Friday, August 14, 2009

The Gordian Knot of Obama

On his way to victory in central Asian and Afghanistan, then defeat in India before he retreated to die in Baghdad, Alexander the Great was met in Gordia, part of modern Turkey. Offered Gordia and the East as a prize if he could solve the puzzle of the knot Alexander sundered the knot with his sword, and his confidence. There is an object lesson in that knot for all who would enter that part of the world with a sword and confidence. In the last 150 years the great empires of Britain and Russia have had their asses handed to them in Afghanistan and if the United States expects anything more there it is mistaken, though there are more bloody honors to be won by our military heros. As Rudyard Kipling said of war there:

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!"

Whether they will admit it or not, our military have met some very brave men committed to fighting for their countries. "Assymetrical war" is taught at the war colleges but one of the lessons we haven't learned, it seems, is that a small and utterly committed indigenous force must be ultimately successful. As the story goes, a senior American officer at the Paris peace talks at the end of the Vietnam War said to a Vietnamese general, "We never lost a battle!" The general replied, "That hardly matters, doesn't it?" meaning, "Yeah, but we won the war."

At least, so far, it appears Obama hasn't made the utter folly of Nixon/Kissinger, Johnson/McNamara, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld of running a war out of the White House, but there are mixed messages coming out of it. I remember the fatal mistake of not bombing Haiphong's harbor because there were Russian ships there and I know, for a fact, and so did the White House, that their holds were full of Mig 21 aircraft that were about to up the ante in the air war by a factor of 10. I know because I reported on the training of the pilots in the new generation aircraft and the fact that their squadron leaders would be Russians. Whence the dictum: "He who hesitates is lost."

And I know for a fact that, during the rescue of the American sailors of the Alabama from the Somali pirates, Obama told the Seals to wait but they took it upon themselves to seize the moment and snipe the pirates. He, of course, immediate took the plaudits for his fearless decision. The man hesitates. He is the Commander in Chief and when he hesitates his generals must necessarily hesitate, and that is a recipe for disaster. One thing you can say about Alexander, he never hesitated, just cut through the knot and headed for Afghanistan. Though he did die in Baghdad.

"Modern" Afghanistan began in 1747 when a Pashtun leader of the Durrani tribe began to organize the country out of Kandahar. The Durrani Empire eventually took in parts of Persia (Iran), Pakistan, and India but it ended in 1846 when the Brits began their "Great Game" with Russia, immortalized by Rudyard Kipling's ballads. The Afganis remember that empire with great nationalistic fervor and the Pashtuns are still the strongest tribe, and the one most resistant to the American presence. It seems to me, and some others, that if we are going get out with our butts, and international reputations, intact we must reach a political entente with the honorable Pashtuns and get rid of Hamid Karzai and his corrupt allies. The Taliban appeal to the people only because of the utter corruption of our allies in Kabul, just as our corrupt allies in Saigon and now Baghdad compromised all our efforts at civil reconstruction and public relations. This morning I heard on NPR that we should accomodate ourselves with the war lords but they are just as, perhaps more, corrupt than Kabul so why ally ourselves with them? Why are we naturally drawn to those sorts? Birds of a feather?

Let's resurrect the proud memory of the Durrani Empire by finding and cultivating a strong and moderate Pashtun leader, then give him the resources to defeat our allies.

That's my rant for today. Thank your for your support.

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