The future of the Middle East and Afghanistan from the perspective of General McChrystal
A reflection on the simplistic view of many Americans about the world situation
by Prof Dr Albert A. Stahel
At the invitation of Notenstein Private Bank AG the former Afghanistan US commander General Stanley McChrystal held a lecture on “Scenarios for an Unpredictable World – Views from a Military Leader” at the Dolder Grand on May 3, 2013. After introducing himself by means of a video presentation the General presented his approach to the development of scenarios.
First, according to McChrystal, it is of utmost importance to determine, isolate and weigh the most relevant factors for a scenario. On this basis, he develops the logic and contents of a scenario. According to McChrystal, this creation requires a higher level of abstraction than computer simulations and analytical models. (Note the following: Scenarios and analytical models are usually used as a basis for the development of computer simulations.)
After an analysis of the Iraq insurgency in the aftermath of the occupation by the US and its Coalition of the Willing McChrystal identified six points in the “lessons learned” from the “debacle”. They included the fact that in a war decision makers need to focus on the most unlikely case and must not let themselves be paralyzed by fear. With respect to McChrystal’s personal experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the following description of scenarios is solely based on the Middle East, which the General called the worlds region that will face the greatest challenges in the coming years. In particular, he focused on Egypt and the threat to Israel by the “Arab Spring.”
He conjectured that in future the strategic positioning of the Middle East will increasingly be determined by the confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites.
The following three scenarios and their implications were briefly outlined by
– Hyper-contamination of the “Arab Spring”
– Iran obtains nuclear weapons
– Regime change in Syria.
With respect to the first scenario a widespread and increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and Saudi Arabia was going to occur. One had to reckon with a destabilization of the entire Middle East. Iran would exploit this situation. Israel would be highly endangered by such a a development.
In the second scenario Israel would be seriously threatened by the nuclearization of Iran. It was uncertain how the United States would react in such a situation to enforce their strategic interests in the Middle East.
In the third scenario a regime change in Syria would pull Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq into the abyss and in turn would further destabilize Syria.
At the end of the event the General was asked what he thought about the future situation in Afghanistan after 2014. In a few words, he described that Afghanistan had been in the state of war since 1979, that then wealthy Afghans had fled the country and that the Taliban were not popular today. Pakistan’s influence on Afghanistan was very important but the country was highly fractionated.
Note that these three scenarios represent the official United States’ typical view and assessment of the Middle East. The fact that it was Obama who exerted pressure on Mubarak and the generals which allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to take over power in Egypt and transfer the Middle East into an “Arab winter” was not mentioned by the General with a single word. Neither was there a word about the fact that Israel with its 200 nuclear warheads is still the only nuclear power in the Middle East which is actually threatening Iran and not vice versa. Apparently McChrystal knows Iran and its population only by hearsay, which is not surprising in fact, as the US has no diplomatic relations with Tehran. That the uprising in Syria was initiated by the US and its allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on order to weaken the geopolitical position of Syria’s associate Iran was left unmentioned by the General, as well.
Concerning Afghanistan it must be noted that the war had already started in 1978 with arms shipments by the CIA to the Mujahedeen. These deliveries were carried out on the instructions of the then National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who with his “Bear Trap” aimed at luring the Soviet leadership of the USSR into a war of attrition and thus destabilizing the USSR. Apparently General McChrystal has never visited Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, otherwise he would not claim that especially rich Afghans fled in 1979. Of course, there were some, but the majority of the refugees were destitute and had lost everything through war and expulsion.
The false report about the unpopularity of the Taliban is widespread in all US documents dealing with the current situation in Afghanistan. Fact is that since the expulsion of Mullah Omar in late 2001 the Taliban leaders and their fighters are able to stay undisturbed in the Eastern and Southern province of Afghanistan which is dominated by the ethnic Pashtuns. Their follower base is intact and they will take over power again in these provinces once US and NATO have withdrawn their troops. That the land is fractioned between North and South is a fact. However, this fractionation is the result of artificial boundaries imposed by the colonial power Britain at the end of the 19th Century when borders were arbitrarily rounded up or areas split like those Pashtuns who are now controlled by Pakistan.
What lessons can be drawn from the statements made by the General who was forced by Obama to retire? On the development of scenarios, there are many theories. Everything is possible except for the fact that scenarios form the basis of simulation models. McChrystal’s scenarios largely correspond to the official US perspective on the Middle East. This includes the stereotypical finding that Iran is the real threat to Israel and that Israel must be protected against Iran. Not a single word about the fact that for decades the US has been using a policy and strategy including the promotion of despots which is co-responsible for the present development in the Middle East.
Regarding McChrystal’s remarks on Afghanistan, the general seems not to have realized the factual situation during his stay or does not want to acknowledge it. Otherwise, he would have had to contradict the Obama administration’s official view and their habit of glossing things over, which is to reassure the American conscience and cover up the chaos that is going to take place after the withdrawal of troops.
Despite the high expectations about the lecturers the presented scenarios on the Middle East and the assessment of Afghanistan are very much “hand-knitted”. They reflect a simplistic view shared by many Americans about the world’s situation. A view, which had been nourished specifically by the Bush administration and which most likely can be attributed to be the deeper cause for political and military defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. •