Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OBAMA POISED TO BLUNDER IN AFGHANISTAN

SIMON JENKINS, GUARDIAN The reason not to let Iraq slip un-mourned into history is that the episode has one last service to perform. It should teach a lesson that foreign expeditions undertaken in a spirit of jingoist revenge, with a crazed optimism and no strategic plan, are usually a bad idea.

That lesson could not be more relevant, as the identical error is being made in Afghanistan and by the same two men who privately or (in Obama's case) publicly expressed reservations about Iraq. In his last utterance Gordon Brown himself seemed blind to the parallels, talking as if one more push, one more hearts-and-minds campaign, should send Johnny foreigner back to the hills so decent people can walk the streets of London in peace.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has grown increasingly exasperated with the blatant failure of NATO to bring security to his country. He is no fantasist. He knows that he is powerless outside his capital, except where a genius for wheeler dealing can keep the drug lords in funds and the Taliban at bay. The Taliban are gaining ground and he is running out of time to negotiate with their leaders with leverage behind him.

Hence last week's outburst, in which Karzai indicated his determination to talk with the Taliban and offer safe protection to Kabul for their former leader, Mullah Omah, for that purpose. Should the Americans object, he replied that "if I say I want protection for Mullah Omah, the international community has two choices, remove me or leave".

Meanwhile, a private war is being fought by US special forces against anyone with a gun in the east of the country, the bombing of Pakistani villages so capricious and counter-productive as to suggest a lack of all tactical control. In the south the British have no strategy except to re-enact the Zulu wars at exorbitant cost in money and lives. The Helmand campaign is magnificent but mad. . .

Last month Taliban operating out of Pakistan's North-West Frontier territory cut the Khyber Pass, a crucial supply link into Kabul, which can be traversed only in massively armed convoys. This is precisely the trap into which invading forces have been sucked for a century and a half, be they British, Russian or now American. As a blunder it ranks with marching on Moscow. Yet NATO has done it. Nobody reads history.

The error of Afghanistan is far more serious than the error of Iraq. If the resulting insurgency is now exported to Pakistan, both errors will seem peccadilloes. Pakistan is the sixth largest state in the world, and nuclear-armed.

The awful prospect is that Obama and Brown may feel too weak to learn from Iraq and pull back. They will blunder on, not to a clean defeat but to something far worse, a war of attrition whose poison will spread across a subcontinent.

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