John McCain’s Afghanistan Plan Will Blow Your Mind

John McCain wants to send more US troops to Afghanistan. That’s one of those column a/column b situations.

John McCain was a North Vietnamese prisoner of war for more than five years. Which means the man is a fuckin’ A grade-A American hero. And he has spent his life in service to the American people.

Hat tip to the man for that.

I just wish Senator McCain was a little less Iron Maiden and a little more Marvin Gaye. Because McCain sees foreign policy as a big nail. And he wants ‘murca to swing the biggest hammer in the room. Which means at this point a kind of “MOAR TROOPS” Tourette’s, and it’s just sad.

His recent op-ed with Senator Lindsey “Whatever John Just Said Is Fine” Graham is another copy/paste missive on why the US should send more troops to the graveyard of reasonable planning. And since the US doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, this isn’t about reconciliation. Or even building Afghan capacity.

It’s about preventing “terrorists from using the country’s territory to attack our homeland.” Which is adorable, given that no one has ever launched an attack from Afghanistan against the US.

So, we can call that job done.

McCain: Latin For “More,” Right?

Their solution is for troops on the ground to have fewer restrictions on shit they’re allowed to blow up. And to do more of that blowing up on behalf of Afghan forces. Who, they argue, still need more support from the Americans.

And that’s where I agree with them. And…where I agree with Michael O’Hanlon.

Give me a second.

That last sentence blurred my vision.

There’s some old posts floating around the blog that I’ll repost at some point where I take exception to O’Hanlon. Because, well, most of the time he’s a lot wrong. This time he’s only a little wrong. And maybe even a little right.

O’Hanlon and writing buddy Gen. John Allen (ret.), former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, argue for Brookings that more troops are needed. And that more support should be given to the Afghans. But their argument is less for combat power and more for training, advising, and assisting Afghans.

Where I agree with their premise is that the withdrawal timelines were ridiculous. That’s if we accept that invading Afghanistan in the first place wasn’t a terrible, awful, no-good idea. There: I did my caveat good.

Drawing down US troops was a political, not military, decision. Granted, the military serves its civilian overlords. Super great idea when it works.

Except when it doesn’t, and by turning Operation Enduring Freedom into Operation Ready Or Not, it created all kinds of long-term problems. Problems the US Department of Defense warned everyone about in their bi-annual reports to Congress.

Granted, those reports, like all military missives, are a whole lot of CYA. But they’re not wrong. Neither is the idea of putting in more troops to support and prepare Afghans for the long term.

Let’s Go Full Dresden, Y’all

But if you’re going to go to war, fucking go. To. War.

Or just pack it all up and go the fuck home.

I know some of you were in places where it was all-out war. But that wasn’t the case across the board. Not after the Taliban were routed during the initial invasion.

And assets that had been on hand for Afghanistan got moved to Iraq. Which broke momentum. And then the Taliban came back. And back. And back some more.

Now the US commander, General Nicholson, is calling the whole thing a “stalemate.” His boss, General Palpatine Votel (seriously, compare the two…uncanny) agrees that more troops are a good idea. And I’m on board with that, if:

  1. Troop allocations are tied to milestones, not deadlines
  2. Afghan troops take the lead in the fight
  3. US airpower is stacked on their behalf

And let me caveat again: the whole thing has been a bad idea from the start. And I don’t agree with some of O’Hanlon’s points. This, in particular:

American casualties are down more than 95 percent.

No shit. Because the Afghans are doing most of the fighting. Cute number, brah.

We’re all trying to come up with the least bad idea to end this thing. It’s an unwinnable war because no one knows how to end it. It’s like signing up for the 5K and they congratulate you on your efforts in the ultra marathon.

Most likely scenario? The military gets the troops, Trump gets to say he fought terrorists, and maybe a fewer Afghan soldiers get killed in the process.

Which might get the whole thing closer to a “win.”

Still doesn’t mean I’m happy about that.

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  • Jeremy Kotkin

    That logic exacerbates the game the Afghan government knowingly plays with us. Granted, are they incapable of fighting and sustaining the fight on their own? Yes. Do they ostensibly need help? Yes. Do they see that the longer they ‘need’ help the longer we’ll keep leading the intl community to pay for anything and everything? Yes. Will that allow their untouchable and unaccountable politicians to keep funneling bags of our cash to Dubai? Certainly. And that’s all that matters. The unwinnable insurgency takes a distant second to that enduring priority.

    • Agreed. The “more of the same” approach is helping no one at this point. And, well, that’s not likely to change. We will never apply the level of effort we would need to apply long term to turn this behemoth around.