Obama's Afghanistan, a Different Vietnam: What America Should Know. 
They Understand the Value of the Surge
The Sign of a A Flexible Leader is Hard to Find
I JUST finished listening to a rebroadcast on Sirius/XM's POTUS program (channel 124 - Politics of the United States for the People of the United States, catchy, eh?) of an interview between various journalists and Lt. Gen. David Rodriquez, pictured to the right. He is one of the proteges of General Petraeus, former commander of the ISAF and current commander of the USFOR-A until he takes over as the Director of the CIA, if that hasn't already occurred. General Petraeus, for those who don't know, was the architect of the original Iraq surge, to which President Obama was so much opposed, that was so successful. Lt. Gen. Rodriquez, is the architect, at President Obama's direction, of the current surge in Afghanistan, which is also starting to bear positive results, according to Lt. Gen. Rodriguez.
As I have said in previous hubs, I have always been an Obama supporter: I just thought he needed more experience first; I was wrong. He was the right man for the job at the right time; especially as it pertains to Afghanistan; I am not sure that Hilary Clinton would have made the correct choice in Afghanistan, she was too "old school", as it were, even though, overall, she was my first choice.
From the outset, Senator-to-be Obama had his eye's focused on the prize, defeating Afghanistan. He would not have voted to allow President Bush to attack Iraq; as he has stated he understood we had not defeated al-Qaeda yet and it was not time to lose our focus. He was joined by Sen Bob Graham (D-FL, senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) and Sen Chafee (R-RI) who weren't railroaded into rash action and actually did vote against the authorizing resolution to invade Iraq.
They Understand Counter-Insurgency
How to Win a "Small" War
NO WAR is "small", of course, to the participants, but "small" in terms of size and scope such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Korea, require a different military mindset than "large" wars like WW I and WW II or the potential WW III America was always trying to be prepared for; unfortunately, our virtually all of our political and military leaders never understood that. This refusal to be flexible from President Johnson, Sec Def. Robert McNamara and Gen. William Westmoreland to President George W. Bush, Sec. Def. Donald Rumsfeld, and all the generals prior to General Petraeus, cost the United States billions in wasted treasure and tens of thousands of wasted lives of our trusting, brave warriors; trusting that our leaders, both military and political, knew what their were doing.
I was one of the forgotten warriors of the Vietnam era. My contribution was less that most that came before me having only been there from July 1971 to March 1972 during the draw down and in support of the ICCC during the "peace" talks (read the U.S. surrender). I supported the Vietnam War then and still do today; I don't support the way we fought it, however, What I always found amazing back then, and today, is that Americans seem to equate how we do a job with the moral justification for doing it in the first place.
It seems, don't you see, that if Americans do it poorly, then ipso facto, then doing it is morally and ethically unjustified; isn't that just silly ... and sadly American. :-(
I have pictures of President's Kennedy and Obama up because, unlike those that came in between, with the possible exception of President Carter, they appear to have understood "small" wars needed to be approached differently than "large" wars. President Kennedy had the foresight and wisdom to understand terrorism and created the Special Forces within the Army to combat it. The Army proceeded to salute smartly and ignore him; in effect they disobeyed a direct order from the President of the United States. Now, it wasn't so that you could see it; they created the Special Forces alright, created doctrine, trained men, put them into the field, and reported how successful they were back to the President ... as we all knew how to do with our parents, they did just enough to get by.
The top military brass on down, I won't get into the structure as it has changed dramatically from the 1960s, never, ever got away from the Cold War mindset. Not while I was on active duty from 1971 - 1975; not while I was in the National Guard from 1975 - 1996, not while I was working for the Department of Defense from 1983 - 2008. They did, while I was actually working for the Sec of Def's office, started moving to more light divisions and combat brigade concepts in the 1990s, but it was still open warfare and not small unit tactics or city combat that still ruled the day.
While I will give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, I suspect, the only reason the CIA and the Special Force got the nod to go into Afghanistan in 2001 was because they were the only ones ready to go. I bet, if the truth be known, there was some in-fighting in the Pentagon to give the tanks some time to mobilize and get on the ground over there. While I was in the Pentagon then, I was back with the Air Force; darn!
President Kennedy understood you couldn't win a "military" victory in Vietnam; that was why he insisted on using counter-terrorism tactics to the maximum. He was strongly resisted by the Pentagon. It is too bad he took that trip to Dallas; so many things could have been different and Vietnam might have been one of them. While I am wishing, it is too bad Barack Obama, or someone with his vision, wasn't Kennedy's Vice President.
Vietnam and Afghanistan
TO ME, about the only difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is one has trees and the other doesn't; well, OK, the language is a tad different to. A few that come to mind are that In both countries:
- The central government is corrupt and weak
- The central government does not have a lot of control over the countryside
- The good guys and bad guys look the same to us
- We do not understand their culture or their politics or their religion, nor do we care to understand
- The bad guys are better armed and much more organized than the good guys
- The American people have no understanding of how their lives are wrapped up in a favorable outcome to our effort
Three things that are different, however, are:
- In Afghanistan, sections of the country are ruled by warlords which makes control over the populous a bit easier, if you can get them on your side.
- They have learned to hate the Taliban
Counter-insurgency is truly about the hearts and minds of the people. The key is getting the central government to be Honest enough to get the people to trust it, a HUGE task in most countries like that, and then strong enough to Defend the people With the people's help. After eight years of being ignored by President Bush, President Obama first worked with his military, and then instituted a new kind of policy never before seen, except in a small way in Iraq, American warfare by an American fighting force who has never fought this way before. And, according to Lt. Gen. Rodriquez, it is beginning to work.
Now, I need to take a little time to castigate the American people a little more. President Obama took office in what, late January 2009? This is what, July 2011. He has had the Summer of 2009 and 2010 for any policy he might of initiated to have a chance to work. Now, I know you all thought that being the first black man elected to be President he must be able to work a miracle or twelve. Well, let's take a tally:
- Obama stopped the hemorrhaging of 700,000 jobs per month in three months
- Obama turned what was going to be a major depression into a bad recession
- Obama limited what should have been, once the REAL numbers were in, a 14 - 15% unemployment to 10%
- Obama was able to add 2 million private sector jobs in 2010
- Obama got a comprehensive health care bill, on-par with Social Security and Medicare passed for the first time in the history of the U.S.
- Obama got us out of Iraq (OK, he had to backtrack on his opposition to the Iraq surge, a bit .... sighh. a lot.)
- Obama took a major step forward toward America's dream of equal rights for all by getting rid of the onerous Don't Ask, Don't Tell law
- Obama has repaired America's image with the world devastated by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and SeC Def Rumsfeld
- Establish the very first consumer protection rights against predatory credit card, banking, financial practices and create a cabinet level office for consumer advocacy.
- Refocus on Afghanistan
- Reorient the military to fight terrorism
- Kill Osama bin Laden.
So, what does he do for Afghanistan? He totally revamps a failed program that has languished since the Taliban and al-Qaeda where kicked out of Afghanistan and bin Laden was allowed to escape from Tora Bora. This had to start sometime in February 2009, at the same time Obama was trying to figure out how to stop the country from falling into a depression and to stop the loss of 700,000 jobs a month caused by Bush economic policies.
Developing new military plans take time, especially radically new ones. There are all sorts of chains of commands to go through in each of the impacted services, which, in this case, would be all three Services, plus the Marine portion of the Navy, plus the many Combat Commands that are involved, it is not just Centcom and don't forget the various service traning commands. Then you have to work it through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense and his support staff; two different and competing entities. As I said, it takes awhile ... did I mention I started with a full head of hair early in my military career? It is not there now.
It is a wonder that they had a plan by 2011, yet they did, some time in 2009. Of course, Americans, especially Democrats, were already wondering why, Obama hadn't won in Afghanistan yet and he hadn't even had chance to implement a thing yet. I really doubt, without actually knowing, that our troops were able to do much until 2010 so, in reality, we have had only one fighting season to reap any benefit from our new tactics. YET .. AMERICA wants instant gratification, and it is not only the Democrats now, it is many Conservatives, strangely enough. I know, I hope, we are not a stupid people, but there is something wrong with us, from my perspective.
I don't intend this hub to be a grand defense of our involvement Afghanistan. To me, it is as self-evident as the juxtaposition of the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence regarding Life and Liberty and France's self-serving decision to the support of a new nation several years later that allowed the United States to come into existence. It is interesting to note that this new country, at the time France made their momentous decision, was made up of 13 separate States run by theocratic (Puritan, Church of England, general Christian), but democratically elected assemblies, none with effective executives, that allowed a central government to run the war effort; a central government, by the way, that had much less power and control than the one in Kabul, Afghanistan today. All I can say is that I am glad that France, in the 1780s wasn't composed of the 75% of Americans of 2011 who oppose our efforts in Afghanistan today.
We. as a people, seem to have become so iconoclastic that I am embarrassed by it. We appear to have moved so far away from what America stands for as not to be recognizable anymore. Our people and politicians don't seem to care about education, we seem to have forgone reason; using it and teaching, and replaced it with multiple choice tests, slogans and political theology (just look at today's debt limit debate), We have a society that doesn't believe we just dodged a depression bullet and blame Obama for not having full employment 2-years after having just lost 12 million of more jobs. I am sorry, call me stupid, but I just don't get it.
OK, I am stepping off my soap box. Over to you.