Conflict Of Interest

It is no easy thing for an American president to wage an unpopular war. To make war effectively requires both secrecy and resolve, and neither can be relied upon under the American system. The transparency of government and freedom of the press that stand as bulwarks against tyranny and corruption make secrecy difficult and undependable — and given that any politician’s tenure is subject to abrupt termination at the whim of an electorate that, confident in America’s natural defenses of salt water and weak neighbors, slips naturally into pacifistic isolationism, resolve fades quickly as expenses mount.

President Obama, who, I think, does indeed understand what is at stake in Afghanistan, tried his best, in his recent speech, to offer something to everyone. He gave the hawks the surge they wanted, but clearly felt the need to mollify the doves as well, and so announced that our effort would be of sharply limited duration. In other words, he explained that our resolve is genuine, but has an expiration date.

This, however, is not the sort of resolve that people tend to count on. That kind sounds more like this:

I have myself full confidence that if all do their duty and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, ride out the storms of ware outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary, for years, if necessary, alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government, every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and their need, will defend to the death their native soils, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength, even though a large tract of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule.

We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God’s good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.

What we got instead was an encouraging little bit about fighting with growing confidence, followed, unfortunately, by an announcement that we will begin flagging, promptly, in mid-2011. This has had an easily predictable effect.

A great many parties have an interest in the future of Afghanistan, and it is of particular concern to our “friends”, the Pakistanis. Their chief foe in the region is India, and even now those two nuclear-armed powers glare, and occasionally shoot, at one another across a lofty and disputed frontier in Kashmir. The Indians, who are our longtime chums, are already doing what they can to expand their influence in Afghanistan, building highways and offering extensive support to the nascent Afghan National Army; they would like nothing better than to see their mortal enemy Pakistan pinched between the mother country and a biddable proxy.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is under considerable US pressure to strike at the Taliban and al-Qaeda strongholds in the northwest and in Baluchistan — and were it clear that the US was resolved not to relinquish control in Afghanistan, they might be persuaded to do so.

But we have now made it quite clear that we are not resolved to maintain control in Afghanistan, and so Pakistan must do what it can to stake its claim, against India, for control when we are gone. The Pakistanis know very well that the smart money is on a resurgent Taliban, and as it happens they have some powerful longstanding allies of their own amongst them — in particular the Haqqani family, who are causing our forces a great deal of pain in the eastern Afghan provinces, and who are at the very top of the list of targets the US would like Pakistan to go after. Haqqani père, Jalaluddin, received copious CIA and Pakistani largesse during the anti-Soviet machinations of the 1980s, and his son Siraj, carrying on the family business, is certain, should he still breathe, to exert considerable influence in post-US Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, then (who are already seen by most Muslims in the region as US puppets and betrayers of the Ummah), are in the awkward position of being told by us to kill off the very assets upon which rest their best hopes of offsetting Indian power in Afghanistan — by creating whatever sort of pan-ethnic Islamic alliance they can — once we cut and run.

In fact I think that we will not be drawing down on anything like the timetable Mr. Obama announced in his speech, and I imagine he had that in mind all along: the timetable was given as a sop to his political base. But others have been listening also.

Related content from Sphere

One Comment

  1. JK says

    President Obama is a submersible. Any course he takes is subject to any weak chink in the hull.

    But – as Michael Yon has written: “The Taliban knows that one day we (the coalition – whether that be the vaunted or the real) will go home.

    The Taliban are already home.”

    If a lofty and worthy goal has been set – only the worthy goal is possible. The word “lofty” – as yet unattained in toto in the West – shall remain unattainable in that region.

    The best we can hope for is to deny, “Shelter from the storm.”

    And I, a pretty goddamned weak voice in whatever wilderness would, probably should, offer shelter from the storm, except that, whomsoever would proffer the storm, shall be fodder for the predator, the reaper, and whatever shall become.

    Posted December 16, 2009 at 12:55 am | Permalink