Romney offers politics, not a plan, on Afghanistan
Mitt Romney, trying to be the Alpha-male, is more hawkish about Aftergascan, than President Obama. Sure, he has the requisite coterie of advisors, but has he read any books? Is he clueless about the reality on the ground like Bush was before the invasion of Iraq? Like another priveleged character, he avoided service in Vietnam and instead received a religious deferment. Romney went on a mission to France to proselytize for his goofy religion.
“As Ho Chi Minh once observed, “You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill one of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it.” A similar dynamic applies in Afghanistan. For more than a decade, NATO has been fighting a war whose objectives are vague, illusory, and often fantastic.”
The documents suggest that the Soviet decision to withdraw occurred as early as 1985, but the process of implementing that decision was excruciatingly slow, in part because the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was never able to achieve the necessary domestic support and legitimacy – a key problem even today for the current U.S. and NATO-supported government in Kabul.
This is Nutz. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the government they left behind lasted three years.
“A total figure for the United States of $2.7 billion a year has been discussed, and it could easily be more; there would most likely be aid for civilian programs as well.
That would be a steep reduction from the amount the United States now spends here, which has been $110 billion to $120 billion a year since the “surge” in U.S. troop levels began in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.”
Romney’s Vague and Frustrating Views on Afghanistan
By the Editors Apr 22, 2012 6:00 PM ET
Mitt Romney’s position on the war in Afghanistan will be familiar to those who have followed him, or tried to, on health-care reform.
In both cases — two of the biggest domestic and foreign policy issues of this year’s election campaign — he criticizes President Barack Obama for essentially having the same policy as Romney himself.
In the case of health care, Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, led the way to enactment of a plan centered on the notorious (to Republicans, anyway) “individual mandate.” He even offered to advise Obama on how a similar plan might be implemented nationally. Romney now says the Obama plan, individual mandate and all, is dreadful, and he promises to stop the whole thing in its tracks his first day as president.
In the case of the war in Afghanistan, started by President George W. Bush and pursued with determination by Obama, Romney has not reversed his former views, possibly because he is new to the foreign policy game and has no former views. His current views, insofar as they can be divined, again appear almost identical to Obama’s — and where they’re not, are contradictory.
Both men favor a deadline for withdrawal of American troops. Both say that deadline should be the end of 2014. Both acknowledge that some small number of troops will have to remain indefinitely. Romney has also said, as Obama has not, that full withdrawal should happen only when U.S. generals approve or “as soon as that mission is complete.”
So is Romney in favor of full withdrawal by 2014 or is he not? If anything is clear in Afghanistan, it is that the U.S. mission will not be complete by the end of 2014. As president, Romney would face the same dismaying choice that Obama faces: He could pull out our troops and end the war by the deadline (or earlier, as we have advocated). That could risk appearing — and not just appearing — to slink away in humiliation. Or, he could stay until “the mission is complete,” which could be many years or even never.
What happens if, as has happened with every other Western mission to civilize Afghanistan in recent centuries, we fail to accomplish our mission in the time we have set for it? Romney says that setting a deadline for withdrawal is a gift to our enemies. They now know that they just have to hold out for a couple more years in a war that has been going on since 2001. If the Obama administration didn’t set a deadline, Republicans would accuse them of failing to have an “exit strategy” in Afghanistan.
Romney — who, as we know from other issues, has the entire spectrum of possible opinions available to him — has not clearly said where he stands. This is a policy question, not a military one. “Leave it to the generals” is not an acceptable answer in our democracy.
“We should not negotiate with the Taliban,” Romney says. “We should defeat the Taliban.” On this one aspect of the perplexing Afghanistan war, there is a real disagreement, because the Obama administration is in fact negotiating, albeit episodically, with the Taliban.
This is pretty appalling, but so are all the other options. Of course we should defeat the Taliban. We also should cure world hunger. You don’t get credit for wishing. The U.S. has spent nearly 11 years so far, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of young lives, trying to defeat the Taliban. How much American blood and treasure is Romney prepared to spend?
Whatever its dimensions, a continued U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will be controversial. That’s why the most important follow-up to the new agreement must come from Mr. Obama. The president has not given a major speech about Afghanistan in more than a year and has not visited the country in 18 months. His actions will be important to reinforce the message, to both Afghans and Americans, of the bilateral accord: that he is firmly committed to Afghanistan’s future.
Romney’s Critique of War Policy Gets a Closer Look
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
Published: April 17, 2012
Mitt Romney has made Afghanistana showcase for his attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy. He says Mr. Obama has undercut American interests by setting timetables for withdrawing troops, providing the Taliban — who displayed their resilience with attacks over the weekend — further reason to wait things out. He called Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta “misguided and so naïve” for announcing plans to hand over primary combat responsibilities to Afghan forces next year and leave American troops mainly in training and other roles.
But despite the tough critique, Mr. Romney has loosely embraced the main thrust of White House policy for troop levels after the election: a timetable for pulling out nearly all troops by the end of 2014.
Now that Mr. Romney has emerged as the likely Republican nominee and Afghanistan is again being tested by a Taliban offensive, his position on the war is likely to come under more scrutiny after a primary fight that gave him few opportunities to offer nuanced national security positions. Even so, analysts say he has reasons to be less than precise on Afghanistan: The war’s declining support among voters means there is little space for him to stake out a policy that provides both a sharp political contrast with Mr. Obama and keeps the war’s unpopularity at a distance.
“He doesn’t want to own this war in the event he gets elected, but by the same token he can’t look like he’s advocating a precipitous withdrawal for all sorts of reasons, including alienating the Republican base, and yet he cannot take the same position as the president,” said Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s difficult to square the circle and meet all those constraints at the same time.”
And domestic politics are only one tricky element. There are serious doubts that the broadly hoped-for exit strategy of both parties — that Afghan forces can progress to where they can keep the Taliban at bay with limited assistance by 2014 — will materialize that quickly, if at all.
Big troop increases ordered by Mr. Obama have led to security gains in many places. But the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until the invasion a decade ago, remain the most powerful force in many rural areas. Some experts fear that a withdrawal will boost the odds of the nation succumbing again to warlordism and civil strife.
Mr. Romney has said repeatedly that he wants to bring troops home as soon as possible, but with the significant caveat that such a drawdown takes place when “our generals think it’s O.K.” or “as soon as that mission is complete.”
He has also struck tones more hawkish than some advisers, as he did when he bucked a consensus among many in both parties about the need for a negotiated peace. “We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban,” he said in January, describing one subject on which he differs from the administration, which supports talks.
Yet Mr. Romney has also embraced a timeline for a near-total withdrawal by the midpoint of the next presidential term, just as Mr. Obama has. “The timetable by the end of 2014 is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces,” he said during a November debate.
Afghan forces “absolutely” must take over “their own battle for their independence from the Taliban” by then, he also said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last September.
In an e-mail last week, a Romney aide said removing troops would still be conditional. “Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders,” the aide said. “Pending full review of conditions on the ground, Governor Romney would abide by the 2014 target for transitioning combat operations recommended by the military commanders.”
Obama campaign officials argue that Mr. Romney has been inconsistent. “If he wants to be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief, he needs to state clearly and definitively what he would do differently than President Obama,” said Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman, who described Mr. Romney as “all over the map on when and whether to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.”
With the Republican nominating contest all but over, Mr. Romney now faces pressure to elaborate on other foreign policy views, including some that have puzzled experts in both parties, like describing Russia on CNN recently as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
For Mr. Romney, the evolving politics of the Afghan conflict suggest that he “wouldn’t get a lot of juice for making the argument to stay,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University. “The problem he’s got is, how he can criticize the president by adopting a policy remarkably similar to the president. He’s obviously got to criticize him, but he doesn’t have that much to work with.”
Mr. Romney has an impressive bench of foreign policy advisers, some with long service in Republican administrations, like Richard Williamson and Mitchell Reiss, both senior diplomats. Some have deep ties to the intelligence community, including Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former director, and Cofer Black, a former chief of the C.I.A. counterterrorism center. Yet his backers say he is handicapped right now because he has not officially secured the nomination and he is not a senator as Mr. Obama was in 2008, both of which make it harder to obtain candid briefings from American officials that would help formulate policies.
He has disagreed with some advisers. One co-chairman of his campaign’s Afghanistan and Pakistan working group, James Shinn, an assistant secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, has suggested that not having negotiations with the Taliban could lead to defeat.
“This war is either going to end in a negotiated solution that involves the Taliban and the government in some way, as distasteful as that may be, or it’s going to end in a retreat,” he said on “Charlie Rose” last June.
Mr. Romney has plenty of criticisms of Mr. Obama’s first years, including what he calls a politically driven decision to withdraw 23,000 troops this September. He says Mr. Obama should have heeded advice of commanders and waited until the end of the year, after fighting subsides from the cold weather. Once these “surge” troops depart, there will be 68,000 service members still deployed.
He has also said that the White House did not provide enough troops for the surge two years ago. (Mr. Obama approved three quarters of what was requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander in Afghanistan.) And he has said that he would have reached out more to President Hamid Karzai , who enjoyed a rapport with General McChrystal and the C.I.A. station chief but had difficult relations with Mr. Obama’s first ambassador, Karl Eikenberry. Mr. Romney met with Mr. Karzai during a trip to Afghanistan early last year.
Mr. Romney also singles out the 2009 announcement that withdrawals would begin by 2011, which he says emboldened the Taliban. Recently, though, Mr. Romney has criticized timelines in more general terms, raising questions about how effective such attacks will be since he has embraced a drawdown.
Both Obama administration officials and Mr. Romney have spoken of some forces remaining after 2014, but neither side has been precise. An administration official said last month that it would be “a much smaller presence” of counterterror teams, trainers and advisers. And Mr. Romney, at one debate, said “commanders on the ground” had suggested “perhaps 10,000 or so.” But he did not explicitly endorse the number.
Nato still has its work cut out in Afghanistan
If we leave the Afghans to fend for themselves, it will have disastrous consequences for their security – and for ours.
The ease with which the Taliban breached the security cordon suggests a major intelligence failure on the part of both Afghan and Nato forces
April 17, 2012, 5:40 am
The Taliban Attacks: Afghanistan
By DANIEL POLITI
A series of brazen attacks by the Taliban rocked Afghanistan on Sunday, with suicide bombers and gunmen staging offensives in Kabul and three eastern provinces for nearly 18 hours. A Taliban spokesman said the attacks were “a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban lost momentum.”
Military gains probably were not the main objective. “The Taliban’s intent was almost certainly psychological — to shatter any feeling of security in the capital and focus minds on what will happen when the Westerners depart,” The Telegraph argues in an editorial.
Or to put it more crudely, as Marwan Bishara does in Al Jazeera, “The Taliban’s claim that their well-planned and sophisticated operation was only the beginning of a spring offensive has probably resulted in many soiled undergarments across the country.”
For some, the violence means the Afghan government should double-down on negotiations. Karzai “must not give up at this juncture,” says India’s Deccan Herald. “He must not allow the Taliban’s provocative violence to defeat the peace process.”
This won’t be easy. The Taliban “will in all probability drive a hard bargain at the negotiating table,” writes Syed Mansur Hashim of Bangladesh’s The Daily Star. “It would be wise not to set preconditions for talks, for the boot is no longer on Karzai’s foot and time unfortunately is running out fast for a negotiated settlement that would see Afghanistan return to the fraternity of peaceful nations.”
The whole region will need to be involved, argues Razeshta Sethna in Pakistan’s Dawn. “The U.S. has not engaged Afghanistan’s neighbors — Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan,” writes Sethna, and yet these countries’ “historic relationships are decisive” to working effectively with local warlords and ethnic groups.
It’s difficult, however, to imagine the Taliban “settling for a political solution,” notes Dilawar Sherzai in Daily Outlook Afghanistan. Now that the withdrawal of foreign troops is in sight, the group may “prefer not to have peace talks at all” and try to win a larger share of power through war.
Lauding the Afghan forces’ response to Sunday’s attacks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday he was “rather very confident” that once the international troops leave Afghanistan “the Afghan forces will be able to defend their country as they demonstrated yesterday.”
But for India’s The Economic Times, the attacks only confirm the need for the international community to stay present in Afghanistan even after NATO troops withdraw, perhaps in the form of a U.N. force “stationed across Afghanistan, with the mandate to engage the Taliban.”
Army major’s despair at our ‘pointless war’: Senior officer’s damning emails reveal plummeting morale at heart of Afghan campaign that has cost 409 British lives
ByGLEN OWEN PUBLISHED:16:10 EST, 21 April 2012
They are stark words that reveal the despair of our forces fighting in Afghanistan.
Emails sent to a former military chaplain paint a damning picture of sinking morale among Servicemen who feel the human cost of the conflict can no longer be justified.
Dr Peter Lee, a university lecturer who spent seven years as an RAF padre, has released the emails to highlight the extent of disillusionment within the ranks.
The correspondence includes two emails sent by a major on the brink of a fresh deployment to the region. He likens the prospect to ‘being put on for the last two minutes of a lost game’ of rugby.’
Paying a terrible price: Troops in the field in Afghanistan have sustained heavy casualties
In an accompanying article for The Mail on Sunday – published below – Dr Lee describes this as ‘enough time to get hurt, badly, and perhaps enough time to make the defeat fractionally less embarrassing. But there is no chance that defeat can be turned into victory’.
The emails follow the news that Sapper Connor Ray from 33 Engineer Regiment became the 409th British military fatality since the conflict began in 2001 when he died on Wednesday from injuries sustained in an explosion in Helmand.Polls have shown that a majority of British people are confused about the purpose of our mission and want the troops to be pulled out immediately. Barely one in ten think the conflict is winnable.
David Cameron has pledged that Afghan forces will take over lead security responsibility in all parts of the country by the end of next year.
British forces will then offer a ‘supporting combat role’ in 2014, before withdrawing from all combat operations by December of that year – ensuring the Government will not go into the next General Election against the backdrop of continuing bad news from the front line.
The anonymous major, who Dr Lee calls ‘Jim’, says in one email that his fellow Servicemen predict that ‘the whole house of cards will fall down’ when the international forces depart.
He puts Dr Lee in touch with ‘John’, a British ex-Special Forces soldier who provides security for the logistics convoys that transport supplies by road. John claims that they are sustaining heavy casualties that are not being reported.
‘John’ writes: ‘Because we are civvie private security and get paid well we are seen as mercenaries. So unlike when a soldier gets IEDd, when we get killed or injured nobody gives a s***.’
He adds that the bulk of the casualties are locals working for the British, adding: ‘If anything happens to us we might get lucky and be shipped back home in a box or on a stretcher but the media don’t want to hear about it so nobody else hears about it.
‘The locals are left to get on with it. They might not be Brits but the reality is that these are lives lost in the British effort.’
A further email from ‘Jim’ sums up his feelings about his deployment. It reads: ‘I’m being sent out to stabilise a country I have no faith, interest or empathy in, to prop up a government the UN says is corrupt.
‘If I’m unlucky and don’t return my wife won’t have a husband and my three primary school kids won’t have a daddy and I cannot for the life of me justify that cost to them.
‘Not for Afghanistan. Not for a war of choice already lost halfway across the world.’
Although members of the Government are reluctant to question the chances of success of the military operation in public, out of a fear of undermining morale or adding to the distress of Servicemen’s families, privately they are more candid.
One Tory MP, a former member of the Commons Defence Select Committee – and until recently a supporter of the action – said: ‘I’m afraid I find myself increasingly in agreement with the sentiments in the emails.’
Last night, responding to the publication of their contents, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We are now in the final phases of that mission and the Prime Minister has said that UK combat operations will cease by the end of 2014 with that role already reducing.
‘But if we are to make certain that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for international terrorists, we must see the job through.
‘Despite the many sacrifices and hardships, those UK Service personnel I have met during my own visits to Afghanistan have told me they are clear about the mission in hand and the tangible progress they are making every day.
‘All of them deserve our unwavering support and respect.’
Former Army officer Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP for Newark, said: ‘The British Forces must take comfort in the state of readiness of the Afghan armed forces, the development of the Afghan government and the fact that Afghanistan and Pakistan have not spiralled down into chaos as they inevitably would have done if it had not been for the bravery of our regiments.’
How many votes is a human life worth? It is the question that has been haunting me since I received the three emails printed on these pages, writes Dr Peter Lee, a former military chaplain and lecturer in defence studies.
The first two were from a major – I will call him Jim – who had heard me criticising our Government’s ability to delude themselves and others that the war in Afghanistan is still winnable.
Jim has become increasingly disillusioned with the war. He is sceptical of the reasons that he, the Armed Forces and the British public are given for our continued involvement.
He is far from alone.Jim likens this latest deployment to being sent on to a rugby field for the last two minutes of a match that was lost in the first half. In such a situation there is enough time to get hurt, badly, and perhaps enough time to make the defeat fractionally less embarrassing. But there is no chance that defeat can be turned into victory.
There is no chance that Jim, like the rest of his uniformed colleagues, will refuse to serve: he is a man whose sense of duty and honour outweighs his capacity for self- preservation. Therefore, he and his family have to prepare for the eventuality that he might not come home.
Especially since the job he is being sent to do will leave him particularly vulnerable to Taliban attacks.
To reinforce his point, he introduced me to another friend of his – ‘John’, a British ex-Special Forces soldier, whose email is also printed here. John provides private security for the logistics convoys that transport essential supplies by road into Afghanistan.
These convoys are being ambushed on a regular basis because they are big, slow-moving targets, the security personnel are not allowed heavy weapons, and there is no air cover to protect them.
John reported that he recently sustained multiple casualties in one trip alone – which went completely unreported.
Even more troubling, another Army major of my acquaintance describes Afghanistan as the next political scandal waiting to happen.
He called it the ‘lives-for-votes’ scandal when he asked me how many votes I thought his life was worth.
As a former military chaplain, I care deeply about what happens to our servicemen and women. I have had to look into the eyes of wives, parents and children as they were told their loved one would not be returning home. I have watched soldiers coming out of induced comas to discover a limb, or two, missing.
Grown men have sat in my office and wept, attempting to make sense of what they have experienced and trying to understand why they have to go back again.
I therefore decided to make further enquiries about what was happening in one unseen, unreported corner of our Afghan adventure.
I submitted a Freedom of Information request. I asked the Ministry of Defence for a range of information relating to our supply convoys in Afghanistan. Questions included: How many times have convoys come under attack between 2006 and 2011? How many fatalities and woundings have resulted from those attacks?
After 20 days I was informed that the MoD wanted to use its right to take a further 20 days to consider my request. When the eventual reply came, I was encouraged to learn that the MoD ‘holds information relevant to these questions’.
Burden: British soldier waits on standby as the Chinook brings supplies in Afghanistan where troops face fierce fighting
The response continued: ‘There is a public interest in understanding the robustness of Nato overland logistic supply routes, the impact of insurgent attacks on Nato supply lines and the threats faced by UK and other personnel protecting logistic convoys in Afghanistan.’ It seemed that John’s untold story could now be told after all.
Then came the ‘but’. My request was turned down because releasing the information into the public domain ‘would potentially provide hostile elements with a much greater understanding of the impact, at the operational level, of insurgent action on Nato convoys’.
If there is one group of people who know exactly what impact they are having on Nato operations it is the anti-government fighters who risk their lives to lay roadside bombs and ambush convoys.
There are so few roads in and out of Afghanistan that the task of gathering information on truck convoys is the Afghan equivalent of trainspotting at your local railway station.
Look at the events of the past week. Insurgent fighters managed to launch co-ordinated attacks in Kabul – including in the highly protected diplomatic quarter. Did that look like the work of people who have anything less than a crystal-clear awareness of their impact on Nato operations and upon the hearts and minds of the British people?
In the days following the attacks, British and Afghan spokesmen have been trumpeting the fact that all of the insurgents were killed. Even if what they are saying is true, it misses the point. It was a suicide mission: unpredictable and impossible to prevent.
I cannot avoid the conclusion that the reason my request for information about the convoys was withheld was to do with keeping the British people in the dark about how badly things are going in areas of Afghanistan where the media has no eyes and ears.
A ComRes poll in March showed that only one in ten Britons think the war in Afghanistan is winnable. In addition, a majority have no clear idea what the purpose of the mission is and want our troops brought home now.
These statistics are so bad that releasing information about convoy attacks will not make an appreciable difference to public opinion, which has long been lost.
In the United States, serving Afghanistan veteran Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis has caused political uproar by publishing a report entitled Truth, Lies And Afghanistan.
He believes that the American people should be provided with the full, unvarnished facts about what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan so that informed decisions about whether to continue the operation can be made.
The same principle should apply here in the UK. Our military personnel continue to fight with honour, bravery and devotion to duty at the command of our Government. If they are to be asked to keep risking their lives, then it should be for a clear, defined and achievable goal.
It should not be because politicians and electoral strategists are trading the benefits of early withdrawal against the impact at the ballot box in the next General Election.
The least that we should expect as a country is that when our fellow citizens in uniform are deployed on military operations they, and we, should clearly know why they are fighting and what they are up against. They should not take to the field wondering if their government is willing to trade their lives for votes.
U.S. soldier’s gift to Afghan workers at her base underscores divide