I am the one in these parts that can’t quite commit whole-heartedly to abandoning Afghanistan and pulling out entirely. There are things to do to reduce the violence and improve conditions for the people there, especially the women, and there are good arguments for staying there. I realize this. I struggle with this. Much to the chagrin of my fellow lefties, I refuse to call myself a pacifist or even anti-war. But I am anti-stupid-wars, and increasingly, Afghanistan – which I supported initially and seriously* considered volunteering for, is seeming pretty stupid.

As I said, there are valid arguments for staying – not the least of which is the civil war between Pashtuns who back the Taliban and non-Pashtuns who do not that would certainly break out and possibly spill over into the nuclear-armed Pakistan if Afghanistan was left to it’s own devices. I was also ready to spill blood in Afghanistan years before we finally invaded because of the way they treated women. I am simply not willing to abandon them to whatever fate awaits them if the Taliban were to topple the wobbly, corrupt national government and resume control of the country. I also have pretty good reasons to speculate that we will be drawing down significantly by the 2012 general election, probably as another player enters the stage.

All that said…how you gonna pay for it for the remaining time we spend there?

Afghanistan is the very definition of a war-torn country. There is no infrastructure. What infrastructure there was has been decimated by three decades of war. That means that everything has to be delivered to far-flung outposts by air. Specifically, by helicopter. That is a very, very expensive supply line to maintain. All told, it costs a million dollars per year, per soldier for America to fight in Afghanistan. If, as sources report, the President decides to send an additional 30,000 troops to the effort there, and if it represents a permanent strengthening of forces, then that would bring our commitment to 98,000. That equates financially to just under $100 billion per year in funding, just for the war effort in Afghanistan. $100 Billion. With a “B.” That’s a lot of money. The previous administration hid this uncomfortable fact from the public by funding their wars off-the-books. This administration has started bringing the budget director into meetings on the war.

I am 100% in favor of the war surtax that Rep. David Obey is proposing. I think it ought to be paid for. Up front. And I think that the strategy needs a serious rethink. Things that are working – like female Marines doing COIN, need to be stepped up; and things that don’t work need to be abandoned, not stubbornly clung to like grim death. If Since we are going to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, we have to be a hell of a lot smarter about it than we have been so far.

On the one hand, David Petraeus is right – Afghanistan and Iraq are not the same, and just because something worked in Iraq doesn’t mean that Afghanistan has a direct analog to the “Surge” that, dovetailed with some realities on the ground like the stand-down of the Mahdi Army, reduced violence in Iraq to some success.

One of the things that was done in Iraq, however, that does have a corollary in Afghanistan was simply paying insurgents not to shoot at the occupiers. The NATO forces in Afghanistan are being targeted for two reasons…

1.) They are there.

2.) They can find someone to pay them to shoot at the occupiers.

There is an old saying in Afghanistan that “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.” It is with that truism in mind that tribal leaders are, with American backing, trying to recruit militants who are not fighting for an ideology, but for cash, to switch allegiances by giving them something else to do.

“O.K., I want you guys to go out there and persuade the Taliban to sit down and talk,” Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Jalalabad, told a group of 25 tribal leaders from four eastern provinces. In a previous incarnation, Mr. Shirzai was the American-picked governor of Kandahar Province after the Taliban fell in 2001.

“Do whatever you have to do,” the rotund Mr. Shirzai told the assembled elders. “I’ll back you up.”

After about two hours of talking, Mr. Shirzai and the tribal elders rose, left for their respective provinces and promised to start turning the enemy.

The meeting is part of a battlefield push to lure local fighters and commanders away from the Taliban by offering them jobs in development projects that Afghan tribal leaders help select, paid by the American military and the Afghan government.

By enlisting the tribal leaders to help choose the development projects, the Americans also hope to help strengthen both the Afghan government and the Pashtun tribal networks.

These efforts are focusing on rank-and-file Taliban; while there are some efforts under way to negotiate with the leaders of the main insurgent groups, neither American nor Afghan officials have much faith that those talks will succeed soon.

Afghanistan has a long history of fighters switching sides – sometimes more than once.

The reality is we are going to be there for a while.

We don’t have to like it or stop saying that we need to get out yesterday, but we hurt ourselves if we concern-troll about it, and we hurt the country and we hurt our military if we undermine the President by doing so.

He has a reality that we have to assess and deal with pragmatically. We have a framework that, if we want to be effective and have an impact, we have to work within. This is not my idea, I would love to just crash the fucking gates and get it over with, but that ain’t how it works and never will. That (so-called) self-proclaimed members of the “reality based community” refuse to accept this drives me absolutely nuts.

One of the realities is the time a withdrawal from Afghanistan would take. We have hundreds of thousands of tons of heavy equipment on the ground there that we simply can’t abandon. If we do, it not only gets put to use in a civil war that I have already alluded to, it has to be replaced to reequip our forces. And you can’t just bring it home, either. Every troop in the field has been briefed on the importance of returning clean equipment stateside. A nest of tiny critters or even a seed stowed away in the undercarriage of a Humvee, and you run the risk of decimating an ecosystem back home by introducing an invasive species.

Everything that comes home has to be clean. I wonder how many power-washers they have in-country, anyway? I have no idea, but if I were to guess, I would say five, ten max. Now you want to venture a guess on how many helicopters, hummers, MRAPs, etc. are over there that will have to be staged out? That alone prevents immediate withdrawal, and that is just one of those pesky realities that keep cropping up. Framing our arguments realistically is the only valid place to start the discussion of getting out of there – and appealing to the pocketbooks of the American people is one leg of that stool.

There is also a moral argument to start paying for it now.

Ask anyone who opposes raising taxes to pay for the war effort “How many times do you want the people who are paying the price now by serving to pay for this thing, anyway?” Then explain that the only way that they don’t supply both the blood and the treasure is if we start paying for what we are going to do – as well as what we have already done – now. Deferring payment to the future, as the republicans have been wont to do since day one – means that the same people who are fighting it today will be the same people who will be middle classed and middle aged when the bill comes due. Long after the bastards who started it ar
e dead and buried.

Seriously* – In this case, means “you have no idea how many times I paused at the door to the recruiters office in Waldo – a couple of times I had my hand on the handle and once I pushed it open, but once inside didn’t go all the way up the stairs. But have no illusions here – it would have made a recruiters day if I had walked in, spat out an MFA and AOC, told them about all my years of supervisory experience and trauma response and said ‘let’s do this before I change my mind.’  A pen would have been in my hand and a contract with a hefty bonus would have been in front of me before I finished talking, and passage to Ft. Sam would have been booked before my signature was dry. I seriously doubt that I would have been able to resist that pull for all this time – hell, I know I wouldn’t have been able to – if that last round of bilateral knee surgery in 2004 had not finally put an end to any realistic thoughts of stepping up and taking my turn, along with so many of my friends and a few members of my family.” That is what I mean when I say I  “seriously considered volunteering for” a tour or two in Afghanistan.

Crossposted from They Gave Us a Republic