Blood Investments


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

In Washington, politicians of all persuasions toss around the word “strategy.” But it’s rare to meet anyone inside the Beltway who understands what it means.

A strategy applies the necessary means to achieve a clearly defined goal. If your goal is unclear, you won’t get the means right, either. So we wind up in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan with our national fingers crossed.

The clearest way to explain strategy is in terms of your personal investments. Your goal is a positive return. The more you’re asked to risk, the greater the potential return has to be. And you don’t pile your savings into a chronic money-loser.

The problem is that, before investing, you weigh the pros and cons more critically than our political leaders think through our wars — in which our investment isn’t only treasure, but blood.

You wouldn’t invest without calculating the potential pay-off. Yet our elected officials, Democrat and Republican, are too lazy to fill out the investment-planning worksheet before piling on more troops:

* What precisely do we want to achieve?

* Is our goal realistic?

* Does the potential return justify the risk?

* Do we understand the need to cut irretrievable losses?

You wouldn’t knowingly dump your 401(K) money in a fund that’s lost money for every previous investor for hundreds of years. But that’s what successive administrations did in Somalia and, more painfully, Afghanistan.

Consider Afghanistan as an investment proposition. Initially, we had to make a short-term outlay to shatter a cut-throat competitor’s business model. But then, without even reviewing the books, we conducted a hostile takeover of a huge derelict factory (where our rival had briefly squatted) that had been a chronic money pit for every previous owner.

As we try to modernize the Afghan plant, local managers steal us blind and the workers sabotage our efforts. Even if we break the Taliban “union,” the labor is unskilled and the product line is worthless. We’ll have to subsidize this factory forever.

Does that make sense to you?

Really, what does the Obama administration hope to do in Afghanistan? Establish a stable democracy in a land where blood vendettas last for centuries and tribal loyalties trump all? Force a secular constitution on a society that prefers religious law? Develop a modern economy where running water is a rarity? Why?

Even if we achieved each of those goals, would the result be worth the cost in blood, money and time? Don’t we have better things to do with our strategic capital? Al Qaeda is a global franchise — yet we’re concentrating our investment on the Taliban, the equivalent of a local chain of blacksmith shops.

If it were only a matter of wasted tax dollars, that would be bad enough. But our troops suffer grievous wounds or die because neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations did the basic calculations you’d do before buying shares in a mutual fund.

And no, we’re not too big to fail. Our troops can beat the Taliban every time, and we can remain in Afghanistan as long as we want, but where’s the return on our investment?

It isn’t enough to claim, as President Obama has done, that Afghanistan’s vital to our national security. It isn’t. Neither he nor his befuddled advisers can explain convincingly what the payoff will be for investing more blood and treasure.

Our confusion about strategic ends and means made a bloody mess of Vietnam, but at least we could cite a hold-the-line-against-Communism rationale back then. In Somalia, we ran a bait-and-switch on ourselves — going in to save lives, then staying to prop up an imaginary state. Our one recent strategic investment with a high potential payoff — the removal of Saddam Hussein — got botched so badly that the return is frustratingly low.

A fundamental problem with our strategic investments is that, to many of our political leaders, our troops are funny money. Democrat or Republican, their public piety knows no limits, but they can’t be bothered to define a strategic bottom line. Instead of spending our strategic capital thoughtfully, they behave like drunks in a casino. The chips land in military hospitals or cemeteries.

When it comes to our troops, the left’s hypocrisy is beyond contempt. But some Washington conservatives also act as if we have to macho out our mistakes.

Well, some fights work out, some don’t. What’s wrong with stating publicly that Afghanistan just ain’t worth it?

We shouldn’t leave Afghanistan entirely. But we need to balance our investment with the potential return, maintaining a compact, lethal force to continue killing our enemies. But let’s not sacrifice more soldiers because our leaders decline to think things through.

In war, soldiers die. But our soldiers shouldn’t die because politicians put less thought into our wars than you put into your retirement account. ExileStreet

Ralph Peters’ novel, “The War After Armageddon,” will be published Sept. 15.

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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