Friday, October 30, 2009

Bob Gates’ Bad Bet

Author Victor Sebestyen notes in a recent New York Times editorial that in 1988, then deputy director of the CIA Robert Gates bet $25 that the Russian army would not leave Afghanistan. Now, Gates is assuring our NATO allies that the US “has no intention of pulling out of Afghanistan or abandoning our core mission there. It is a mission we deem critical to our national security and vital national interests.”

It’s worth mentioning that Gates is a bureaucratic twit who got where he’s gotten by accommodating up and down, knowing how to make both his seniors and subordinates happy and not knowing much of anything else. Every time he makes a public announcement you get a good feel for who talked to him last, his boss or his underlings. He is, for the most part, a stooge for his long war flag and general officers: David Petraeus, Ray Odierno, Mike Mullen and Stan McChrystal. On occasion, he’ll take direction from above—when he absolutely has to. He’s a wind-direction checker and a tealeaf reader who butters both sides of his bread.

According to the American Forces Press Service, a branch of the Pentagon’s propaganda ministry, Gates finds it “very heartening” to hear “mounting endorsements” from NATO of Gen. Stan McChrystal’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become NATO’s reason to exist.

Our mission in Afghanistan has no bearing on our national security or vital national interests. If we really wanted to root out the source of the 9/11 attacks, we’d invade and occupy Germany, home of the Hamburg cell where the attacks actually originated. But wait; we’re already occupying Germany. We have been since the end of World War II. That didn’t prevent 9/11 from happening, did it? Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was in the Philippines when he proposed the plan to Osama bin Laden. We occupied the Philippines for a long time, but they kicked us out. Most of the 9/11 thugs came from Saudi Arabia, who don’t want us in their country, and kissing the Saudis’ keister is our virtual national pastime. And we’re sort of leaving Iraq, so we have to put more troops into Afghanistan, right?

Journalist Gareth Porter shows us another reason why investing deeper into Afghanistan is such a bad bet. The news that President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is on the CIA payroll is just the tip of the iceberg, Porter says. We’ve been relying on Afghan warlords for security. One of them—a private army commanded by Col. Matiullah Khan—receives $4.1 million per year to get two convoys from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt safely each month. Tony Soprano never had it so good.

The warlords are widely reviled by the Afghan population, and our forces are tainted by their relationship with them. But it is impossible for McChrystal’s forces to operate forward bases without help from the warlords.

What’s worse, if we cut off the warlords, they become the enemy. It’s the same situation Petraeus created in Iraq; once you pay off bad guys to act like good guys, you have to keep paying them off or they become bad guys again.

Our counterinsurgency doctrine describes a lot of hi-falutin’ gibberish, but it all boils down to one thing: take along a lot of cash and a lot of guns. Arm private armies and pay them off. That’s how Petraeus created the illusion of a “successful” surge in Iraq, and it’s how McChrystal hopes to repeat the performance in AfPak. It’s balderdash.

Hillary Clinton is hawkish on AfPak, which is another reason to be wary of further involvement there. Secretary Hillary is keeping up the tough girl act Candidate Hillary put on so the Republicans and the neocons wouldn’t call her a girly man. At a press conference in Pakistan she said that the advance of extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a threat to America’s security. What kind of extremism is she talking about? The kind of extremism the Taliban espouse or the extreme corruption and abuse and incompetence that our supposed “partners” in the supposedly “legitimate” governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan practice?

She said that the Pakistani government’s current offensive in Waziristan is of “vital interest” to the U.S. My aching Adam’s apple it is. Waziristan is no more vital to us than any other spot where al Qaeda or other terror groups may be plotting against us, and in the iPhone age, that could be anywhere from the Marianas Trench to the Sea of Tranquility. If we’re reliant on the Pakistani government to protect our vital interests, we’re ewed-scray.

The ancient Chinese warfare philosopher Sun Tzu admonished that no nation ever benefitted from a long war. Yet a Long War is exactly what our military wants to lead us into. Our never-ending quagmires in Asian rabbit holes are about little more than giving the U.S. military, specifically the Army, an excuse for hogging the federal budget. They want to escalate Afghanistan so they have a place to play war for a generation or so.

Gates has repeatedly said we’re going to stay in Afghanistan. Let’s hope he bets $25 on it.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Anonymous9:01 AM

    DoD has usurped the role of the ministry of truth. Military "experts" of the US are an alliance of mouthpieces for: war profiteers, war mongers and other militarists selling perpetual war.

    National security interests are minitruth "think-cover" words for war profits and keeping the US population enslaved to the militarists' perpetual war machine.

    Occupying Afghanistan does nothing for US security, and minitruth making it a test of "determination" is pure propaganda.

    Experts will tell you how much, how long and what operations will lead to something more concrete than "national security".

    Not hearing this from Gates, Petraeus, Mc Crystal or the NATO cheerleaders who are in for less than 1% of what the US is in for.

    Minitruth is moved to the Arlington side of the Potomoc.

    Ignorant emotional people who disagree with the needless, remorseless no progress war are not experts and lack the will to throwaway the fortunes of the US on perpetiual war.

    You have to be a real hero to waste your own country.


  2. $4.1M a year, eh? How do you get a gig like that? Karzai's brother is raking it in, too, with CIA pay and the very lucrative drug trade. How much does Karzai himself get out of this whole thing, I wonder?

    I read somewhere that it costs the US, and probably Canada, too, somewhere between $750,000 and $1M a year to keep one soldier in Afghanistan.

    For that you could bring the guy home and pay him $150,000 a year for doing absolutely nothing and still be $600,000 better off. Or you could pay him or her, send them to college, train them in a trade, set them up in business, pay off their mortgage and car loan, buy the kids some hockey equipment and still have change left over.

    And that's just the first year.

    And he wouldn't be brain-injured, disabled, or suffer from PTSD.

    Sounds like a deal to me, but the weapons-of-mass-destruction manufacturers wouldn't be very pleased.

    Another Canadian soldier was killed on Wednesday, a 26-year-old lieutenant. Stepped on an IED while out on foot patrol. Tell me again why they're still doing that? That makes 132. It may seem paltry, but our population is one-tenth the side of the US. Makes the proportional casualty rate equivalent to 1300 or so US soldiers.

    I saw a video of one of those things going off in front of some armoured vehicle. The road surface rose, all in one piece, about fifteen feet into the air. I can't imagine what someone would look like after they stepped on one of those things.

    His widow was asking Canadians to still support the military. I do. I want them out of there.

    A year or so ago, one recently widowed wife gave a talk somewhere, maybe at the funeral, saying that "if we didn't fight them there, we'd have to fight them in our backyards" or something similar, the old line. I went into a profound down on hearing that. Where the hell did that line come from, anyway?

  3. "fight them over there" caught on because of a profound ignorance on the part of a LOT of people of geography.


  4. Another Huber2:43 PM

    I suspect that "fight them over there" comes across to the folks over there as "the world is our battlefield."

  5. Anonymous4:38 PM

    The US cannot occupy the entire Middle East and SW Asia.

    The "fight them over there" crowd refuses to analyze any alternative such as point defenses or the idea that while the Minister of State of the UK may think Helmand is the right over there, as CDR Huber has stated the right over there is Hamburg or wherever they are marshalling resources. Then strike the threat not the land where the threat might, if the enemy were our type of dopes, might do if the US did not otherwise occupy the place.

    The places to attack the US from will be unoccupied long after the US runs out of money occupying good plces that the UDS might (fearful minitruth blitherers) be struck from.

    Helmand is a little far for folks with no GDP to be marshalling resources and is less good than doing so in Key West, like before 9/11.

    It is minitruth thought speak spewed to assure the US is always at war with Helmand.


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