Congresswoman Harman's Afghan Delusions

Jane Harman should be ashamed that she has voted to send U.S. troops to risk their last full measure of devotion on behalf of a corrupt, illegitimate, lawless Afghan government for reasons a schoolchild could discern are fatuous.
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To paraphrase British sage Samuel Johnson, Congresswoman Jane Harman's generalship over the Afghanistan war is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Harman's November 17, 2010, column for Politico ("Take the Lisbon deal, Mr. President") is exemplary, but not exhaustive. There, the Congresswoman applauds a NATO timetable to exit Afghanistan militarily by 2014, a wretched idea which she egotistically attributes to herself. But why claim an authorship no more promising than General George C. Custer's strategy at the Battle of the Little Bighorn? The deadline guarantees victory by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They will temporarily scale back their attacks and then return in full force in 2014 to overrun the incorrigibly inept, corrupt, and popularly reviled Karzai administration.

A graduate of Harvard Law School like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Ms. Harman should know better. She acknowledges: "We learned a critical lesson in Marja, the site of an early, well-publicized counterinsurgency offensive: The Taliban are good at vanishing and returning -- a classic guerrilla tactic." But like the French Bourbons, Harman learns nothing and forgets nothing. Her 2014 withdrawal deadline invites a repetition of the Marja debacle but on a national scale. Taliban will vanish into the countryside and then return to crush Karzai's hapless security forces after 2014. South Vietnam was militarily demolished by North Vietnam in April 1975 after a United States military withdrawal pursuant to the 1973 Paris Peace Accords indistinguishable from Harman's plan. But why should the United States squander an additional single soldier or dollar in Afghanistan to postpone the inevitable?

Harman effuses over the training by the International Security Force of 37,000 Afghan police officers and more than 100,000 members of the Afghan National Army. But she neglects their massive defections, desertions, and displays of disloyalty. On November 1, 2010, The New York Times reported that the entire Afghan police force in Khogeyani had defected to the Taliban. Further, on November 20, 2010, the Washington Post recounted an American soldier's disparagement of Afghan police officers: "They're [expletive] worthless. I've never seen them in any formation before. They're never in uniform. They're a joke." Harman's confidence in the prowess of the trained Afghan security forces to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda is reminiscent of Glendower's boast in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 that he could call spirits from the vasty deep. Hotspur memorably retorted, "Why so can I, or so can any man, but will they come when you do call for them?"

Harman assails the Karzai government's droopiness as a "willing partner" in fighting the Taliban. President Karzai takes bags of money from Iran because, in his words, "patriotism is not cheap." His cronies are shielded from corruption investigations. He chronically bellyaches over United States killings of innocent Afghan civilians through predator drones or night raids. Staggering fraud has tainted recent presidential and parliamentary elections. Karzai elicits more popular execration than the Taliban. Harman's cornucopia of criticisms, however, does not culminate in a call for Karzai's replacement, but in a surprise O' Henry ending. She advises throwing more resources behind the disloyal, inept Afghanistan Security Forces while leaving the inept and corrupt Karzai undisturbed -- an absurdity more to be marveled at than imitated.

Only the United States among the 28 NATO members salutes a need for combat troops in Afghanistan. Even Spain and Great Britain, which suffered variations of 9/11, are Afghan war skeptics. None of our NATO partners perceive the Taliban or Al Qaeda as an existential threat justifying a war footing -- even though their combined defense and intelligence budgets is a tiny fraction of the $1 trillion expended by the United States annually on national security. Yet Harman remains stubbornly convinced that the United States must keep troops in Afghanistan until at least 2014 to prevent a second edition of 9/11. Is Harman any different than Vietnam War enthusiasts who buttoned their ears to Doubting Thomases of the "Domino Theory?"

Harman's arguments baffle akin to an enigma wrapped in a mystery. If United States forces are necessary in Afghanistan through 2014 to forestall another Al Qaeda attack on United States soil, what changes on the ground does she expect to eliminate that need? If Karzai remains in power and the Afghan Security Forces remain hapless, what other candidates for militarily relevant changes are there? Moreover, if international terrorism in the United States can be thwarted after 2014 with no troops in Afghanistan, why would a withdrawal now mean any less safety?

Complaining about lackadaisical or indifferent NATO support, Harman cackles that, "The United States cannot afford to stand alone in Afghanistan." The cackling, however, is as pointless as shouting at the weather because Harman does not propose to do anything about NATO's alleged derelictions.

In sum, Congresswoman Harman should be ashamed that she has voted to send United States troops to risk that last full measure of devotion on behalf of a corrupt, illegitimate, lawless Afghan government for reasons a schoolchild could discern are fatuous.

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