...I don’t know what to do. I had to read this thing twice just to believe it. It’s well-written, it flows well, and there are actually a few good arguments in here. There seems to be a little hyperbole, ill-conceived arguments, and some facts of dubious veracity, but by Ralph Peters standards, it’s not bad.
Even if we could persuade Afghan villagers that our values and behaviors are superior, if we could reduce state corruption to a manageable level, if we built thousands of miles of roads, eliminated opium growing, and persuaded Afghans that women are fully human, it would have no effect on al Qaeda.
The terrorists who attacked our homeland were not Afghans. Afghanistan was just a cheap motel that was not particular about asking for identification. Even a return to power of the Taliban-certainly undesirable in human-rights terms-does not mean that September 11, Part Two, then becomes inevitable.
The next terror attack on the West will not be launched from Afghanistan. Pause to consider how lockstep what passes for analysis in Washington has become. The Taliban's asymmetric strategy is not to defeat us militarily, but to make Afghanistan ungovernable. But what if our strategy, instead of seeking to transform the country into a model state, were simply to make it ungovernable for the Taliban? Our chances of success would soar while our costs would plummet. But such a commonsense approach is unthinkable. We think in terms of Westphalian states even where none exist.
In order to roll more Afghan rocks uphill, we are ignoring the essential requirement to secure supply lines adequate to the mission. Even if Afghanistan were worth an increased effort, the lack of reliable, redundant lines of communication to support our forces would argue against piling on. In the wake of 9/11, it was vital to send special operations forces and limited conventional elements to Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda and its hosts despite the risks. Indeed, we might usefully have sent more Soldiers in those early months. But instead of striking hard, shattering our enemies, then withdrawing-the one military approach that historically worked in Afghanistan-we put down roots, allowing ourselves to become reliant upon a tortuous 1,500-mile lifeline from the Pakistani port of Karachi northward through the Khyber Pass to various parts of Afghanistan. We have put ourselves at the mercy of a corrupt government of dubious stability with an agenda discordant with ours. Strategically, our troops are Pakistan's hostages.
And Islamabad already has taken advantage of our foolishness. While milking us for all the military and economic aid it can extract, Pakistan's security services recently demonstrated just how reliant we are on their good will. In the wake of the Mumbai bombings- sponsored by a terror organization tacitly supported by Pakistan's government- attacks on our convoys transiting the Khyber Pass, as well as raids on supply yards in Peshawar, swelled in number and soared in their success rate.
There are still a few items in the article which are baffling, and a number of facts which seem to be pulled out of nowhere. Most notably:
- Peters’ continuous misconceptions about al Qaeda. In one paragraph, he acknowledges the fact that Iraq did not harbor al Qaeda, but then proceeds to mention the possibility that it could have had al Qaeda operatives. Yes, maybe Iraq could have had al Qaeda. But several other countries actually have had al Qaeda operatives within them (including the UK and the US).
- Despite Peters’ acknowledgement of the claim that al Qaeda was not operating in Iraq, he notes that US efforts in Iraq have dealt a deadly blow to al Qaeda. Well, kind of. Once again, he mixes up al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Granted, there is a loose relationship between the two organizations—but they are, in fact, two separate entities (Peters often oversimplifies and lumps them as one). AQI’s leader, Zarqawi, was trained by al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, but like me with clingy women, al Qaeda doesn’t reciprocate AQI’s feelings. One could make the claim that the defeat of AQI struck a blow against violent extremists, which includes al Qaeda, but not necessarily al Qaeda itself.
- Peters echoes the popular sentiment that Afghanistan is strategically irrelevant, noting that the Taliban are not so much the enemy as al Qaeda is. Okay, I dig that. Now take a look at his plan. He then advocates a program to counter the Taliban as necessary by collapsing the NATO footprint into one or two “super-FOBs”, and countering the Taliban as necessary. My question, of course, is how he intends to effectively stave off the pervasive Taliban presence by reducing the US profile in Afghanistan to one or two points on the ground. Failure to seize terrain (and, in particular, human terrain) will allow the Taliban to run amok through the mountains of Afghanistan as easily as Lawrence and the Arabs ran circles around the Turks at their super-base in Medina in 1916.
Overall, despite its obvious shortcomings, it’s a relatively well-written article, and this is the Peters we always kind of knew existed. It’s also welcome to see a sensibly-written Ralph Peters argument, because it means that hell actually did freeze over, and that means that Megan Fox is bound to spontaneously appear out of thin air in the middle of Iraq. (On the flip side, It also means that the Cubs are going to win the World Series).