Defense Secretary Gates’ Unenviable Position — Chewing Our NATO Allies Out under Circumstances in which their Afghanistan-Slighting Behavior Is Probably the Right Thing to Do

© 2011 Peter Free


11 March 2011



When good people get steamrolled by the past’s bad decisions — and make a challenging situation worse


Elizabeth Bumiller, writing in the New York Times, reported today that:


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply rebuked the United States’ allies on Friday for preparing to effectively abandon Afghanistan, threatening what he described as tenuous progress in the nearly decade-old war.


In a deliberately undiplomatic speech to NATO defense ministers, Mr. Gates called on European allies to put aside their domestic politics and work with the United States to secure the “semblance of normalcy” that he said was emerging in some parts of Afghanistan.


“Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right,” Mr. Gates said.


“Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about continuing the fight. Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave.”


© 2011 Elizabeth Bumiller, Gates Faults U.S. Allies on Afghan War, New York Times (11 March 2011) (paragraph split)



A deeper meaning


Gates’ admonishment of our allies demonstrates how the bad decision to invade and stay in Afghanistan continues to attract unnecessary death and injury and piles one stupidity atop another.



With great respect for Secretary Gates, I say that American policy is making everything worse


Robert Gates is a talented, exceptionally competent and honorable man.  It is the situation that he and we are in that is drowning us.


Integrity-bound to serve the President, Secretary Gates has no choice but to pursue the President’s mission with every tool at his disposal.  But in doing so, the Secretary perpetuates, and arguably worsens, an already immensely bad American geopolitical position.


Gates now finds himself upbraiding our more sensible allies in an attempt to prevent them from doing what is actually best for them and arguably for all of us.


In essence, the downhill-rolling Stupidity Ball that is the Afghanistan War gained momentum and threatens to damage the NATO alliance.



What Secretary Gates was specifically upset about


Gates was particularly upset that NATO is still short of providing 750 promised military trainers for the Afghan Army and police.


NATO committed to donating these trainers, when President Obama added 30,000 more American troops to the conflict at the end of 2009:


“Trainers are the ticket to transition,” Mr. Gates told NATO. Mr. Gates called on the allies to fill the gaps and to collectively give $1.5 billion each year to building up the Afghan security forces.


Echoing his top military officials in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates drew a positive picture of recent progress in the country, even though there is significant concern among American battlefield commanders that the gains are tactical and not sustainable once the United States forces leave.


© 2011 Elizabeth Bumiller, Gates Faults U.S. Allies on Afghan War, New York Times (11 March 2011) (paragraph split)



What is the really going on?


The deeper issue here is that the United States knows perfectly well that, once it leaves Afghanistan, the Taliban, and possibly Al Qaeda, will come back.


Afghanistan is not a governable nation in the Western sense and foreseeably will not be for at least half a century.


There are three deliberately unspoken purposes underlying American policy there:


(1) One purpose to continuing American combat operations in Afghanistan is ostensibly to allow time to train the Afghan security forces into becoming illusorily competent.


The facade of Afghan governmental competence would allow the United States to declare success in achieving whatever the Administration has elected to call its strategy at the time and honorably leave.


No one in his or her right mind actually thinks that an Afghan Army, or any of the rest of Afghanistan’s pretend-state security apparatus, is going to surmount the corruption, or the sectarian and cultural divisions, that divide the country.


No matter what NATO does, Afghan forces are not going to be competent, dedicated, or diligent enough to pacify the landscape in the way Americans wish.  Pretending that they will become so is a political ruse.


(2) A second purpose to continued American combat operations in Afghanistan, purportedly while “training” Afghans to take over that mission, is to forestall political criticism of the war at home.


By working toward a theoretically attainable goal (training a competent Afghan Army and its corollaries), the Administration can diminish hostile criticism of this war at home.


Given that the general public does not care about the war, or about our troops there in any meaningfully-expressed way, this political strategy has cynical merit.


(3) A third purpose to the Administration’s strategy of “determined illusion” is to mask the profitable economic and professional advancement that the military-industrial complex reaps from protracted military interventions.


It is this third purpose that most fundamentally motivates the continuation of our self-defeating non-strategy in Afghanistan.



The only real nobility about the situation, from an American perspective, is the courage and dedication with which our troops carry out their hazardous duties


But our political leaders’ blather about the necessity for continuing combat operations in Afghanistan (through 2014 and beyond) is pie-in-the-sky optimistic, cynically manipulative, and/or atrociously brainless.


The fact that Secretary Gates is caught up in this process does not say anything flattering about our government’s ability to self-correct mistaken courses of action.



Admonishing our NATO allies is short-sighted and runs a significant risk of damaging the alliance


The fact that we are now upbraiding NATO nations, who are actively exhibiting an ability to correct their mistakes, makes us look both foolish and dangerous.


Secretary Gates’ criticism weakens NATO, and it could damage the increasingly important relationships we have with our European allies.


In essence, the Administration is allowing the stupidity mess that is Afghanistan to overwhelm our more vital interest in maintaining a network of solid alliances.  Those alliances will be absolutely necessary to our survival as an influential great power in the future.


“Plain dumb” sums the Administration’s policy.