though we have the capacity. What makes Raoul think that the US would expect us to do anything different in the future'

The US is not going to get into a public dispute with us over Afghanistan. But I would be interested to know when a propensity to talk big and carry no stick at all become a liability in an alliance'

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