Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.


Defining success

Q: The ex-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan was replaced after talking trash about other officials. Can leaders ever be excused for such excesses? In a broader sense, is success possible for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and how would you define it? Or, as someone said early on in Vietnam, should we simply "declare victory and leave"?

In the military, as in most jobs, if you dislike the boss or the direction your company is heading, it is unwise to take your grievances to a reporter for Rolling Stone. Get the venom out of your system while having beer with a close pal. There are no excuses for Gen. McChystal. The President made the choice to fire him after careful deliberation.

The more important question now is whether we can -- or need to -- succeed in Afghanistan. We can if we find a way to define success that our political and military forces can achieve at a price that our society is willing to pay.

As a preliminary matter, we went there to dislodge Al Queda, then under protection of the zealots of theTaliban. This was done brilliantly by the Afghans using help from the CIA, Special Operations soldiers and U.S. airpower. This is counterinsurgency in a nutshell: getting others to fight for what is in their best interests. General Petraeus is the recognized expert on this subject.

The Taliban was quickly defeated in 2001. Osama Bin Laden escaped. The next stage was to help install a popular civilian government with an Army and police. Eight years later, some wonder whether this is possible.

The Taliban now control considerable parts of the nation and have, sometimes, far more popular support than the local officials and the national government led by President Karzai, widely viewed as corrupt.

President Obama has approved a surge in U.S. forces. Another 30,000 American troops are on the way. A gradual phase-out of our military efforts is planned for 2011. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being expended at a time when our states have budget crunches and our national deficit is growing exponentially.

Is the war in Afghanistan worth the price in America's lives and our financial commitment? Are the Taliban such a threat to America as to require such expenditures? How do we assemble a cost-benefit analysis of the current costs of Afghanistan compared to the future returns? We need answers.

Decades ago America was in Vietnam. The enemy knew that American democracy did not have the appetite for the long, protracted war that they planned. The political will to continue in Afghanistan is wafer thin among the public and Congress. The complexity of the bigger picture is staggering, with nuclear-armed Pakistan becoming the epicenter of terrorism and jihadists threatening that government.

This weekend, over a hundred Pakistanis died when Taliban warriors detonated explosives near tribal leaders friendly to government forces. This is the third attack exceeding 100 deaths in Pakistan this year. The Pakistan government is vainly trying to win in the historically ungovernable areas like Waziristan.

Actual threats to the U.S. and our allies worldwide are widespread. Some question whether our effort in Afghanistan and our previous effort in Iraq (now cumulatively exceeding $1 trillion) have helped or diminished our national security. An insurgency in Somalia is threatening to install an Al Queda-friendly, Taliban-like government, which bans music and World Cup Soccer.

In Yemen, training and money await those determined to bring terror to the USA. U.S. citizens are in Yemen. Other Americans are fighting for Al Queda in Somalia. Beyond these problems Iran may soon have a nuke or two, starting a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East.

There are profound national security issues to confront and limits to American financial/ military resources. Sorting out our priorities is not an easy task.

What to do? President Obama and his advisors have tough choices. Making Afghanistan a civilized place with a sense of national identity may take a decade or more and massive fiscal expenditures. Is this a priority for our national security or not? There are no easy answers.

For now, the administration and Congress will have to wait and see whether the surge will bring about some results as the debate continues about Afghanistan in the context of American strategic goals worldwide. Many thanks to our soldiers for their service and heroism as this debate continues.

By Jan Scruggs  |  July 12, 2010; 12:43 AM ET  | Category:  Defining success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Scruggs is right. Simply declare victory and leave but ... retain a limited military presence in that beleaguered land (at strategic locations such as Bagram Air Base). This wil remind the Afghan leaders (whoever they are) that there is a price to pay for harboring al Qaeda PLUS it will enable what the military refers to as forward basing of forces. So, if Afghans wish to "step in it" again (and I confidently predict that they won't because once was probably more than enough), the United States will be well postured to start pounding on Afghans a second time and most likely just from the air (it's hard to plant I E D's in the sky).

Posted by: dsarthur1 | July 14, 2010 5:34 PM
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Thought provoking read Mr. Scruggs

I read that the Taliban and the groups that make up their forces only poll around 6% in the city of Kandahar and the Karzai government doesn't fair much better then that while the US Army polls three and four times that in popularity, strange if you ask me, very similiar to the Sunnis from the wild west (Anbar) of Iraq.
I think NATO and the US Army should right off Karzai, and the city of Kabul, as a wash and focus all resources and intentions on the city of Kandahar. Traditionally, from what I've read, the ancient Kings and leaders all came from the city of Kandahar.
When the British left the Pashtun region in the 1890's they handed out medals to their forces when the leadership of the Pashtuns arrived and asked them where was their medals? Saying "you couldn't have had a decent war without us". I think this is anecdotal evidence of the Pashtun mind. Where are the medals and places of honor for the peoples of Kandahar? This is clearly a culture built on respect and honor. I think there's a lesson to be learned from these tales.
(edited poorly my friend)

Posted by: stevereal007 | July 12, 2010 4:58 PM
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