"What's the Endgame?"
by Charles Lemos, Sun Feb 08, 2009 at 03:36:38 PM EST
In public, the President was nothing but a hawk, after all there was an image to uphold and a Cold War to wage. But in the Spring of 1964, LBJ had serious doubts over American involvement in Vietnam. President Johnson would tell his NSA McGeorge Bundy on May 27, 1964 that Vietnam was "the biggest damn mess I ever saw" and would lament "I don't think it's worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get out." A few days later he would confide to his close friend Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, "the more that I stayed awake last night thinking of this . . . it just worries the hell out of me," adding that "it's damned easy to get in war. But it's going to be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you do get in." At the time, the American commitment to Saigon was limited to few thousand US military advisers to help train the South Vietnamese to fight the North in addition to a small amount of equipment.
By August of that year, however, the die was cast and Johnson would prove his dictum correct. The country plunged easily into a war that would see over half a million US military personnel serve, 58,000 of them never to come home. In toto, there would be 350,000 US casualties plus an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Vietnamese deaths. The war once limited to Vietnam would spill over into Cambodia and Laos with lethal and fateful consequences. In financial terms, the war would cost an approximate $584 billion. It's not clear if President Johnson ever answered his own doubts and that nagging question of what's the endgame.
Thankfully, "what's the endgame" is a question that President Obama is asking concerning the vexing problem that is Afghanistan and Pakistan because as Vice President Biden noted this weekend in Munich, solving one requires solving the other. The Times of London is reporting that publicly hawkish Obama, the one who is on the record for increasing troop strength by 10,000, is a privately concerned Obama.
President Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.
There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.
The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defence secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama.
The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in "the tank", the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: "What's the endgame?" and did not receive a convincing answer.
In the end, geo-political realities may force the President to accept less than convincing answers but for now we should take solace in that the President is asking the hard questions and expecting meticulously detailed position papers that envision a road out of what already can be termed a quagmire. The question of what is the endgame in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is one that looms large in the world's collective future. Both are are failing, fragmented and artificial states. Recognizing this fact would be a start to finding a durable solution for the region.
Another overlooked fact is the role of the near 20,000 Saudi-funded madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan in global jihad. The Taliban are educated in these madrassas that teach Saudi Wahabism and nothing else. The disaster that is Afghanistan and the calamity that Pakistan is becoming has been a project exported from Saudi Arabia's religious establishment. If you follow the money trail then ultimately it is our dependence on Saudi energy sources that is helping to fund global jihad. And it is noteworthy that both Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and NSA General James Jones view energy as a national security issue. Solving our energy dependence is one condition for finding a suitable outcome in Central and South Asia.