Afghanistan, the Way Forward — You Know What’s Coming — Send In the Expeditionary Ones

So President Obama gave a speech yesterday about the way forward in Afghanistan. And folks are tearing their hair out in frustration. One side is not happy with any substantial withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other side is not happy that it’s not fast nor substantial enough. When 33,000 troops come home by next summer, we will still have some 70,000 troops in that war zone not counting the civilians. President Obama:

“Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”

It’s like we’ve been teaching the Afghans to bike for some time now. At some point, we have to let go and let them ride on their own. We cannot be hovering around them forever or they’ll never learn to ride or blame us for their inability to ride. 

And the civilians? Although the President did not mention the civilians, I expect that the call for more diplomats and civilians to go to Afghanistan will follow whatever size, shape or form the military drawdown in that country will take shape.  It has already started. This op-ed today from the NYT:

“Develop “expeditionary” civilians willing to be deployed to danger zones critical to national security for years not months. The military has an “AfPak Hands” program to develop a cadre of 750 officers with knowledge and expertise to work on the region’s problems for five to seven years. Civilian agencies could do something similar, creating a team based in Washington, traveling frequently to the field, living in-country for up to 24 months, working the problem for four to five years, and developing the area and language expertise needed to do the job.”

This is not the first time we’ve heard the idea of a civilian expeditionary corps. Remains watching if it will stick this time. 

But as in Iraq, the transition from military to eventually civilian-led, because that’s where it’s going —  will be challenging.

We are now seeing the “surge” of contractors in Iraq to continue reconstruction work and to provide personal security for our civilian workers. As we move to a “smaller” military footprint in Afghanistan, there will be additional requirement for diplomats and civilians to take over.  Only it will be in a much larger scale when it happens and much more expensive.  Afghanistan is much larger in size than Iraq and has a more difficult terrain which means bringing in civilians and protecting, feeding, housing them will be much more complex without the US military.

The President on Reconstruction Nation Building at Home

“Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.”

It’s good to hear that; now, we want to follow the action here at home.

I am still shocked to hear politicians/etc claim that we can afford to fight these wars indefinitely, afford the reconstructions of our cities, communities, our public infrastructures in disrepair, while we continue to offer tax breaks to the richest people in this country — um, dudes, what meds are you on?

I can only conclude that either these folks are on tons of medications, or they live in a foreign country, and fly around the USofA via private air service that they and their families have no excuse to use our public schools, our potholed streets, our falling bridges, our train stations and airports, etc. etc. and no way of really knowing how bad things are outside their well manicured neighborhoods.

The full text of President Obama’s remarks is here.

The Secretary of State was over at the SFRC. The Cable quotes her:

“We have now reached the height of the civilian surge,” Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Looking ahead, as the transition proceeds, we will shift our efforts from short-term stabilization projects to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia’s economy.”

Josh Rogin notes that Secretary Clinton “did not give details about how the structure or size of the civilian surge would change as U.S. forces begin to withdraw.”