From the New York Times:
Just a few years after the setting of an American withdrawal deadline for 2014 evoked alarm and worry among Afghans, the tone now has perceptibly hardened: even the officials who openly want the Americans to stay are now saying that staying must be strictly on Afghan terms.
The latest is Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, once a favorite of the Western contingent in Afghanistan, whose anger at the American attitude about customs fees led him to institute steep fines and briefly led Afghan officials to close the border crossings to Western military shipments.
“At the heart of all this is not just a revenue collection issue,” Mr. Zakhilwal said in an e-mail on Thursday. It is about “respect of Afghan laws and procedures…”
Now that the coalition is trying to take out its equipment, the Afghan government is demanding each container either come with its paperwork — or a $1,000 fine. Najeebullah Manali, a Finance Ministry official, put the number of trucks at roughly 70,000. That would mean a fine of $70 million.
Or, as a great poet once wrote:
Syrbal, at Herlander-Walking, is herself a veteran. So is her husband. They have a son who just left for Afghanistan on his second tour in the Bush-Obama wars. Not that Bush and Obama are the only ones responsible for those evil, idiot wars. Read her post to the end.
I know keeping very, very busy is the best idea right now. Distraction was my only friend the last year he was in the war zone; but this time it is far more difficult to keep my mind away from sharp cliff edges. At least, this time, it seems most Americans, even in this perversely red county of a blue state, have decided the wars are not a jolly good time.
Last time, seeing the service star on my car, or if it came up in conversation I still had idiots say the equivalent of “Right on!” which made me tilt my head and eye them like a hungry raptor before verbally pecking them to death. This time, if I apologize for temporary mental lapses with the explanation of my son being deployed, faces fall and people say “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “Oh, no!”
Why, oh, why was that not the response in 2001 and 2003? It was the same lie then? And over 8000 men and women from a host of nations including our own have paid for that lie with their deaths. And that is not even beginning the count of Iraqis and Afghanis.
During the long, sad evening of the election night when Reagan won reelection in a landslide, a colleague in Gore campaign headquarters defined the word democracy for me. “Democracy,” he said, “is that system of government in which you give the people what they want. And you give it to ’em good.”
Hurrah. Hurrah. We’re getting out of Afghanistan in 2014. Maybe. If and when, we know how it will look, because we’ve been there before. Over and over. And will be again, if we let the disgusting, discredited warhogs who lied us into Iraq do to it to us again. Very likely we will let them. We are what we are.
This is from Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia by Arnold R. Isaacs:
One thing about living in a country with amnesia is that the old becomes new over and over again, as we repeat our forgotten idiocies. Here is a post I put up on Bad Attitudes on September 12, 2002, still fresh as a daisy:
Looking up something else in the files I just came across a four-year-old article from the New York Times, written as the Taliban were about to take over Afghanistan.
It’s easy to forget, and most of us conveniently have, that the Taliban was Made in the USA. What if, for just that once, we had managed to mind our own business?
From the Times of August 13, 1998, speaking of the likelihood that the mullahs would soon seize power:
“If so, the outcome is full of tragic irony for a nation that seemed set on a completely opposite course in 1973, when King Zahir Shah, the last representative of the Durrani Dynasty that had ruled the country for 250 years, was ousted in a coup mounted by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.
“As President, Mohammed Daoud proclaimed himself a modernizer but lasted barely five years before he was killed in April 1978 in a coup staged by the Soviet-backed Communist Party, which proclaimed a still more radical modernization program.
“The Communists’ program aimed at uprooting the pervasive influence of Muslim clerics, whose support of the Durranis had consigned Afghanistan to a social and economic backwardness.
“Within hours of seizing the Arg Palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Communists vowed to emancipate Afghan women, achieve universal literacy, and move the country beyond its bullock-cart economy.
“But the bid to force compliance with the Communist program, especially in the arch-conservative world of the Afghan village, triggered a civil war that drew in Soviet forces in December 1979.
“This in turn prompted President Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan to commit the United States to backing the Afghan Mujahedeen, the self-styled Muslim holy warriors who drove out the Russians in February 1989.”
To put the matter clearly, the Russians were the nearest thing there was to good guys in the Afghanistan of the late seventies. The nearest thing to bad guys, then and now, were the ignorant village clerics…
As so often happened during the Cold War, we jumped eagerly into bed with the worst guys in sight. Even worse than the Russian alternative? Well, figure it out. Our exciting fling with the primitive, lawless Mujahedeen created the conditions for the Taliban takeover that the Russians had feared. And the takeover created the kind of country an Osama Bin Laden could get comfortable in.
Well, okay, but still.. We couldn’t very well have left this tiny land in the terrible claws of godless Russia, could we? Of course we could. We did it all the time, before and during the Cold War. And in this case, so what? Three and a half years later the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, giving everybody a get-out-of-jail card.
But wasn’t that collapse precisely because we had armed and financed those brave Afghan freedom fighters? Pretty doubtful. The Soviet Union had been a basket case for decades. It might have stayed on its feet for a year or two longer if Cold War cowboys like Zbigniew Brzezinski and William J. Casey hadn’t been gnawing at its crutches in Afghanistan, that’s true. But the aging invalid was about to topple in any case..
Suppose those few years had been spent under the Russians rather than the warlords and the Taliban? A number of things would have happened, all of them good. Afghanistan wouldn’t have been devastated in a pointless civil war, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Afghans would still be alive, and the country would be independent today just like the other ’Stans in the neighborhood. No better off, but no worse either.
And yesterday — September 11th of 2002 — could have been just another lovely day in early autumn.
From the New York Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for discussions on the progress of the war, including an intensified wave of insider attacks by Afghan forces on NATO service members, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal.
The visit by General Dempsey was characterized by NATO as one of his regular visits to Kabul. But it comes after a trust-eroding two-week stretch in which 10 American service members have been killed by Afghan security forces, in violence designated as insider or green-on-blue attacks.
My late stepfather, Ralph Ingersoll, was a magazine editor, newspaper publisher and World War II vet who had been around the block a time or two and kept his eyes open along the way. One day in 1963 the papers ran those famous pictures of the Vietnamese monk, burning himself to death in the middle of Saigon.
“Take a look at this,” Ralph said. “We’re well and truly fucked now.”
“You’re fucked anytime you get into a fight with people who would rather die than.”
What would Ralph have said if American troops were being routinely gunned down in Saigon's streets by ARVN soldiers we ourselves had armed and trained? The question never arose. Things got bad in Vietnam, all right, but not quite that bad.
Robert C. Koehler takes apart the Bad Apple myth we find so comforting whenever a Sergeant Bates appears. The whole story from which this excerpt comes is here.
“A freshly captured detainee had been denied his insulin. He was a hadji and probably he won’t die, but it wouldn’t matter if he did. This is what the CO said in denying permission to hospitalize him. His diabetic stroke was mistaken for insubordination. They pepper-sprayed him and put him in a holding cell, where he died.” — Andrew Duffy
“It’s almost impossible to act on your morality. . . . You remove the humanity from them — beat them — and in doing so you remove humanity from yourself.” — Carlos Mejia
Does this begin to penetrate the mystery that so confounds the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media? Stories of American troops’ horrific treatment of Iraqis and Afghans are endless. Most of the time, such treatment was well within the context of orders. Contempt for the people we were “liberating” permeated the chain of command. In 2003, the Washington Post reported that a Defense Department computer program for calculating collateral damage was called “Bugsplat.”
…and see how far it gets you:
[Dennis] Blair said the continuing drone strikes are more of a nuisance than a real threat to al-Qaida, and that only a ground campaign by Pakistan would truly threaten it and other militant organizations.
“It can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign,” he said.
The retired admiral also suggested cutting the cost of hunting terrorists by relying more on local forces in places like Yemen and Somalia. The U.S. is already working with indigenous forces in both countries, but also sustains a large and expensive offshore presence aboard a ship off the Yemeni coast, as well as flying armed and observation drones from Djibouti and other sites in the region.
He estimated that there are some 4,000 terrorists worldwide, and a budget of some $80 billion devoted to fighting them — a figure he said did not include the wars of Afghanistan or Iraq.
“That’s $20 million for each of these people ... Is that proportionate?” he asked. He pointed out that 17 Americans have been killed inside the U.S. by terrorists in the decade since Sept. 11, including the 14 killed in the Ft. Hood massacre, while car accidents and daily crime combined have killed some 1.5 million people during the same 10 years.
“What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem?” he asked.
Blair, who was forced to resign by the Obama administration, says the White House undermined his authority as director of national intelligence by siding with the CIA, instead of telling it to listen to him.
“They sided enough with the CIA in ways that were public enough that it undercut my position,” Blair said.
Here, from Tom Engelhardt, is our text for this Fourth of July:
These days [President Obama] can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country’s special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God’s blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.
Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps…
The president’s recent Afghan remarks were, in this sense, par for the course. As he plugged his plan to bring America’s “long wars” to what he called “a responsible end,” he insisted that “[l]ike generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.” He then painted this flattering word portrait of us:“We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination... and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach... we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.”
I know, I know. You’re wondering whether you just mainlined into a Sarah Palin speech and your eyes are glazing over. But hang in there, because that’s just a start. For example, in an Obama speech of any sort, what America’s soldiers never lack is the extra adjective. They aren’t just soldiers, but “our extraordinary men and women in uniform.” They aren’t just Americans, but “patriotic Americans.” (Since when did an American president have to describe American soldiers as, of all things, “patriotic”?) And in case you missed the point that, in their extraordinariness and their outsized patriotism they are better than other Americans, he made sure to acknowledge them as the ones we “draw inspiration from…”
Oh, and let’s not forget that no significant White House moment ends these days without the president bestowing God’s blessing on the globe’s most extraordinary nation and its extraordinary fighters, or as he put it in his Afghan remarks: “May God bless our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.”
The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.
Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of “the finest fighting force in the world.” Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. “I have no greater job,” he told them, “nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back... God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory.”
As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater “honor” than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.
In the excerpt above, Engelhardt expands on a point made long ago by the late George Carlin — that America is a nation of “cop lovers and soldier sniffers.”
But Engelhardt goes on to argue, inarguably, that President Obama is leading us into a mess in Afghanistan from which we will never extricate ourselves without further dishonor and defeat. Thus he follows with precision the political strategy of Johnson and Nixon, both of whom also pursued reelection by keeping alive a murderous war that they knew to be pointless and unwinnable.
Please read not just the passages I’ve posted, but Engelhardt’s whole essay.
CNN World, May 29, 2011:
An investigation was underway Sunday into allegations that a coalition airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed a dozen children and two women, Afghan and NATO officials said…
“We do know about the allegations,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Flesvig, an ISAF spokesman, told CNN. There was no mention of possible civilian casualties on ISAF’s daily operational update posted daily on its website…
Residents, according to Ahamadi, said an ISAF helicopter conducted the airstrike, which hit two houses where women and children were staying.
New York Times, September 7, 2002:
The United States Central Command acknowledged tonight that scores of civilians were killed or injured in an American airstrike on a string of Afghan villages in July, but blamed Taliban fighters for placing women and children near valid miitary targets…
“The ground location of the source of the fire was identified and fires were directed to that area,” the summary said. “Just as the weapon itself is not seen, it is also not possible to determine if the fires from the AC-130 gunship have damaged or destroyed the weapon. Consequently, personnel at the weapon’s location were the primary targets. Unfortunately, it is also not possible to distinguish men from women or adults from children.”
Curse you, Red Menace, why did you walk off the floor and leave us dancing all alone? Osama stepped up and filled the gap for a while, but now folks are starting to wonder if the GWOT was really worth bankrupting the country for.
It’s getting scary here in the Pentagon. Maybe we should try pumping up that old Yellow Peril doll in the attic. If we’re lucky Congress won’t notice we’re already getting our bloated ass whipped with roadside bombs at a couple hundred bucks a copy.
From the Associated Press:
…Land-based drones are in wide use in the war in Afghanistan, but sea-based versions will take several more years to develop. Northrop Grumman conducted a first-ever test flight — still on land — earlier this year.
Van Buskirk didn’t mention China specifically, but military analysts agree the drones could offset some of China’s recent advances, notably its work on a “carrier-killer” missile.
“Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles — aerial and subsurface — are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security.
China is decades away from building a military as strong as America’s, but it is developing air, naval and missile capabilities that could challenge U.S. supremacy in the Pacific — and with it, America’s ability to protect important shipping lanes and allies such as Japan and South Korea…
In my morning email was this, from Merry: “I really want to read your take on the ‘killing Bin-Laden’ story.’” Naturally I was excited, since no one had previously given a rat’s fundamental orifice about my take on anything. So here:
I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction was to wonder what effect the assassination would have on the 2012 election. This was narrow, parochial, and in all respects unworthy, but I’m still counting the news cycles till the Republicans start asking the president what took him so long. Maybe because Obama rhymes with Osama? Hmm?
My second reaction was to wonder how much we will wind up paying Pakistan for selling Bin Laden to us. After all, the Saudi millionaire wasn’t hiding in some remote frontier wilderness where the writ of law runneth not. He was in Abbottabad, which turns out to be as far from Islamabad as Manassas is from the White House.
Furthermore, many of Abbottabad’s residents are army personnel and all of them must be blind. (For this and the following details, go here.) The elusive 6' 5" terrorist lived in a million-dollar mansion built five years ago, apparently to hide him. It had 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire and was “roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.” None of this seems to have come to the attention of all those army personnel, or of the Pakistan intelligence service.
A suspicious person might reach a tentative conclusion that Bin Laden had been held in a sort of country club jail until the price was right, and then ratted out to Pakistan’s hated enemy, the United States, for a price that will never be disclosed.
Once again we play the battered wife, submissive and forgiving. Our abusive husband this time is Pakistan. Next time it will be Israel or Saudi Arabia. We cannot bring ourselves to admit that it is these three countries which pose the greatest actual threats to America’s actual security. Unhappily this pathology is bipartisan. There it lies at the heart of our national security policy, unuttered and unutterable.
I’ve mentioned before that it’s never a good idea to take on people who would rather die than ______ (fill in blank). The latest evidence for this proposition just came in a few minutes ago from CNN News:
Five troops killed in a suicide bombing this weekend at a military base in eastern Afghanistan were members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday…
On Saturday, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan military uniform struck, killing the five, at a military base, Forward Operating Base Gamberi, in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province. The attack came during a meeting between Afghan soldiers and their ISAF mentors…
Fom the Associated Press:
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that both the U.S. and Afghan governments agree the American military should remain involved in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations to help train and advise Afghan forces…
Let’s start by all agreeing that terrorism is a bad thing, okay? But let’s also agree to the indisputable: that it will not and cannot destroy the United States. Here is a very partial list of states that have been visited by terrorism in recent memory: England, France, Spain, Ireland, Canada, India, Pakistan, Bolivia, Nicaragua. On and on. All of them remain in existence. None has assumed the fetal position, whimpering in fear and laying down unaimed fire in every direction. This is to say that only in the United States have the terrorists won.
More on this point from Daniel Larison at Eunomia.
The latest round of interventionist foreign policy over the last ten to thirteen years has focused heavily, though not exclusively, on countering the threat from jihadist terrorism, and everyone would acknowledge that many of the major policy decisions of the last ten years were made politically viable by the 9/11 attacks. Arguments for all of the policies connected to the “war on terror” lean heavily on the idea that terrorism, and specifically jihadist terrorism, represents a major or even an “existential” threat. Any reasonable assessment of the threat shows this to be absurd, and along with those overblown claims goes a large part of the rationale for pretty much every “war on terror” policy.
It seems to me that non-interventionists and realists make blowback arguments to focus on the consequences of current policy, and to point out the flaw in a national security and warfare state that actively makes America less secure by creating enemies where none should exist and provoking attacks that need not happen. It is also a rhetorical move to appeal to public concerns about security without endorsing standard authoritarian and jingoist responses to threats.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but what non-interventionists and realists should be trying to do is to channel the public’s appropriate moral outrage over terrorist atrocities towards reforming the policies that create these unintended, avoidable consequences. To that end, there doesn’t need to be any exaggeration of the nature of the threat or the power of jihadism, but there should be a steady stream of arguments that the threat can be significantly reduced or possibly eliminated by reforming U.S. policies so that they actually minimize the risks to the nation rather than generate new dangers. The threat from terrorism isn’t all that great, but it could be greatly reduced. All that it will cost us is our undesirable pursuit of hegemony.
My late stepfather Ralph Ingersoll (founder of the New York daily PM) used to say, “If you’re up against people who literally ‘would rather die than—”, sooner or later they’re going to win.”
I thought of him just now, in reading Nicholas D. Kristof’’s report from Bahrain:
Another woman, Hayat, said that she had been shot with rubber bullets twice this week. After hospitalization (which others confirmed), she painfully returned to the streets to continue to demand more democracy. “I will sacrifice my life if necessary so my children can have a better life,” she said.
I thought of it in Poland, in Tiananmen Square, in Northern Ireland, in the Gaza Strip and of course in Tahrir Square. But I also thought of it in Vietnam, and now in Afghanistan. Every suicide bomber, everywhere, makes me think of it.
Anyone around who still imagines that ours is a peace-loving country should read The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War (pdf), from which this excerpt comes. The author, Franklin Spinney, is not a peacenik or a pacifist. He spent most of his long career as high-ranking Pentagon analyst.
One source of the pressure for more defense spending is that our two relatively small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both much smaller than the Korean or Vietnam war, have stretched our military to the breaking point. These wars are small in terms of scale and tempo of operations. Bear in mind that the Korean and Vietnam wars took place against a backdrop of cold war commitments. Today, the United States is spending more than it did in 1969, when we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam.
But the cold war meant that we also maintained hundreds of thousands of troops in Western Europe and East Asia, a huge rotation base at home to support these forward deployments, a large Navy fleet of 679 ships (compared with 287 today) to control the seas, and thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert in airborne bombers, missile silos, and submarines. Nevertheless, according to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, the cumulative costs of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the response to September 11 the second-most-expensive war, adjusted for inflation, in U.S. history, exceeded only by World War II…
In 1981, the Reagan administration was so intent on throwing money at the Defense Department that it rushed through an amendment to President Jimmy Carter’s budget. Without any systematic review — and not having the time to type up a new budget — Reagan’s political appointees directed the department merely to hand-write changes adding billions of dollars to hundreds of line items. Much of this largesse was immediately converted into cost growth in existing programs…
If we actually want to expand and consolidate our influence abroad, the way to do it is not to bankrupt ourselves by sending in the cavalry. For instance, take our 30-year Southeast Asian War Games. Please. For another instance, look at Obama’s fundamentally insane attempt to colonize Afghanistan with drones.
And for a somewhat different approach, consider this:
China has announced plans to build a high-speed railway linking the southern Chinese Guangxi Zhaung autonomous region with Singapore via Vietnam, according to China Daily…
“We will invest 15.6 billion yuan (US$3.05 billion) to build the railway linking Nanning and Singapore via Vietnam,” said Long Li, director of the region’s transportation department. “This is extremely important for the construction of the Nanning - Singapore Economic Corridor.”
The corridor refers to the economic link between China and ASEAN nations, starting at Nanning in Guangxi and passing through Hanoi in Vietnam, Vientiane in Laos, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on its way to Singapore. China Daily referred to Guangxi as the country’s main foreign-trade center, with ASEAN being its largest bloc trading partner.
Of course everything has its downside, as we see in this email from an old colleague who stayed in Thailand after our own efforts to impose a Southeast Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had so disastrously failed. So you pays your money and you takes your choice, but the Chinese approach seems to involve lower body counts. At least in the short run.
Lemme tell you, man, it’s really bad. The Chinese squatters are the worst of the worst, obnoxious ass holes who simply buy off local officials and do as they please. I can cite numerous examples from personal experience, e.g., the market vendors in Nam Tha and Phonsavan who know NO Lao and could care less.
In March, I got up to the Bolavens plateau where I spent a year in ’63–’64. A joint Chinese/Australian mining concern has a concession to strip away 1,400 km2 of the plateau for bauxite and send it to Yunnan for an aluminum plant. 1,400 square kilometers! Essentially the entire southern half of the plateau. And the fuckers’ office is in the old IVS house we built in Houei Kong. [Ed. note: The International Voluntary Service in Laos was the rough equivalent of the Peace Corps.]
This is happening on top of Korean and other foreign hydroprojects that have displaced villages and destroyed indigenous cultures. And unrestrained logging everywhere, which destroys the habitat that indigenous groups have preserved for hundreds of years and on which they depend to sustain their way of life.
Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaking of the Pentagon papers saved the lives of more American soldiers than any number of Medal of Honor heroes could have done, has returned to the front pages lately. It sent me back to his valuable book, Secrets, from which this comes:
No one else was going to tell me ever again that I (or anyone else) “had” to kill someone, that I had no choice, that I had a right or a duty to do it that someone else had decided for me.
This new principle, as I already thought of it, didn’t answer all questions about whether one should ever use violence or when, the questions I’d been wrestling with ever since I’d met Janaki and began reading Gandhian and Christian pacifists, but it did answer some. For example about whether unquestioningly to accept being drafted. That wouldn’t face me again, but it might face my son Robert. I would tell my kids, I thought, that no one could make it all right for them to carry a gun or shoot anyone just by telling them they had to. That would have to be their choice, their entire responsibility.
If I ever did it again — as I now told myself — it would be because I chose to do it or chose to follow such orders as the right thing to do, not just because someone gave me an order. I would also examine very critically my own reason for it. I would have to have better reasons, which stood up better under a skeptical look, than I had in Vietnam. [Ed. note: Ellsberg had commanded a Marine infantry company in Vietnam.] Responsibility for killing or being ready to kill was not something you could delegate to someone else, even a president.
For the love of God, how stupid are we?
KABUL (Reuters) — The military handover from NATO-led forces to Afghans should start in the first half of 2011 but poor security in some areas could see it run past a 2014 target, a NATO official said on Wednesday before an important summit…
Sedwill said the transition could run “to 2015 and beyond” in some areas that could still face security problems. “We expect to have strategic overwatch in large parts of the country by that time (2014),” he told reporters in Kabul, with civil administration to follow the security transition.
NATO troops would then assume support and training duties as Afghans took on the burden of combat roles. “The end of 2014 does not mean that the mission is over, but the mission changes. It’s the inflection point, if you like,” Sedwill said.
…whoever they are. From the New York Times:
In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves…
“There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,” a senior administration official said Wednesday…
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was last in Afghanistan in September, said the 2014 date made sense, because the Afghan Army and the police were scheduled to increase their numbers to 350,000, their goal, by 2013.
“It is far enough away to allow lots to happen, yet it is still close enough to debunk the myth of an indefinite foreign occupation of the country,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.
But Mr. Gates has said that the United States will nonetheless be in Afghanistan for many more years to come.
After all, we’re not as exceptional as the lapel flag crowd likes to think. We’re just as vicious, just as un-Christian — anti-Christian, really; if you’re looking for the Anti-Christ, try Pat Robertson — as is the rest of our unattractive species.
Robert Burns wrote, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” Below Chase Madar wonders how our own vast gulag system must look to others as we lecture them on human rights. For his complete essay, go here.
The Khadr case should have been a bit queasy-making for us Americanos. Hasn’t there been a surge of concern for child soldiers in book clubs and church groups across the land? Turns out, however, that this long-distance compassion goes up in smoke at closer range. The second a child soldier points his gun at an American, not another African, it’s adiós victimized child, hello hardened terrorist.
The hypocrisy in all this is less flaming than it may appear. After all, clemency for youth offenders, be they child soldiers or just local kids, runs against the American grain these days. If we routinely prosecute children even younger than 15 as adults — and we do — why should a foreign child soldier be any different?
In fact the U.S. even has a few dozen inmates doing life without parole for acts committed when they were 13 or 14, and most of these sentences were mandatory rather than the prerogative of a particularly nasty judge. (Some small progress: last May in Graham v. Florida the Supreme Court decided that juveniles can get life without parole only if there’s homicide involved.) Overall, the U.S. has in recent years had precious little mercy for its children, or anyone else’s…
This from Alternet:
ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is, they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family. Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we’ve been given, but don’t put those who willingly go into harm’s way even further in harm’s way just to satisfy your need to make a point.
Words to live by, from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Whose own mission requires him to have on his hands the blood of thousands of young soldiers and Afghan families in order to make a point.
And what point exactly? In the service of what greater good? Does anyone even remember?
From the Washington Post:
When the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade arrived in Afghanistan, its leader, Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, openly sneered at the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy. The old-school commander barred his officers from even mentioning the term and told shocked U.S. and NATO officials that he was uninterested in winning the trust of the Afghan people…
Some soldiers have since told investigators that their company commander became furious after learning that the platoon had killed a second unarmed Afghan in January. But rather than referring the incident up the chain of command, he demanded that soldiers find evidence that would justify the shooting.
In March, the platoon’s first lieutenant and sergeant were removed from their posts because their soldiers had been caught shooting at dogs, according to Army investigative records. In contrast, no disciplinary action was taken after platoon members shot and killed four Afghan men — who were allegedly unarmed — in as many incidents. (Three of those shootings are now the focus of murder investigations.)
More good sense from Daniel Larison. Worth reading in its entirety:
As much as we can appreciate and honor the support our NATO allies have provided, we shouldn’t drag them into conflicts that have never really been their concern. “Out-of-area” missions will just keep happening again and again as the alliance looks for new conflicts to enter to provide a rationale for its existence. European nations are clearly tired of it, and at present they can’t afford it, either. The need for fiscal retrenchment has been forcing European governments, even the new coalition government in Britain, to make deep cuts in their military budgets.
Making NATO into a political club of democracies in good standing is also no solution to the Alliance’s obsolescence. As we saw in the war in Georgia two years ago, proposed expansion of NATO has been more of a threat to European peace and security than dissolving it. Once again, this is something that most European governments understood at the time, and which Washington refused to see. Without the belief that Georgia was eligible for membership and would eventually be allowed to join, it is unlikely that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili would have escalated a conflict over its separatist regions and plunged his country into war with Russia. That conflict was a good sign that the Alliance had outlived its usefulness. If it isn’t disbanded, it may start to become a menace to the very things it was supposed to keep safe.
America doesn’t need and shouldn’t want to perpetuate an outdated alliance. The creation of NATO was an imaginative solution designed to respond to the security conditions of the immediate aftermath of World War II, and it was an enormous success. But it is time for Americans to begin thinking anew about the world. A first step in doing that is letting go of an alliance neither America nor Europe needs…
From the Washington Post:
Hundreds of military service members and contractor employees have fallen ill with cancer or severe breathing problems after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they were poisoned by thick, black smoke produced by the burning of tons of trash generated on U.S. bases…
Norman Mailer once said, asked whether mankind would make itself extinct in a nuclear war, “Hell, no. We’ll drown ourselves in our own shit first.” Mailer wasn’t right about much, but he nailed that one.
If this excerpt doesn’t get you to read the whole dispatch, nothing will. It’s by Ann Jones, a writer of a certain age (she submitted a scan of her Medicare card to the Army to prove she had the medical insurance required of embeds). Further reason to follow the link: “As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple knows, people will say almost anything to an old lady they assume to be stupid…”
On the base, I heard incessant talk about COIN, the “new” doctrine resurrected from the disaster of Vietnam in the irrational hope that it will work this time. From my experience at the FOB, however, it’s clear enough that the hearts-and-minds part of COIN is already dead in the water, and one widespread practice in the military that’s gone unreported by other embedded journalists helps explain why.
So here’s a TomDispatch exclusive, courtesy of Afghan-American men serving as interpreters for the soldiers. They were embarrassed to the point of agony when mentioning this habit, but desperate to put a stop to it. COIN calls for the military to meet and make friends with village elders, drink tea, plan “development,” and captivate their hearts and minds. Several interpreters told me, however, that every meeting includes some young American soldiers whose locker-room-style male bonding features bouts of hilarious farting.
To Afghan men, nothing is more shameful. A fart is proof that a man cannot control any of his apparatus below the belt. The man who farts is thus not a man at all. He cannot be taken seriously, nor can any of his ideas or promises or plans.
Yesterday the world changed and a new epoch was ushered in with Wikileak’s release of the Afghan War Diary, 2004 – 2010. In case you’ve been vacationing off-planet, Afghan War Diary is a compilation of “raw data” derived from 90,000 leaked ground reports from the war in Afghanistan (approximately 15,000 have been held back for possible redaction before their release). The importance of this event is certainly not that the data uncovers shocking new revelations about how abysmally the war in Afghanistan has been conducted — an epic fail of such proportions is hard to cover up completely no matter how obedient the national media are. The true awesomeness of this development is that, in one brilliant and well-coordinated play, the rules of the game have been changed — forever after — and, not only has the playing field been leveled, it’s been moved out of town — no more home-field advantage.
Part of the genius of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange’s release was his gambit to assure that mainstream media would not obstruct or trivialize the importance of the leak — by giving them the scoop. Wikileaks provided the roughly 91,000 reports dated from January 2004 to December 2009 to three media outlets, The New York Times, the Guardian of London and Der Spiegel of Germany, under agreement to publish their individual coverage simultaneously on Sunday…
The “home team” however seems to be determined to ignore the change in game plan, at least for now. Despite a “heads up” from their loyal friends at The New York Times, the administration’s official flat-footed response was noticeably confused, and confusing. In my opinion, no one did a better job of parsing the White House’ official response than Jay Rosen; here are his reactions posted on NYU’s Pressthink blog:
The initial response from the White House was extremely unimpressive:
This leak will harm national security. (As if those words still had some kind of magical power, after all the abuse they have been party to.)
There’s nothing new here. (Then how could the release harm national security?)
Wikileaks is irresponsible; they didn’t even try to contact us! (Hold on: you’re hunting the guy down and you’re outraged that he didn’t contact you?)
Wikileaks is against the war in Afghanistan; they’re not an objective news source. (So does that mean the documents they published are fake?)
“The period of time covered in these documents… is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.” (Okay, so now we too know the basis for the President’s decision: and that’s a bad thing?)
A great follow-up (that we’ll never see) from the White House would be a comprehensive analysis of how the “revolutionary Obama” strategy addresses shortcomings in the “lackluster Bush” strategy. For example, to the best of my knowledge, American taxpayers are still underwriting billions of dollars to continue the Sisyphean task of training an Afghan National Police Force.
As Tom Engelhardt put it, recently:
The Pentagon . . . hasn’t hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to “train” and “mentor” the Afghan military and police – and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again.
Engelhardt then follows up with the questions that lay bare the Coalition’s utter fecklessness in this endeavor:
“And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven’t had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven’t had years of advice from the best U.S. and NATO advisers that money can buy; they haven’t had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting. They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt. They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up-to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified U.S. military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters, and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.”
“Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the U.S. has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions.”
And if you think the Afghan Police Academy idea is stupid and wasteful, just go read Tom’s entire article describing the US plan to resurrect the Afghan Air Force (as soon as they can learn English) and procure some reconditioned Russian ‘coptors that the Afghans took a shine to in the last war. The timeline for that project? US Air Force personnel: guestimate 2016 – 2018 depending on how well the Afghans take to English, “the official language of the cockpit.” There are 450 US Air Force personnel tasked with this project @ $1 million/year/flight instructor plus, of course, pay and bennies for the Afghan recruits, and let’s not forget procurement and maintenance of the fleet of Russian helicopters — you do the math . . . .
What has changed, recently, was that the new Afghan “police academy” graduates will eventually be dealing with a possible “conflict of interest” with the freshly minted localized militias (that nobody wants to call militias) that Gen. Petraeus is so proud of successfully lobbying for.
Evidently, Catch-22 is alive and well in today’s army . . .
* * *
The Pentagon, for its part, has harrumphed out a hasty announcement that it is launching a “robust probe” of the Wikileaks matter (to differentiate, I suppose, from the “rather lame probes” that it launches in the event of collateral damage leaks). That development is curious in the face of their much ballyhooed apprehension, months ago, of Bradley Manning, an Army information analyst stationed in Iraq (not Afghanistan), charged with leaking classified information to Wikileaks. The Pentagon is acting suspiciously in this, perhaps they know that there are many leaks in their midst, or, maybe they just already know it’s not Manning but it’s good to have a guy in custody.
And the State Department, on the basis of leaked reports that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI is aiding and abetting the Taliban insurgents, is threatening to take back the $7 billion aid package that it proudly bestowed on Pakistan a few weeks ago, if the ISI doesn’t cut it out. Of course none of this is “news” and Hillary Clinton knew it when she delivered this money bomb on her latest trip. Ah well, it’s taxpayers’ money, there’s more where that came from . . .
* * *
The real importance of this event is so hard to grasp and appreciate fully that it’s going to take some time to digest. If you look hard enough, though, a number of people have noticed and are scratching the surface in credible ways.
The following are excerpts from the first impressions of respected sources on media and the new news ecosystem; taken together, I believe that their comments comprise a cogent analysis of the unprecedented actions taken by Julian Assange and the possible impact that those actions might have on the future of information distribution, transparency and governmental accountability.
From Jay Rosen of NYU’s PressThink blog:
If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, ‘They didn’t even contact us!
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.
And I can’t resist including a reader’s comment on Rosen’s article, because it says so much:
we enter an era now where we begin to be conscious of “collective consciousness” and its role as “prime mover” of the “world” and its events …”
analysis of the various parts and components proceeds only fitfully, because we do not yet have a language of whole …
the problem? adjusting to a pre-existing global reality larger than the individual thinking mind can grasp …
consciousness itself, however, has no problem with any of this … it is our limited self-concept that does …
solution? easy. identify with the whole…
inescapable and unavoidable, by the way … not if, but when
Posted by: gregorylent at July 26, 2010 2:56 AM | Permalink
From Alexis Madrigal, senior editor and lead technology writer for TheAtlantic.com:
The rogue, rather mysterious website provided the raw data; the newspapers provided the context, corroboration, analysis, and distribution. ‘Wikileaks was not involved in the news organizations’ research, reporting, analysis and writing,’ Times editors said in an online note. ‘The Times spent about a month mining the data for disclosures and patterns, verifying and cross-checking with other information sources, and preparing the articles that are published today.
The New York Times’ David Carr may have nailed the issue when he tweeted that it was the “asymmetries” that Wikileaks introduces into the equation that have the government spooked. An administration official told Politico, ‘[I]t’s worth noting that Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan.’ But the truth is that we don’t really know what Wikileaks is, or what the organization’s ethics are, or why they’ve become such a stunningly good conduit of classified information.
In the new asymmetrical journalism, it’s not clear who is on what side or what the rules of engagement actually are. But the reason Wikileaks may have just changed the media is that we found out that it doesn’t really matter. Their data is good, and that’s what counts.
Whatever else is true, WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world. Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret. But that’s what our National Security State does reflexively: it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing. WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall, enabling modest glimpses into what The Washington Post spent last week describing as Top Secret America. The war on WikiLeaks — which was already in full swing, including, strangely, from some who claim a commitment to transparency — will only intensify now. Anyone who believes that the Government abuses its secrecy powers in order to keep the citizenry in the dark and manipulate public opinion — and who, at this point, doesn’t believe that? – should be squarely on the side of the greater transparency which Wikileaks and its sources, sometimes single-handedly, are providing.
And finally, for those who claim this is “old news” and “no big deal,” ponder this from Politico:
Whether WikiLeaks uncovered anything new isn’t actually important — it’s on the front page of every newspaper in the country; the media is now focused on Afghanistan, and that makes it a big deal,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on India and Pakistan.
The public is now more skeptical about the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan than they were last week, and that makes it real, said Markey, who was a South Asia analyst during the Bush administration.
From the New York Times:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The chief judge asked God’s forgiveness if he had reached the wrong decision, and then he sentenced four members of an Afghan family charged with making bombs: two brothers to 10 years in prison and two other family members to time already served…
This trial was the beginning of a confusing period in which two legal systems will be running in parallel at the Parwan detention center — an Afghan one and an American one. Under the American one, detainees, all of whom are detained by American soldiers usually working with Afghan forces, can be held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Imagine this: you’re a fifty-something four-star general in the US Army; you have achieved that lofty summit largely by laboring in the relatively peaceful halls of military academe. You spend 1970 – 1974 learning to be an officer and a gentleman at West Point during the death throes of what the Vietnamese people call “The American War” — which is really too bad, in a way, because the timing robbed you of the chance to see, up close and personal, just how horribly wrong things can go for a military that finds itself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong strategy. Not for you the “fragging, the drugs, the widespread AWOLs and outright mutiny that occurs when young men are asked to risk death for absurd reasons against insurmountable odds.
Nevertheless you are young, smart and enthusiastic so your lack of first-hand experience doesn’t keep you from weighing in on the “lessons learned” from “The American War” when it comes time for you to tender your doctoral dissertation at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs; your thesis, “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era,” is a hit and you are duly awarded your Ph.D.
Now you are on the fast-track for brainy soldiers with political skills that will undoubtedly land you at “Ground Zero” (aka The Pentagon) or — who knows, maybe the Oval Office, someday. So it is that you eventually find yourself a general who has never seen combat — until Iraq. Unfortunately, you don’t get your hands on that command until things are so thoroughly screwed up that all the sensible people are looking for the exits and making their escape plans. But, as you are fond of saying: “just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.” Iraq in 2007, however, is more than hard, it’s a disaster — and a disaster of our own making so the US can’t exactly declare it all a big mistake and walk away…
The All-American solution for such situations? — throw more money at it. In this case, more money equates to more troops, along with their fabulously expensive trappings, as a last ditch effort. And we will call it a “surge” which has a confident, manly sound to it and we will give this surge a fresh commander to give it that “whole new ball game” feel. Maybe then the naysayers will shut up about being lied to and Geneva conventions and bad strategies; maybe they won’t notice that having to do a surge means that you underestimated to begin with in order to sell your war; maybe they won’t be so angry that their kids died for Poor Planning more than Iraqi Freedom…
Enter “Super Dave” Petraeus to save the day; surely this military brainiac, with the impressive string of degrees, who’s running out of “shirt” to hang his merit badges on, will be able to make some sense out of the mess his less gifted colleagues have made of Iraq. Long story short, due to a very favorable confluence of external events (and Petraeus’ own extraordinary ability to recognize an “out” and capitalize on it while spinning a compelling yarn about what a great idea he had) — The Miracle of Iraqi Freedom ensued complete with stirring taglines like The Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq to remind disgruntled Americans of our sacred duty to impose democracy on every hamlet, shtetl, village and outpost in the world — whether they like it or not.
No doubt about it, Super Dave is one smart cookie who understands, among other things, the value of dodging bullets. He certainly knows, as well as many of the rest of us, that timing, the existence of an Iraqi government and national infrastructure, society and internal politics played a huge role in the precipitate drop in violence that occurred in spite of, not because of, the “surge” of American troops in Iraq. Petraeus knows that he went through barrels of cash to underwrite field trips to Anbar for Awakening therapy, he knows that he quelled some urban sectarian violence by establishing and enforcing apartheid in Baghdad, he knows that he used Stan the Man’s JSOC death squads to eliminate rabble-rousers but, most of all, I’m sure that the general knows that the “center will not hold” for long. And sure enough, Iraq is steadily devolving into Civil War. Super Dave managed to get out of Iraq before that could happen, though, and collected his reward — CENTCOM command in sunny Tampa — only inches away from a happy and lucrative retirement as a military mentor for broadcast media, a lobbyist for Raytheon or some such MIC concern, maybe even POTUS?
Unfortunately, the general’s superhero status has landed him back in the soup (i.e., Afghanistan) where he is now expected to “do that voodoo that he does so well.” Obviously, “Stan the Man” McChrystal is no dummy himself, because he managed to take a flamboyant shortcut to retired-military fame and fortune, with pension intact, whilst his hapless CO gets a POTUS-designed demotion to salvage another US military fiasco.
In his desperation to pull another rabbit out of the helmet, Super Dave appears to have come up with a particularly hare-brained idea to save our hash in Afghanistan. At least it seems hare-brained, at first glance; but after some careful consideration, I’m coming around to believe that Gen. Petraeus’ new idea has more than a little genius about it. Not that I expect Super Dave’s plan to result in Victory in Afghanistan (whatever the hell that might look like) but I think that it has a damned good chance of getting Super Dave and the rest of us out of that godforsaken dust bowl in short order.
Let me explain myself …
Super Dave still had one foot on the tarmac in Kabul when he first met with, and reportedly pissed off, President Karzai. The issue that Karzai is most sensitive to is the Americans’ idea that Afghanistan needs to establish (yet another) police force to protect the population from Taliban intimidation. But the general still has visions of the Sons of Iraq dancing in his head and probably figures it’s worth a shot. These “new” police forces would be localized and therefore, theoretically, more aware of insurgents in their midst, more inclined to protect their own communities from Taliban incursions and less inclined to shakedown, loot, rape or pillage their own neighbors. Standing up an effective national police force, one of the few clearly stated key milestones for eventual withdrawal of Western forces, has, so far, been an abysmal failure in Afghanistan for a myriad of well-documented reasons; this would be a fresh start not to mention the fact that it would distract any Afghanistan-Watchers who are still waiting for the Kandahar Offensive or for things to turn around in Marjah.
It all makes some sense (on paper) and, in the absence of any other bright ideas, it’s at least something that looks different to try. From President Karzai’s perspective, it looks like an invitation to insurrection. Karzai has been solidly against this notion any time that the US has suggested it; he knows that his hold on power is so tenuous that the last thing he needs is a few dozen fractious militias running around in various provinces setting their own agenda. Since the oft-repeated mission of the US in Afghanistan has been to concentrate and solidify power in the Kabul central government, Karzai has a point. No one is going to change the centuries-old provincial and tribal allegiances of ordinary Afghan citizens by deputizing them, arming them and putting them on the government payroll; they may prefer to keep Taliban extremists out of their lives but that doesn’t mean that they are anxious to help Karzai solidify his own bloc and no one knows that better than the Brothers Karzai whose only aspirations are to milk the NATO presence for every last euro and dollar they can before they must depart or lose their heads.
Despite grave misgivings, Karzai finally caved to Super Dave on this point, most likely because he knows that it’s a fool’s errand. Spencer Ackerman wrote a great brief on how dumb this idea is, just in case it escapes the average taxpayer who continues to underwrite this nonsense; here’s what Spencer says which I totally agree with:
“General David Petraeus has persuaded Karzai to set up a new force to supplement Afghan soldiers and police. It’s not really Anbar Awakening 2.0, since it doesn’t involve insurgents switching sides. And don’t use the M-word, Pentagon officials say. “They would not be militias,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday. ‘These would be government-formed, government-paid, government-uniformed local police units.’ Specifically, the new units will be paid by the Interior Ministry — or, rather, the foreign money that bankrolls the Afghanistan government will be disbursed to these new units through the ministry.”
“Except, Morell conceded, they wouldn’t be trained, as police units are. (“We don’t have enough trainers to do the fundamental job here,” Morrell further conceded.) In essence, up to 10,000 fighters — as an initial tranche, according to the New York Times — around the country will be rapidly deputized under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, at the behest of the NATO military command, and then relied upon to keep the peace in places with insufficient amounts of Afghan security forces. ‘A useful bridging mechanism,’ Morrell called the program, until the Afghan army and police can move in.”
So, suddenly, into the already toxic Afghan mix, will be added thousands of untrained, armed local defense forces “free to make it up as they go along.” Of course they will technically be government employees, beholden to Kabul for their paychecks and they will have to answer to the Interior Ministry in Kabul (whose Director resigned last month taking with him Interior’s reputation of being one of the only Kabul government departments that was anything like viable and well run).
The fatal flaw in this plan, as Ackerman cogently points out, is this:
“Only the potential for short-term contingencies to overtake long-term strategy is acute. It’s not like there’s some separate pool of potential recruits for this new “Local Police Force.” They’re the same Afghans that the government’s been trying to recruit for the army and the police. The fighters rallied to this new program are most likely to come from local power brokers, whose hold over remote parts of Afghanistan will be accordingly entrenched. Those power brokers won’t easily give up the source of that expanded power to army and police recruiters. And that means the “bridging mechanism” could easily turn the expansion of the Afghan security services — the U.S.’s ticket out of Afghanistan, according to the Obama administration’s overall strategy — a bridge to nowhere.”
Over time, I’ve grown sort of fond of our plucky general, Super Dave. I think that he’s very smart, especially when it comes to politics; moreover, I think he’s at least as smart as Spencer Ackerman and therefore the fairly glaring, obvious downside potential of the localized police force idea will not have escaped him. And that, I believe, is the beauty of Super Dave’s mind.
By now, most have us have had time to appreciate the awesome dimensions of our military and diplomatic failure in Afghanistan – our total ignorance of the region, our reluctance to leave long after al Qaeda was decimated, our adoption of the Taliban as a new enemy, our destabilization of Pakistan, our appalling choice of Hamid Karzai to head up a new government, etc, etc. More and more of us are clamoring to just “own” that failure and get the hell out before our economy totally craters. Super Dave wants that, too, I suspect; but he’d probably like to get out with his career intact and, especially with his COIN theory vindicated. So what could possibly happen in Afghanistan, next, that would create the space for a graceful exit?
I’m thinking that civil war, if not total anarchy, might be just the ticket. Think of it — emasculated warlords with freshly armed militias joining up with the provincial shadow governments to get rid of the Karzais and their Western patrons, once and for all. If that were to happen, COIN must necessarily be suspended because, by definition, COIN requires a strong central government for the population to gravitate toward. I imagine the “post-mortem” conversation would probably go something like this: “Perhaps COIN might have worked in Afghanistan if internal strife hadn’t toppled the Karzai government; but without a healthy central government, all bets were off.”
That’s when things get interesting for the US because we then have the choice of withdrawing while the Afghans have their civil war which, after all, is nothing to do with us and keeps them busy and distracted from other things like harboring al Qaeda (if they ever consciously did so). Or, we could decide to pick a side, stay on and engage in conventional warfare (probably regional) without any quibbling over who’s who. That would probably please the “bomb them back into the Stone Age” crowd.
That’s my idea, anyway. And if it’s Super Dave’s idea, too, well . . . more power to him. At this point, I’ll support just about any program that gets us out of Afghanistan in less than ten years.
There are certain things that mark a man as an asshole, so that the prudent citizen can no longer place full confidence in him. Or her, but let’s’ stick with the stupider sex right now.
For instance, any politician who wears a cowboy hat in public is incontestably an asshole, not to be entrusted with enterprises great or small. Take Dick Armey. Take George W. Bush. Take Ken Salazar. But why go on. The thing is obvious.
For another instance, suspicion must surround a man who challenges subordinates to contests of strength. It is for this reason that the halo around General Petraeus’s head is misplaced, and that the choice of him to command Obama’s Folly in Afghanistan is a poor one.
Read this, and reflect on the options facing the private challenged to a push-up contest by his commanding general. Ask yourself what “brawny” 19-year-old private fresh out of basic can only do 25 pushups? I don’t know if the kid could do more than Petraeus, but I know he’s a hell of an actor. Of course all he had to fool was a two-star general and a Times reporter.
From Ricardo Garcia Vilanova of The Wall Street Journal:
Staff Sgt. Edward Rosa reads the Bible and extends a cigarette to Pfc. Jorge Rostra Obando, who was stunned by an explosion in Afghanistan’s Arghanab Valley. One comrade was killed and two injured in the blast. Pfc. Rostran asked the sergeant to read Psalm 91, a favorite from his childhood.
President Nixon figured out that you could sell only sell permanent warfare to the suckers if you stopped drafting their sons and raised military salaries just enough to make a soldier suit look like a better deal than a McDonald’s uniform.
The trouble was, however, that soldiers weren’t like the rest of the military-industrial complex. They didn’t have lobbyists you could get political donations from. The payday lenders were cleaning up, but that was about it. The whole situation was an affront to free market principles.
Time to privatize, offshore, contract out, spin off all but the Pentagon’s core competency — procurement. Remember when mercenaries used to be ethically dubious guns for hire, like the Hessians? Well, we’re not in Valley Forge anymore, Toto.
The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate did a lot of the heavy lifting, but now President Obama is showing us how a real privateer does it:
The Obama administration is infinitely worse in Afghanistan in terms of its employment of mercenaries and other private contractors than the Bush administration. Right now in Afghanistan there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors alongside 68,000 U.S. troops.
There is almost a 2-to-1 ratio of private-sector for-profit forces that are on the U.S. government payroll versus the active-duty or actual military forces in the country. And that is not taking into account the fact that the State Department has 14,000 contractors in Afghanistan.
“Within a matter of months, and certainly within a year, the United States will have upwards of 220,000 to 250,000 U.S. government-funded personnel occupying Afghanistan, a far cry from the 70,000 U.S. soldiers that those Americans who pay attention understand the United States has in Afghanistan,” Scahill said.
“This is a country where the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives who have no ability to strike at the United States. That was the stated rationale and reasoning for being in Afghanistan. It was to hunt down those responsible for 9/11.”
President Obama’s official timeline for surging our military presence in Afghanistan still has fourteen months to run; in that timeframe, there is (in some quarters) an expectation that the US and NATO will manage to quell increasing insurgent attacks, convince Afghan government officials that corruption doesn’t pay, plant the framework of a 21st century democracy (i.e., “Government-in-a-box”) — while simultaneously training tens of thousands of illiterate drug addicts to serve as guardians of the peace in the National Police Force — the “mission critical” key to success in Afghanistan, we are told. So far, the insurgent’s “Shadow Government,” alive and well throughout Afghanistan, has “Government-in-a-box” beat all to hell according to this recent report:
The Taliban-led insurgency’s “operational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding,” said the report, adding the “strength and ability of (insurgent-run) shadow governance to discredit the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan government is increasing.”
Complicating that already tall order for the next 14 months, is the apparent need for one last face-saving summer offensive on the Taliban’s “spiritual home” turf in Kandahar — the military equivalent of “territorial marking” — so that we can get the hell out of Afghanistan without being called “losers.” General McChrystal has already telegraphed his impending assault and added that this will be “no D-Day or H-hour” — believable enough if the muddled precursor Marjah “offensive” is any indication. The Kandahar Offensive, of course is the public battle that provides distraction from the secret “special operations” program of targeted assassinations and “things that go bump in the night” that have the civilian population of Afghanistan quite effectively terrorized (and blaming the Coalition forces for their state of terror)…
Surely, as far as President Karzai (and his brother Wali) are concerned, the offensive in Kandahar is unnecessary and politically unpopular. No one in Kandahar is feeling particularly beset by the Taliban, whom they describe as their “Afghan brothers.” Flying solo, Karzai has already launched a fairly sensible-sounding endgame of diplomatic meetings with Taliban leaders that has drawn in Afghanistan’s neighbors, in region — Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia — even Russia is said to have dropped in and out. NATO is signaling its weariness with America’s version of the War on Terror; only the US seems out-of-the-loop on winding down, like staggering guests who don’t realize when “the party’s over.”
One of the persistent complaints about our strategy in Afghanistan has been that we don’t seem to have one. No one is very clear on our mission or what victory might look like. Others are getting ever clearer on the need to end it, whatever “it” is. To that end, Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit the White House, next month and, as Ahmed Rashid has written in the Washington Post, it’s pretty much “crunch time” for our Nobel Laureate President to decide whether he’ll come down on the side of continued war or a regionally-brokered peace in Afghanistan. Here’s a snip from Rashid’s article:
“According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Karzai’s first question when he arrives will be whether Washington supports his efforts at reconciliation with the senior Taliban leadership. In January, the United States and NATO agreed to reintegration — bringing in Taliban foot soldiers and low-level commanders — but Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders.”
“Karzai’s representatives, however, have spent the past 12 months holding talks about talks with senior Taliban representatives in several Arab Gulf states. Taliban leaders have made clear that they want to talk directly to the United States, and Karzai knows his discussions with the Taliban cannot go further without public U.S. support and a commitment to engage. The Afghans want a clear answer from Washington that they will lead any future negotiations.”
The position that “Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders” smacks of a bout of magical thinking on the part of the Administration. The US military has had close to ten years to a) find Osama bin Laden b) eliminate Al Qaeda and (c) break the back of the Taliban. Osama bin Laden, is, of course, still at large; Al Qaeda has been routed in Afghanistan only to resurface in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, etc; and, as of, six months ago, in October, it was reported that the our nine years of efforts have only resulted in a resurgent Taliban that is growing exponentially and nearing military strength. Here’s a bit from that report:
“WASHINGTON – A recent U.S. intelligence assessment has raised the estimated number of full-time Taliban-led insurgents fighting in Afghanistan to at least 25,000, underscoring how the crisis has worsened even as the U.S. and its allies have beefed up their military forces, a U.S. official said Thursday.”
“The U.S. official, who requested anonymity because the assessment is classified, said the estimate represented an increase of at least 5,000 fighters, or 25 percent, over what an estimate found last year.”
“’The rise can be attributed to, among other things, a sense that the central government in Kabul isn’t delivering (on services), increased local support for insurgent groups, and the perception that the Taliban and others are gaining a firmer foothold and expanding their capabilities,’ the U.S. official said.”
And then there’s this article from March, 2010 handily blaming NATO for the Taliban resurgence:
“‘The Taliban has reaped a recruiting bonanza the past two years, capitalizing on NATO’s stagnant posture in southern Afghanistan by increasing fighter ranks by 35 percent,’ U.S. officials say.”
“The increase is one reason NATO forces, in an ongoing offensive, are meeting strong resistance as they fight town by town to gain control of the Taliban stronghold in the city of Kandahar and in Marjah in neighboring Helmand province.”
“It also shows the enemy’s resilience in an eight-year insurgency. In the face of air strikes and NATO raids that kill scores of Taliban at a time, the former rulers of Afghanistan still have been able to pad their ranks.”
And, finally, we have this “straight from the horse’s mouth”:
“The Taliban commander, who uses the pseudonym Mubeen, told the Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great, ‘we will just leave and come back after’ the foreign forces leave.’”
“Despite nightly raids by NATO and Afghan troops, Mubeen said his movements have not been restricted. He was interviewed last week in the center of Kandahar, seated with his legs crossed on a cushion in a room. His only concession to security was to lock the door.”
“He made no attempt to hide his face and said he felt comfortable because of widespread support among Kandahar’s 500,000 residents, who, like the Taliban, are mostly Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic community.”
“’Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us,’ Mubeen said. ‘Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers…’”
At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, all of this suggests to me that, perhaps, we have been dead wrong about everything Afghan and should reconsider our approach; and I’m not talking about switching from traditional combat to Gen. McChrystal’s odd concoction of public and clandestine “black ops” warfare tricked out as “counterinsurgency.” These Middle East adventures have been propaganda campaigns and it’s pretty much time to send a message to Congress and the Pentagon that the American people are not as stupid, naïve and gullible as they are banking on.
Our military is currently engaged in two separate endeavors in the Middle East that they are ill-equipped to take on as part of their mission – one is PR and the other is nation-building. Bungling these aspects of the conflict do us no good at all; in fact, it’s likely that they do permanent damage to America’s diplomatic stature in the world. Our military is nothing if not persistent, however, so the nonsense goes on until someone has the presence of mind to order them to stop.
Consider some of the more recent SNAFUs and ask yourself if these nonsensical events wouldn’t get you quickly fired if you tried to pull them in your “real-world” job:
The Marjah Offensive — by now many of us (who care to know) discovered that the much-touted Marjah Offensive was a world class Snow Job, not to mention an embarrassing non-event that made Coalition forces look ridiculous. Much is made of the illiteracy of the Afghan population but those illiterates saw through the Marjah Offensive and had a good laugh at the Coalition’s expense. From the distortion of the unincorporated villages of the Marjah district into a bustling city of 80,000 and a hub of Taliban support to the appointment of the ex-con, expatriate governor who hasn’t set foot in Afghanistan for 15 years and who’s afraid to leave home unless he’s in an Osprey, Marjah was an unmitigated pack of lame lies aimed at whipping up some enthusiasm for the War in Afghanistan in a world grown weary of it.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald did a great job of summing up the Marjah propaganda strategy and telling us what to expect ahead of the Kandahar Offensive:
“The Independent declared on February 9, 2010, that General McChrystal wants the Marjah offensive to “be one of the most significant in the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001″ and, of Obama’s war strategy, said that “Marjah looks like being its first major — and possibly decisive — test.” The BBC quoted a NATO official who proclaimed that Marjah “was ‘probably the definitive operation’ of the counter-insurgency strategy” and “this operation could potentially define the tipping point, the crucial momentum aspect in the counter-insurgency.” Time helpfully informed us that “U.S. officials believe it will mark a turning point in the war.”
“Now that that ‘make-or-break decisive test’ has failed (or, at best, has produced very muddled outcomes), did the Government and media follow through and declare the war effort broken and the strategy a failure? No; they just pretend it never happened and declare the next, latest, glorious Battle the real ‘make-or-break decisive test’ – until that one fails and the next one is portrayed that way, in an endless tidal wave of war propaganda intended to justify our staying for as long as we want, no matter how pointless and counter-productive it is.”
Sure enough, The New York Times rolled out the “trailer” for the Kandahar Offensive this week, breathlessly pronouncing it:
“The looming battle for the spiritual home of the Taliban . . . shaping up as the pivotal test of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, including how much the United States can count on the country’s leaders and military for support, and whether a possible increase in civilian casualties from heavy fighting will compromise a strategy that depends on winning over the Afghan people.”
Notice that the Times is already anticipating an “increase in civilian casualties from heavy fighting” that could complicate “winning over the Afghan people.” Of course, those who care to dig out details on where we are in our battle “to win over the Afghan people” will know that the Kandahari’s have already spoken and the only possible way for us to “win over” the 90% of Kandahari’s who despise us is to stay away from their city.
Another fact that could easily slip past us is the mention of Gen. McChrystal’s strategy of keeping American troops outside of Kandahar and send the Afghan Army in to do the fighting as a test of their ability to be effective counterinsurgents. That should yield interesting results . . .
OK, so we declare a “decisive, pivotal, turning point of a win” in Kandahar – and then what? According to Jason Ditz at AntiWar.com the Pentagon just released an ominous report to Congress explaining how it might be disastrous to turn over a “liberated” Afghanistan to the hand-picked, but nonetheless, evil and corrupt (if not drug-addled and downright crazy) Hamid Karzai. Here’s that:
“The Pentagon has issued a new report to Congress about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, warning that the Taliban is increasing the size of their insurgency even as support for President Hamid Karzai remains sparse in the most important regions.”
“In fact of the 121 districts cited as ‘key’ to winning the war in the report, only 29 of those districts had populations seen as even sympathizing with the Karzai government.”
“The report pointed to the enormous levels of corruption in the Karzai government as a major problem fueling this lack of credibility, and warned further that the political will to reform was ‘doubtful.’”
Funny how the same problems are cropping up in Iraq, too? War is over, democratic government has been installed and yet … insurgent attacks are on the rise, and the government can’t get out of it’s own way. Could it be that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan actually want the US (or at least their treasury) to leave before they’ve sucked a lot more US dollars out of them. And could it be that the Pentagon is only too happy to report that the State Department picked a bad “puppet” to install as head of state in Afghanistan and now the military will have to hang around to ensure peace for the couple of years it’ll take to effect regime change?
Along those lines, The Washington Post published an interesting report, this morning, on recent US manipulations of the political scene in Kandahar. Having failed to budge Wali Karzai out of his position of control in Kandahar, the US has decided to try an end-run around him by supporting the prodigiously unimportant Governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, another expatriate “outsider” like the newly installed Governor of Marjah. The Post describes Wesa as “a mild-mannered academic who spent more than a decade in Canada and is considered by many Afghans to be ineffectual.”
The American thinking behind the sudden infatuation with Wesa is described this way:
“In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.”
“But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.”
“’Wesa is a weak governor,’ said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor.
Nevertheless, the US knows best and is busily indoctrinating Governor Wesa in anticipation of turning Kandahar over to him after our “pivotal” win there this summer.
“To bolster Wesa’s beleaguered office, U.S. officials plan to hire about two dozen Afghan staff members, to be split with the mayor. American helicopters ferry Wesa to meetings, where U.S. officials take notes on his progress. They hope that Wesa’s attempts at grass-roots organizing, combined with an infusion of funds into the province, can earn some support from a skeptical public.”
My money says Wesa will be dead sooner rather than later. As Rahmatullah Raufi, former general and Kandahar governor put it: “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”
Most of this public relations carnival can at least be quasi-rationalized, but some just gets recycled until it’s totally meaningless. Like the saga of Hakimullah Mehsud, current leader of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who has been “assassinated” and confirmed dead seven times – since last August.
“According to a senior member of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency Hakimullah, who was “confirmed” killed in January and then assumed to be gravely wounded, and who was “confirmed” to have died of his injuries in February, is alive and “basically ok.’”
And of course there was the recent high-fiving in Baghdad over the alleged assassination of two legendary leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq by a joint US – Iraqi force. That news might have been more earthshaking if it had not included the name of “Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the group’s umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq.
Here’s al-Baghdadi’s resume:
March 9, 2007 — the Interior Ministry of Iraq claimed that al-Baghdadi was captured in Baghdad on, which claim was later recanted
May 3, 2007 — the Iraqi Interior Ministry said that al-Baghdadi was killed by American and Iraqi forces north of Baghdad
July, 2007 — the U.S. military reported that al-Baghdadi never actually existed. A detainee identified as Khaled al-Mashhadani, a self-proclaimed intermediary to Osama bin Laden, claimed that al-Baghdadi was a fictional character created to give an Iraqi face to a foreign-run terror group, and that statements attributed to al-Baghdadi were actually read by an Iraqi actor.
Autumn, 2008 – US military officials reported that although the previous al-Baghdadi was fictional, Al Qaeda had filled the “Baghdadi vacancy” with an actual Al Qaeda leader.
April 23, 2009, Agence France-Presse reported that al-Baghdadi was arrested by the Iraqi military, and on April 28 the Iraqi government produced photos to prove it to skeptics. The claim was denied by the Islamic State in Iraq which according to SITE Institute released an apparently genuine recording of al-Baghdadi denying the government’s recent claims. However, the Iraqi government refuted this claim and insisted that the man captured was indeed Baghdadi.
Which brings us to April, 2010 in which the previously killed/captured al-Baghdadi somehow got away from his Iraqi captors, last year, and wound up in a safe-house in Tikrit where he was, once again, apprehended and killed.
Pardon my skepticism but I think that there is more truth in this statement from The Washington Post account than in any of the foregoing:
“The two top leaders of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq were slain in a U.S. airstrike over the weekend, a decisive tactical victory for American and Iraqi forces and one that provides Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with additional political leverage at a crucial time.”
“Maliki stands to gain from the slaying of the men — Masri was perhaps the most wanted person in Iraq — at a time that is critical to his political future. He has made restoring security and weaning Iraq from dependence on the U.S. military centerpieces of his bid to keep his job once a new parliament is seated. Maliki’s bloc, which came in second in the elections, securing 89 seats, must woo other coalitions in order to secure the 163 votes needed to appoint a new prime minister.”
How timely. Of course the announcement was met with skepticism in Iraq — Maliki’s government has in the past falsely reported the death and the capture of Baghdadi, most recently last spring. It never retracted the claim back then, making the most recent announcement a sort of back-handed admission that the previous story was total bunk. Oh well…
Now, however, enjoying the last word, the US has confirmed via DNA analysis (please, gimme a break) that the story is true and Gen. Ray Odierno and Vice-President Biden quickly did a little victory dance in the end zone.
I really only have one question remaining and that is “Do our leaders really believe that the American people are stupid enough to be taken in by all of this inane and inexpert propaganda?” But, come to think of it, they probably care less if we “buy” it, as long as we’re willing to keep paying for it…
Insert Vietnam for Afghanistan as appropriate:
KABUL, Afghanistan — A Pentagon report on the last six months in Afghanistan portrays an Afghan government with limited credibility among its people, a still active if not growing insurgency and an enormous reliance on American troops to train, outfit and finance the country’s defense forces for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a little quiz for the “armchair generals” among us who may have become a tad disillusioned by the way that our US military appears to be conducting itself over this first decade of The Long War. Here we go, but before you get started here’s a tip: Because this is war we’re talking about, there are no right, wrong or good answers — just questions.
1. It is easy to identify enemy insurgents in Afghanistan. If you see the following behaviors chances are you’ve spotted an insurgent: (a) anyone who acts nervous at checkpoints; (b) anyone digging a hole; (c) anyone who doesn’t instantly follow orders screamed in English; (d) anyone carrying something large, roughly the size and shape of an AK-47 or grenade launcher e.g, camera equipment; (e) people who grab their guns when you break down their door in the middle of the night.
2. The best intelligence sources on where insurgents can be found include: (a) any Afghan willing to talk to you; (b) air-surveillance spotting of people with trucks/vans; (c) local drug lords; (d) little kids.
3. The best way to minimize collateral damage is: (a) stop killing people; (b) clean up the evidence when victims are obviously civilians; (c) deny it — the Taliban human shield defense works well; (d) if all else fails — lie; say the bodies had already been murdered by someone local e.g., honor killings (if victims are female) or “tribal justice” if victims are male.
4. The best ways to win “hearts and minds” are: (a) leave the country; (b) run around shirtless with a “mock” headdress and shades like a Medal of Honor avatar; (c) build things like cutting edge water treatment plants that are too complex for the locals to operate; (d) burn your high-tech trash in open fires to leave your mark on future generations.
5. The best in-country partners for a counterinsurgency are: (a) local CIA assets; (b) ex-cons; (c) local arms smugglers; (d) popular, clueless charlatans.
Well. That’s enough for now, you get the idea…
Whatever the doctrine or mission or strategy that landed US forces in Afghanistan it’s increasingly hard to come up with a good rationale for staying, let alone surging … perhaps it’s battle fatigue; or the growing effect of an influx of Black Water-y commandos and their 21st Century Art of Warfare program; or maybe it’s just plain old ignorance, bungling and mismanagement — more than likely it’s a combination of the three. Whatever the cause, there are legions of dead Iraqis and Afghanis to attest to the fact that “shit happens” in War and a no-win situation only gets more dismal when you throw more resources at it.
Back in the beginning of the century, I don’t think that anyone, no less anyone in the Bush administration, could have foreseen the absolute travesty and international humiliation that these wars would wreak on participant nations. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to be awakening and tiring of their supporting role quicker than we’d like. After all, it’s one thing to be Emperor and quite another to be a “friend of the Empire,” at the end of the day.
Also, unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly evident that perhaps the American collective consciousness doesn’t really have the stomach or the inherent ruthlessness to be global conquistadors. It’s difficult to shape a population reared on a public image of honesty, integrity and generosity into a lean, mean permanent war machine.
I’m not saying it can’t be done — just that it takes longer and more concerted effort to root out the innate common decency that has no place in a global domination program. In my opinion that’s why we’re doing such a crappy job of it and why it’s become necessary to contract so much of the job out to sociopathic gunslingers that cause more problems than they solve.
Tom Paxton keeps going and going and going .....
Here in the Northeastern United States Spring has arrived, bringing with it the primal derangements and high spirits historically associated with the season — unmufflered motorcycles, chest-beating, spontaneous Tarzan cries and stuff like that there.
Evidently, roughly the same phenom is occurring in far-off Afghanistan, as well; witness the recent admission, by Gen. McChrystal, to the murder of “way too many” innocent civilians and President Karzai’s recent rant about “meddling foreigners” (I’m expecting another Karzai-Ahmadinejad pow-wow any moment now).
Karzai was most likely reacting to President Obama’s unexpected drop-in last week. Obama was “special-opped” into Bagram, in the dead of night, ostensibly to rally the troops for more murder and mayhem in Kandahar but also, according to reports, to deliver a good old American ass-chewing to “our man in Kabul.” Evidently, Obama is underwhelmed by Karzai’s efforts to clean up his corner of the world in preparation for its long awaited democracy transplant. As all good Americans know, Democracy cannot flourish in a corrupt environment — right?
Rationally, that would put Karzai on the line for one of the most epic turnarounds in human history, to include the public execution of many of his relatives and members of parliament. Karzai is 50, so chances are slim he’ll accomplish that mission in his lifetime; nevertheless, Obama would like to see him making more of an effort…
For his part, I expect that Karzai’s primary focus is on “stayin’ alive.” Since the beginning of his U.S. sponsorship, Karzai has been the subject of five newsworthy assassination attempts and probably numerous less spectacular attempts. Those attempts were not your lone sniper events, either; most involved rocket attacks, grenades and various other measures designed to take out a city block.
Karzai has always been reluctant to fly solo in his current position. When Obama stated his desire to get out of Afghanistan by 2011, Karzai countered that Obama’s timeline was off by about 15 years. Karzai knows better than anyone that if Coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban will re-establish their government tout de suite.
A year later (or closer to withdrawal, if you believe in that sort of thing), with that sword hanging over his head, Karzai has decided he better start talkin’ some trash against the U.S .or he’s going to wind up the subject of some serious insurgent fatwa. To that end, Karzai took to the airwaves, this week, to express his concern over foreign meddling — a popular topic among Middle East purists, these days.
Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of wanting a “puppet government” and of seeking to make him “psychologically smaller and smaller.”
“They want me to be an illegitimate president,” he announced. “And they want the parliament to be illegitimate.”
He also blamed others for election fraud that, by all accounts, was orchestrated by his regime: “No doubt there was massive fraud. That was not done by the Afghans. The foreigners did that.”
In diplomatic circles this is known as ‘playing both sides against the middle.’ Whereas the U.S. should know better, by now, about the various pitfalls of installing and propping up such worthless puppets, Karzai, himself, might do well to read up on what happens when the puppet-masters lose patience. Or, better yet, what the local population is capable of doing to rid themselves of such buffoons.
Of course, Robert Gibbs sallied forth to express the administration’s “dismay” over Karzai’s accusations, calling Karzai’s words “genuinely troubling.” In addition, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, quickly met with Karzai “to clarify what he meant by these remarks.” Could it be that the Obama Administration was caught off guard, here; and Obama, like Kennedy before him, is out of sync with national security state powers-that-be who are busily conducting their own “foreign policy?”
Right now, Karzai, (if he’s smart) will figure out a way to make his personal U.S. network ties indispensable to the Taliban, which will surely take back the government in Kabul at their earliest convenience. Upon their return, however, they will now receive US backing in return for their promise to shun al Qaeda — which explains the burgeoning local interest in capturing ex-pat Taliban members to ensure a place at the settlement table — à la Pakistan’s detention of Baradar and their refusal to extradite him to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Americans are swallowing their daily dose of foreign policy propaganda so that they don’t lose patience, too soon, with our latest experiment in regime change. Most Americans have already bought into the notion that Afghan governmental stability = enhanced U.S .National Security = victory over al Qaeda. As Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, so succinctly put it:
The uncomfortable truth is that without indefinite foreign protection, the Government of Afghanistan would probably fall to the Afghan Taliban. But Americans should not equate the fall of that regime with “losing” to al Qaeda. Violent, Islamist extremist groups indigenous to this region threaten the Afghan government, not the American government. Because these radical groups lack the ambition — let alone the capacity — to threaten the sovereignty or physical security of the United States, they do not merit the strategic obsession that they currently receive.
Washington’s continued fixation on groups that threaten Afghanistan, rather than America, presents a bigger threat to genuine American interests than those groups themselves can pose, especially since there is little assurance that 100,000 foreign troops can capture and kill more insurgents than their presence helps to recruit.
Rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should focus on countering the al Qaeda threat still clinging to life in this region. Technological advances over the past decade allow us to monitor places without having 100,000 boots on the ground. Furthermore, the blueprint for an effective counterterrorism approach is the initial U.S.-led invasion in 2001, when small Special Forces teams, working in conjunction with local militias, assembled quickly and struck effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.
In short, Americans should reject the misguided belief that terrorists can only flourish in failed states like Afghanistan. After all, India, a major U.S. ally far more stable than Afghanistan, is fighting several internal insurgencies. Likewise, the very al Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 not only found sanctuary in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, but also in politically free and economically prosperous countries like Germany, Spain, and the United States.
America has a long and tawdry history of justifying its foreign adventures with a full array of fairly irrational strategic, economic, and ideological considerations. Strategically, we must not allow geographically important regions from falling under the sway of regimes that are either anti-US, or simply entirely self-interested. Otherwise, a shift in the balance of global military power could jeopardize American security.
Economically, the US likes to maintain access to vital supplies of raw materials and keep markets open for American products and investments — the Free Market demands it. Finally, the United States must thwart
communist terrorist expansion in the Third World Middle East to ensure that America and its democratic allies do not become islands in a global sea of hostile, totalitarian Islamist dictatorships.
These arguments can be (and have been) easily dressed up in American jingoism to rubber stamp some very dubious U.S. foreign policy undertakings. Who hasn’t heard a particular regime described as a “keystone” or “force for stability” or “key to vital US strategic interests” in the region: think Shah of Iran in the Persian Gulf, Mobutu Sese Seko in Central Africa, and any number of South American despots. Reading the history, one would have to surmise that, actually, the entire globe (and parts of the Solar System) are of vital US strategic interest.
In actual fact, US “strategic interests” usually zero in on good sites for bases or forward staging areas for the American military. For example, the Reagan administration defended support of the Marcos dictatorship to protect its installations at Clark Field and Subic Bay, complicating the defense of other Far Eastern allies.
Do we really have strategic interests, vital or otherwise, in squalid little spots thousands of miles from the U.S? Does a firmly ensconced Karzai government in Kabul really somehow enhance our own security? How is it that we’ve come to believe that a handful of small, militarily insignificant nations — like Iraq and Afghanistan — governed by unpopular and unstable regimes, somehow keep Americans safe against the threat of terrorism.
Actually, it is more rational to believe that such foreign adventures seriously compromise our national security by draining U.S. financial resources, stretching defense forces dangerously thin and psychologically boosting recruitment to the very terrorist groups that we are fighting. Whatever — our approach might stink as foreign policy but it keeps the military-industrial business booming.
As Noam Chomsky pointed out in his article “Dictators R Us,” Thomas Jefferson was not fooled by Napoleon’s antics: “We believe no more in Bonaparte’s fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain’s fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations.”
Wonder what Jefferson would make of our current foreign policy …?
Pardon my cynicism, but does anyone else find President Obama’s weekend pep rally in Afghanistan a bit show-boat-y? Especially, coming as it did on the heels of a week-long spree of Presidential power-lifting? — health care reform, student loan help, underwater mortgage help and recess appointments.
And then, as we all know, nothing spells ‘presidential’ like parachuting into the front lines of America’s “War du Jour.” I could almost hear the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” as back-up for Obama’s motivational moment with the troops before they start dying, in earnest, to make a point in Kandahar.
“The United States has made progress in the fight against al Qaeda and its allies. I know it’s not easy,” he said. “If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.
“The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something … We keep at it. We persevere. And together, with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.”
When I look at that be-camouflaged audience, all I can think of is “Why?” Why would anyone put a single one of those lives in harm’s way for something as dubious and irrational as a foothold in Afghanistan. These soldiers aren’t laying their lives on the line to make anyone safer — their very presence in Afghanistan makes them, and us, considerably more unsafe.
Non-partisan experts from all corners of the earth and many diverse disciplines have told us that, in compelling terms, for years now, but it has become increasingly clear that neither reason, nor prudence, not even survival instinct will dissuade the “powers that be” from replacing the Cold War with the Long War.
Al Qaeda has very effectively become the 21st century version of ‘dirty, rotten Commies.’ “Better Dead than Red” has been replaced with a fatwa on Terrorism, ensuring decades and generations of defense contracts, weapons development, arms sales, special ops, espionage and war games aimed at “making the world safe for democracy…”
Whenever I want to get an update on the Long War, I look to Tom Hayden who has been screaming into the wind about it for ages now (and for you old Hippies, yeah – that Tom Hayden). Just yesterday Hayden wrote an article for the LA Times that is a short, good read that will catch you up on the “Long War” concept if it has escaped your attention.
Basically, the Long War is an undeclared, undebated, largely undisclosed 80-year (give or take) war plan cooked up by the Pentagon and its neo-con fellow travelers and think tanks. The theater for the Long War is primarily the Middle East and South Asia or wherever else our Soldiers of Fortune see fit to lead us.
As taxpayers, we needn’t worry our little heads about any of this because our representatives in Congress don’t really have a role to play, outside of approving any and all defense budgets, supplemental, emergency and otherwise. Since that signatory function has become a political measure of patriotism, it is unlikely that outspoken constituents can have any impact.
If you are scratching your head, at this point, and saying ‘what the hell is she going on about?’ you’re in the right place, as far as DoD is concerned. You see, the Long War is less a war and more a state of mind that is being fed to the American psyche by slow-drip intravenous.
Here’s Hayden’s timeline:
The term ‘Long War’ was first applied to America’s post-9/11 conflicts in 2004 by Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of U.S. Central Command, and by the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State, Gen. Richard B. Myers, in 2005.
According to David Kilcullen, a top counterinsurgency advisor to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and a proponent of the Long War doctrine, the concept was polished in “a series of windowless offices deep inside the Pentagon” by a small team that successfully lobbied to incorporate the term into the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the nation’s long-term military blueprint. President George W. Bush declared in his 2006 State of the Union message that “our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy.”
The concept has quietly gained credence. Washington Post reporter-turned-author Thomas E. Ricks used The Long War as the title for the epilogue of his 2009 book on Iraq, in which he predicted that the U.S. was only halfway through the combat phase there.
It has crept into legal language. Federal Appeals Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a darling of the American right, recently ruled in favor of holding detainees permanently because otherwise, “each successful campaign of a long war would trigger an obligation to release Taliban fighters captured in earlier clashes.”
Among defense analysts, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran who teaches at Boston University, is the leading critic of the Long War doctrine, criticizing its origins among a “small, self-perpetuating, self-anointed group of specialists” who view public opinion “as something to manipulate” if they take it into consideration at all.
Lovely! Already we see how one war can segue into another: as troops are drawn down from Iraq, troops swell in Afghanistan. Some “troops,” that we prefer not to speak of, are already at work in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. Avenging Angels are poised to strike Iran, if Ahmadinejad doesn’t behave. Even Turkey is currently misbehaving, not to mention Israel…
An amorphous (or imaginary) “enemy” calls for untraditional tactics and boatloads of money to completely refit our own enormous military, as well as the foreign militaries that we are re-purposing and creating in our own image and likeness. Unfortunately, so far, we really suck at it…
One of the more ludicrous goals that the US has set as a measure of success in Afghanistan is to leave the country in the hands of a well-trained National Police force that will provide the safety and security necessary for the flowering of a law-abiding Afghan society into a well-armed, fully compliant partner in US control of the Middle East.
Never mind that currently there are neither laws nor a judicial system in place to support police activities — all things in good time. When the laws are written and the courts established, prisons have been built and judges appointed, there will be a crack police force in place to enforce those laws. All Afghans will surely rejoice when their thousand years old de-centralized system of tribal justice is replaced with a top-down well-policed system. No doubt, tribal warlords will be happy to relinquish their local power for the sake of modernization.
The notion of the Afghan National Police program defies reason in so many well-documented ways that it boggles the mind that, eight years and $7 billion dollars later, sane people would countenance renewing contracts with Dumb and Dumber, Inc. (Xe aka Blackwater and/or DynCorp) for another $1 billion whack at this losing proposition. Unless, of course, the architects of the Long War find it expedient to create impossible goals to keep us interminably engaged in the region and supporting that military-industrial complex which is currently America’s only ‘booming business’ and major export.
I’m no military expert but I do know a thing or two about business management and I’m certain that, without an endless flow of taxpayer dollars, this dog of a project would have been written off ages ago by any self-respecting private or publicly-owned business.
A joint team of Defense and State Department Inspectors General wrote a lengthy (and fairly scathing) analysis of the situation in 2006. That investigation found that the contractors hired (DynCorp) were ill-equipped to do the job (some of the trainers’ police backgrounds were as campus security guards) and that the State Department was doing an epically bad job of managing the contracts. There were essentially no stated contract requirements and virtually no oversight – just blank checks and free rein.
Unfortunately, this program is not only a fiasco; it can be argued that it is actually colossally counterproductive to the US mission in Afghanistan (if there is such a thing). As Pratap Chatterjee reported on TomDispatch.com:
The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can’t put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won’t be able to begin a draw-down of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.”
The Obama administration’s strategy for the Afghan police is to increase numbers, enlarge the ‘train and equip’ program, and engage the police in the fight against the Taliban, says Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The Police in War. “This approach has not worked in the past, and doing more of the same will not achieve success.”
When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is not unusual — and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in fact, been training the Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based DynCorp has been doing the same for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now. Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax U.S. State Department oversight, has left the country of 33 million people with a strikingly ineffective and remarkably corrupt police force. Its terrible habits and reputation have led the inhabitants of many Afghan communities to turn to the Taliban for security.
“There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up,” Brigadier General Gary O’Brien, former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. “They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people — they are the robbers of the people.”
Seven years and $7 billion of taxpayers’ money later, at a June 2008 discussion at the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units of that moment this way: “Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting.”
That dismal result did not come flying unexpectedly out of the blue, either. As Chatterjee reports:
“A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police must remain a military force while insecurity lasts,” writes Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who worked as an adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. “If such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector reform would be considered, and Afghanistan would be caught in a vicious circle of using force against force without employing other approaches to secure stability and peace…”
Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, admitted that police training has been a train wreck since the toppling of the Taliban almost nine years ago. “We weren’t doing it right. The most important thing is to recruit and then train police [before deployment]. It is still beyond my comprehension that we weren’t doing that.”
The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training) was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in a country with no prior history of such things? That turns out to be a conundrum, even for President Obama.
If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training scheme, it doesn’t look good for either governance or peace in Afghanistan. Yet the likelihood remains low indeed that Pentagon officials will take the advice of a chorus of police experts offering critical commentary on the mess that is the police training program there.
Instead, it’s likely to be more of the same, which means more private contracting of police training and further disaster. Bizarrely enough, the Pentagon has given the Space and Missile Defense Command Contracting Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the task of deciding between DynCorp and Xe for that new billion-dollar training contract. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rumors about collateral damage are no longer solely the province of “bleeding heart liberals,” anonymous sources or anti-war politicians. ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ we have this incredible admission from Gen. McChrystal to no less than The New York Times (where some neocon gatekeeper was clearly out to lunch):
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” [my emphasis] said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Well, General, if you think that’s frustrating, imagine the “frustration” of the dying and maimed innocents and their families and loved ones. To make the point McChrystal-clear, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall (the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan and a trainer in the same session) added that “Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew. There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents. Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed.”
And then, of course, there are the recent inconvenient revelations of one Jerome Starkey, an Afghanistan-based reporter and an eyewitness to atrocities committed by Coalition forces, followed by a fairly bungling campaign to deny and discredit Starkey’s report.
Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.
In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.
In the second case, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.
Get used to it, though, 80 years of Long War can’t be conducted without casualties and since the “enemy” is such a shape-shifter, well … mistakes happen. On the bright side, evidently, it’s now OK to shoot an “amazing number of people” who don’t pose a threat, if you’re convinced they are Taliban, or al Qaeda or something like that…
Suggested by my last post, the following excerpt is from William Greider’s 2009 book, Come Home, America:
The U. S. military, despite its massive firepower and technological brilliance, has itself become the gravest threat to our peace and security. Our risks and vulnerabilities around the world are magnified and multiplied because the American military has shifted from providing national defense to taking the offensive worldwide, from being a vigilant defender to being an adventurous aggressor in search of enemies.
The predicament this muscle-bound approach puts our country in is dangerous and new. Go looking for trouble around the world and you are likely to find it. The next war may be a fight that is provoked not by them but by us. The next war may already have started somewhere in the world, perhaps in a small, obscure country that we’ve considered threatening.
From a review of the book by George C. Wilson, the Washington Post’s longtime Pentagon correspondent:
I agree with Greider that there is a new attack elephant in the American living room. The old watchdog that would bark if some stranger knocked at the door but only bite if he broke into the house has been retired. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates seem to have fallen in love with Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine special operators who do their deadly work in the shadows. The top of our government was similarly infatuated with special operations during the Vietnam War until some of the operators got out of control and had to be reined in to discourage what was called “cowboyism” back then.
From a review in The Guardian of McMafia: Crime Without Frontiers, by Misha Glenny:
Glenny correctly identifies the contradiction of the Wars on Drugs and Terror, in which the illicit trade created by the former sustains the enemy in the latter. ‘If the UN is right and drugs account for 70 per cent of organised criminal activity,’ argues Glenny, ‘then the legalisation of drugs would administer by far the deadliest blow possible against transnational organised criminal networks.’