Less than two weeks to go to the US mid-term elections with the expected rout of Obama’s democrats, the war in Afghanistan is no issue at all in the campaign. The decision, says everyone here, is taken anyway: The US will pull out most of its troops, re-label the rest as trainers and advisers, keep a few bases from where to hit al-Qaida and hope for a repeat of the Iraq effect: no combat troops, less US casualties, no headlines. Mission accomplished (again), war is over, happy Christmas. Some notes after five days in DC by AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig
I apologise to everyone who might find me odd: After ten years in Afghanistan (six weeks this time), I find Washington DC more exotic than Kabul. The Salvation Army choir under my hotel room window. The hurried people with their take-away salad boxes, ties waving in the wind, on ‘Lobby Street’. The think-tank in a shopping mall (like the main mosque in Urumchi). The advertisements for rocket systems in Pentagon City metro station. (I think I might order one for my garden.) The conversation at immigration, after almost 2 hours in the queue: So what is your business, Mr Ruttig? – Political analysis. – Who are you going to see? – The US Institute for Peace, the New America Foundation, other think tanks. – I know these names from the news. They are all liberal. You also should visit the conservative ones.
At least, there is no box for ‘Have you ever been member of a communist organization?’ on the ESTA form anymore.
‘What is the realistic best-case scenario for Afghanistan given that we do not have much time left and the American public loses patience?’ This is the key question here when Afghanistan is discussed and it pops up all the time, in particular after the latest ‘talks about talks’ wave. But it sounds more like ‘what is the best scenario for the US. Less for Afghans.
Because one thing seems to be cast in stone: the July 2011 deadline for the start of the ‘troop draw-down’ which might be much more than only symbolic. After all, it is only 16 months from there to go for Obama’s re´-election campaign. So, these two dates seem to matter much more than the 2014 one at which the withdrawal is supposed to be complete. If one doesn’t discuss the bases. (What we will do in one of the next blogs).
That pretty much limits in the eyes of many of my interlocutors what still is ‘realistic’ – or, in other words, what is a halfway ‘good end state’. In this context, it boils down to something like Petraeus’ ‘Afghan good enough’. And while I had assumed that partition scenarios for Afghanistan are the expression of some fringe people (see my earlier blog ‘Empire Going Mad’ here), I was told there is a draft Congress resolution calling for ‘recognising the ethnic diversity of Afghanistan’, with the proposal to turn the country into a federation. ‘Lite’ versions of this are discussed all over the place since quite a while anyway, like the known one which advocates relying more on the ‘regional powerbrokers’ (and less on Karzai which is not new) and hoping that they all turn into Attas and Gul Agha’s, i.e. not taking all of the funds for themselves.
In general, I heard the word ‘hope’ used here a lot here. And that doesn’t sound like a strategy to me.
On another matter, I learned that even ‘CivSoc’ reads AAN blogs, in particular when it comes to Afghan militias. (Only that it was in fact CFSOCC which stands for Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command(*).) I was accused that I had gotten some facts wrong in my blog on the Baghlan ex-HIG militia – for example that the US Special Forces had armed it. (I wrote that those fighters had gotten their arms back from DIAG.) And was told that the US Special Forces did notconsider the group as reconciled insurgents. (I had only quoted a German officer who said so according to Spiegel.) Nevertheless, I uggested that they send us their view on the issue. Although I am not sure whether CFSOCC does such things, I hope they do.
In a Chatham House-ruled(**) meeting, someone said that he had 150 million dollars for Kandahar over the next two years(***) and whether this could be spent through the municipalities(****). A former official of another country engaged in Afghanistan said that they had much less money but when they felt they cannot even spend this they simply gave it back. But this seemed not to be an option in the first country. Throwing a hell lot of money after the problems in Afghanistan seems to be – errh – a hope to produce some ‘progress’ to create the impression withdrawal is feasible.
Further, I talked to the authors of the just-released Congressional report about private security contractors and to a spiritual brother about whether democracy can be still an option for Afghanistan and how. He told me that people look at him like at an alien when he raises this issue. I told him that I knew that feeling. Anyhow: Keep the good work up!
Finally – and completely unrelated: If you come to Washington, go to Kramerbooks’ Afterwords Café at Dupont Circle, order a beer called ‘Loose Cannon’ and have it with the Seafood Gumbo. You don’t find such good stuff all over Panjshir.
(*) www.acronymfinder.com is really helpful – although it does not know AAN.
(**) I personally think that Chatham House rules should be banned. They often are such an excuse to hide all kinds of clue- and thoughtlessness that taxpayers and voters really should know.
(***) The annual US budget available for Kandahar is ‘somewhere between 400 million and a billion […] but closer to a billion’. But don’t quote me, I heard this under Chatham House rules, too.
(****) No printing error here: This word was used in plural indeed. I was thinking: Zhari municipality, Shah Wali Kot municipality, Maiwand municipality…
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020