Obama's Failures in Afghanistan

The Obama Administration has continuously deceived us about how bad the war in Afghanistan is going.

In his latest major address on foreign policy, President Obama said this:

So after I took office … we pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces.…

In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for that country’s security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counterterrorism force, which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.…

In the Afghan war theater, we must — and will — continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014.…

The Afghan war is coming to an end.

If this and the usual sycophantic news reporting is all you’ve heard lately about the war in Afghanistan, you might think things are going well, that “America’s forces are winning.”

They are not. I trust it will be no shock to say this, but people in government lie, including presidents of the United States. Even presidents proclaimed to be different from anyone else who has ever run for that office.

Afghanistan is a hellhole. Writes Conn Hallinan at Foreign Policy in Focus,

Only U.S. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) thinks the war on the Taliban is being won, and that the Afghan Army is “steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.”Attacks by the Taliban are up 47 percent over last year, and the casualty rate for Afghan soldiers and police has increased 40 percent. The yearly desertion rate of the Afghan Army is between 27 percent and 30 percent.

Things have gotten so bad, Hallinan writes, that gunman in Pakistan burned a NATO convoy taking equipment out of Afghanistan. He comments,

There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than international forces getting ambushed as they try to get the hell out of the country. And yet the April 1 debacle in Baluchistan was in many ways a metaphor for a looming crisis that NATO and the United States seem totally unprepared for: with the clock ticking down on removing most combat troops by 2014, there are no official negotiations going on, nor does there seem to be any strategy for how to bring them about.

But what about the legendary Obama surge of 2009? When George W. Bush left the White House, there were 38,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Shortly after taking office, Obama sent about 30,000 more. As he said at the time, “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qa’ida supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Then in November 2009 he announced that he would send around 30,000 more, bringing the total, the New York Times reported, to about 100,000. “There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum,” Obama said. The administration has always been a bit vague about the numbers, and the term “surge” has only been applied to the second deployment. In fact, Obama roughly tripled the U.S. troop strength, before later reducing it by a third. At this point, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is almost double the number present when Bush left office.

And what has been the result? Hallinan writes,

When the Obama administration sent an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 as part of the “surge,” the goal was to secure the country’s southern provinces, suppress opium cultivation, and force the Taliban to give up on the war. Not only did the surge fail to impress the Taliban and its allies, it never stabilized the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Both are once again under the sway of the insurgency, and opium production has soared. What the surge did manage was to spread the insurgency into formerly secure areas in the north and west.

With the exception of the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, virtually everyone has concluded that the war has been a disaster for all involved.

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  • Sevo||

    Screw Afghanistan; how about his failures in the US?

  • RBS||

    It's failures all the way down.

  • Floridian||

    It could be worse. It could be the libertarian paradise Somalia. See government intervention DOES help.

    Also ROADZZZZ!

  • Floating Weightless||

    I got Somalied for the first time by some Progtard the other day.

  • Floridian||

    I had a friend pull that on me before I knew it was a thing. I was completely blind sided. I said what the hell does Somalia have to do with what I am talking about. I don't remember the response but we are no longer friends.

  • ||

    You can blow their mind by lecturing them on the Somali xeer system and how it is an example of a polycentric, non-statist legal system bringing order to an anarchic political situation.

  • Floridian||

    I'll have to look that up for my own interest. I no longer argue with friends but I will share my view point if they are interested.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    You can blow their mind by lecturing them on the Somali xeer system and how it is an example of a polycentric, non-statist legal system bringing order to an anarchic political situation.

    Pearls before swine, my friend. Seriously, speak an ounce of truth before these people and immediately their ears parse it into the "adults talking to Charlie Brown sound effect".

  • robc||

    Somali xeer system

    I was going to make the observation that it seems similar to the Israel situation pre-Saul.

    And then the wikipedia page on Xeer specifically calls it a kritarchy, so yeah, already known.

  • robc||

    The laws that are widely accepted are called xeer guud and those particular to a specific community are referred to as xeer tolnimo.

    It even includes federalist provisions.

  • tarran||

    Or have them read Peter Leeson's Better Off Stateless

    Could anarchy be good for Somalia’s development? If state predation goes unchecked government may not only fail to add to social welfare, but can actually reduce welfare below its level under statelessness. Such was the case with Somalia’s government, which did more harm to its citizens than good. The government’s collapse and subsequent emergence of statelessness opened the opportunity for Somali progress. This paper investigates the impact of anarchy on Somali development. The data suggest that while the state of this development remains low, on nearly all of 18 key indicators that allow pre- and post-stateless welfare comparisons, Somalis are better off under anarchy than they were under government. Renewed vibrancy in
    critical sectors of Somalia’s economy and public goods in the absence of a predatory state are responsible
    for this improvement.
  • tarran||

    Among the improvements, Deaths in childbirth for both the infant and the mom went down, access to sanitation increased, GDP per capita increased, doctors per capita increased, access to medical facilities increased, immunization rates increased, etc.

  • ||

    That, and the Icelandic Commonwealth are examples of functional anarchic societies.

    Obviously both were pre-industrial but they show that law and order can exist without a centralized Leviathan.

    In any case, most times they'll scramble and move the goalposts and at that point I feel satisfied that I've won the debate.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Look at the Serious Man flexing his PoliSci muscles!

  • robc||

    That, and the Icelandic Commonwealth are examples of functional anarchic societies.

    I would argue that a kritarchy is an archy, so not anarchy.

    But a functional hyperminarchist society.

  • ||

    Ah, yes. Somalia: the land of warring tribes colonized by fascists and imperialist countries that gained momentary independence by islamist coalitions that saw resistance from communist factions..

    a shining example of libertarianism in action.

  • Irish||

    If they understood history, geography or other cultures, they wouldn't be progressives.

  • Robert||

    Friends shouldn't let opinions cause them to un-friend each other.

  • ||

    On the other hand, you shouldn't surround yourself with idiots if you don't have to. Having friends you can disagree with intelligently is great. Keeping alive a relationship with someone who is verging on functionally brain dead is pretty much just masturbation.

  • PapayaSF||

    Somalia is, of course, a failed socialist state. Anti-libertarians never seem to remember that.

  • RBS||

    the war has been a disaster for all involved

    Opium producers would disagree.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obama apparently is looking for a way to bring home most of the troops without the place collapsing in chaos, which would be bad for his legacy.

    If only presidents could write their own legacies.

  • Sevo||

    The way he's going now, chaos in Afghanistan might be the bright spot.

  • ||

    I'd ask my uncle the colonel about all this since he just got back from Afghanistan, but with the NSA thing it might not be the best thing for him to talk freely on the phone.

  • ||

    It's unfortunate when people harm their credibility on a defensible argument with nonsense like this:

    Things have gotten so bad, Hallinan writes, that gunman in Pakistan burned a NATO convoy taking equipment out of Afghanistan. He comments,

    There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than international forces getting ambushed as they try to get the hell out of the country.

    There are no "NATO convoys" in Pakistan, and no "international forces" being ambushed there. All travel through Pakistan is sealed and GPS tagged containers with nonsensitive material that is handled by Pakistani contractors using Pakistani civilian trucks and drivers. A common sense check would tell you this must be the case when you wonder why there were no casualties involved in this attack or any others (and there have been many) on supplies shipped through Pakistan.

  • RBS||

    Sure, but what about NATO convoys leaving Afghanistan?

  • ||

    There are no NATO convoys leaving Afghanistan. Everyone comes and goes by air, as does all sensitive equipment. Less sensitive but important stuff goes north via contractors. Only stuff that can afford be stolen or torched gets shipped via contractor through Pakistan.

  • ||

    To give you an idea of how well things are going, a May 16 suicide bomb in the capital killed six Americans and 16 Afghans. As though that were not enough of a commentary on conditions there,

    This is fun!

    To give you an idea of the imminent implosion of America, on April 15 a pair of bombs in the heart of Boston killed 3 and injured 264. As though that were no enough of a commentary on conditions there...

    Insert your own conclusion.

  • RBS||

    Insert your own conclusion.

    You're just as bad as dunphy?

  • Sevo||

    "Insert your own conclusion."

    That you're an idiot?

  • ||

    That said, I do think Afghan collapse in some form is very likely.

  • ||

    I fully expect Afghanistan to become a Taliban hell hole very shortly after our departure.

    I also fully expect it to be GWB's fault.

  • Sevo||

    And we'll find that Obozo spent just about nothing on this; all if it was spent by BOOOSH!

  • ||

    Disagree. Afghanistan is such a fundamentally fucked up place and nonsensical as a nation state that I don't think it can be held together by outside forces, and the Taliban is the only ideology cohesive and motivated enough to exercise control over the whole country against countervailing factions.

    Even if we weren't in Iraq, it's not clear to me that people would have been excited to put an extra 100,000 troops into the "good war" earlier. To the extent a correctible mistake happened it was the Afghans in Kandahar who pissed off and revived the rump Taliban after their initial surrender by continuing to persecute them and treat them like shit.

  • ||

    I am lost as to what you disagree with. Your explanation seems to be in agreement with my prediction.

  • ||

    I thought you were seriously blaming Bush in particular. I'm slow this morning.

  • ||

    Psh. Everyone knows mistakes in the Bush administration were all Clinton's fault.

  • ||

    Which in turn was partly caused by Bush the elder, but mostly Reagan.

  • d_remington||

    Damn you, Washingtooooooon!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    No doubt there will be a collapse. That is something the Afghans will have to sort out.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    That is something the Afghans will have to sort out.

    Or not. I really don't give a shit. If people there aren't interested in living in a more or less peaceful society with modern amenities, and are content to live in shitty mud huts in shitty valleys, accepting being controlled by religious nuts, that's their fucking problem. I'd love to be able to have the opportunity to engage in peaceful trade with Afghanis. But if they aren't it isn't up to me to force them, and it isn't up to some other American to extract money from me in order to force them.

  • Robert||

    But you could say the same about anybody's problems anywhere.

  • ||

    I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a point, but if it was, yeah, that's pretty much a succinct summary of the libertarian view of foreign policy.

  • ||

  • robc||

    Although Im familiar with him, Ive never read any of his novels. As I dont like to start series until they are complete (but I keep making exceptions), I guess I could start on his Culture Series now.

    But seriously, anything recommended?

  • ||

    The Culture series was never going to be "complete." They are all set centuries apart, in different parts of the galaxy using all new characters and varied plots.

    The best early ones are Player of Games and Use of Weapons, but you could lead with the first book, Consider Phlebus. It's a Culture book from a non-Culture perspective, not quite as good as some others but doesn't assume any background knowledge at all. The others might be slightly better if they weren't your first.

    Personally, I'd start with Player of Games.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It was the Mossad, obviously.

  • PapayaSF||

    How ironic if the "good war" that even Obama and many Democrats were OK with ends up failing, while Iraq ends up more successful.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    How ironic if the "good war" that even Obama and many Democrats were OK with ends up failing, while Iraq ends up more successful.

    There's no chance that either will be anything resembling successful according to anyone whose job isn't purposeful obfuscation and deceit.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Or Iranian.

  • PapayaSF||

    No, I think Iraq has become a relatively well-functioning democracy, albeit one that suffers from terrorism and is a little too cozy with Iran.

  • Popsiq||

    The Surge failure wasn't Obama's. It can be laid directly at the feet of those who backed the invasion and who have since, 'lost' the war ... the Military.

    Coming into office, Obama was 'conned' into one more kinetic kick at the Afghan cat. He bought into the fallacious apology that Bushco had squandered a victory by invading Iraq. He bought into the erroneous rationale that cleaning out 'safe havens' would secure the regime. The solution, doubling down on US troops and, even more so, the other 'kinetic' forces - artillery and airpower, was put out as a preventative of Obama becoming a war-losing CinC. His mistake was going along with it.

    What he will be beaten around the head and ears by military 'historians' for doing, is restricting the Surge to a time limit. The Generals had intended another open-ended deployment - another 'we're there for as long as it takes' message. Obama asked them the minimum time they needed. They said a year and he gave it to them.

    That they would waste their time in 'force build-up' and massive operations is only the crunchy filling of another failed 'strategy'. They built at least two new mega-bases (one recently bulldozed) and laid waste some Afghan farming areas. They turned Helmand into a refugee production center and undid any good done by ISAF allies in Kandahar.

    "Spreading the insurgency" something the Afghans were already doing very well.

    Obama's accomplishment will be getting the 'regulars' home' unmolested.

  • Floridian||

    So nixon's legacy is he ended Vietnam, not that he resigned from the presidency disgraced. Who knew?

  • kbolino||

    The President is the Commander-in-Chief. Oft forgotten is that this does not mean he can start wars at whim, but rather that he is in charge of the military apparatus.

    If a military leader pushes for an action, and the President signs off on it, then the President is responsible for giving the ultimate go ahead. It is his responsibility to assess the facts to the best of his ability before committing the nation to any action which will expend its blood and treasure.

    Also, should the President feel that his military leaders are not serving the interests of the country, it is his responsibility to reprimand or terminate them. If he listens to the counsel of men he does not trust, then it is his own fault for bringing their recommendations to fruition.

    The job of President, as chief executive of the country's largest bureaucracy, is extremely difficult, but all who attain it have sought it.

  • kbolino||

    On a secondary note, I would like to address the postmodern notion that someone should be more concerned with what other people think of him than with the actual consequences of his actions.

    Put another way, if you value the opinions of talking heads and pundits, people whose existence depends not on making substantive commentary but on attracting attention, then you are nothing but a fool.

  • Robert||

    All value is subjective.

  • Redmanfms||

    I don't suppose you have, umm, cites for any of this shit, do you?

    Obama was talking "surge" during the debates in '08 FFS.

  • WomSom||

    OK now there we have a dude that clearly knows what time it is. Wow.

    www.AnonStuff.tk

  • Terry Michael||

    Sheldon,
    Just read your Reason.com piece, excellent as always. Then I read today the Washington Post edit. page's "Hope in Afghanistan," by the neo-con artist editor Fred Hiatt and his sidekick deputy Jackson Diehl. Summary of it: "Things are better than you think, but they're still pretty bad, and they will really get awful if we leave." The "liberal" Washington Post has given both Bush and Obama cover for their crimes.

    I've almost given up writing anti-war stuff for Reason. I'm 66 today and have witnessed our elective war horrors in Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq and what I call the Second Afghanistan War. And now, boy wonder stacks the desk with two more idiot interventionists at NSC and UN, after putting the empty suit at State. I wrote at Reason at the end of December that Hagel should refuse Defense. He might have some effect, but I think he will just be a pawn to hold left-liberals at bay, so they can continue to avert their eyes from the international criminality for which they would have hung W.

    Gitmo and the civil liberties stuff become sideshows so we can avoid the only important question: should we stay or get the hell out now! It amazes me how my "liberal" friends just completely tune out the horrific results of placing twenty-something's in harm's way. They see Michelle and Dr. Jill visiting the limbless and brain-damaged vets, and that allows them to salve their consciences.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards,
    --Terry Michael

  • ||

    Part of the problem is that the call for talks is so heavily laden with caveats and restrictions — among them that the Taliban must accept the 2004 constitution and renounce violence and “terrorism”

    A) Why wouldn't the cessation of violence be a precondition to talks? Can you name a peace accord in history that hasn't started off with the premise that the belligerents cease their violence? If not that, what exactly should be the basis of the talks? Limitations on the time of day when it's acceptable to blow the shit out of other people?

    B) Why the scare quotes around "terrorism"? Even if you're a "blowback" cheerleader, can you possibly think that the Taliban doesn't execute acts of terrorism?

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