Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stars and Garters and Afghanistan

Stars and garters, I agree with Tom Friedman of the New York Times about something--sort of. In an Oct. 13 opinion piece titled “Not Good Enough,” Friedman argues that, “when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.”

He is correct. We can’t do counterinsurgency by propping up Hamid Karzai’s regime. Where Friedman’s thinking turns sour is when he says “we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it.” Put down the psychedelic Popsicle, Tom.

We are dealing with a society that, as pundit Steve Hynd puts it, “would make a Chicago politician blush.” Taliban, warlords, Islamo-gangstas whose names we’ll never learn to spell: we’ll never sort out that mess. Afghans themselves don’t even care is there is a vote recount for the last election. What’s the point? As one Afghan told Terri Judd of The Independent, "There are no roads, no bridges, not enough water. If you ask people, they will say our government is corrupt: they save money for themselves. They only want to make their lives better. They don't think about the poor people.”

Ask yourself what an Afghan’s idea of “poor people” is. Afghanistan’s per capita income is $700. No, that’s not a typo.

Afghanistan is not a society that we can turbo-charge into the 21st century through military force or the ill-conceived “civilian surge” that Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his allies want and is the dumbest idea on the planet.

Pouring civilians into Afghanistan will just make more targets for the so-called insurgents. We’re the insurgents in Afghanistan. We’re the ones who put the malignant Karzai government in power. We’re the invaders.

The kind of counterinsurgency we try to conduct now, as established by Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, involves bribing everybody not to use the guns we handed to them. Slogging arms and bribes into a violent, corrupt society doesn’t fix it. It makes the society more violent and corrupt.

We need to extract ourselves from this bog.

Our national mindset has warped since 9/11. We’ve allowed ourselves to become transfixed around the axle over nothing. The gomers who attacked the trade towers and the Pentagon didn’t come from Afghanistan. They wouldn’t have been able to pull off those attacks at all if the goobers who were supposed keep things like that from happening (CIA, FBI, NORAD, etc.) hadn’t been snoring with their feet on the gas pedal. To imagine that we need to gush more blood and money into Afghanistan to keep ourselves safe is more foolish than an Adam Sandler movie.

Insisting our president needs to cave in to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s demands is even more foolish. The insentient right has been insisting that Obama needs to give McChrystal whatever he asks for. That’s a recipe for disaster, and I hope Obama doesn’t pursue it. It’s time for American presidents, feeling vulnerable to pressure from the military-industrial-congressional complex, to stop pouring American kids who think they’re defending their country into crock-of-spit wars. We’d be better off by magnitudes putting those kids to work rebuilding our highways and bridges and dams.

I have some hope that we can put our eyes back on the prize: that we can become a shining city on the hill, a kinder gentler nation that can lead the rest of the world to a neo-renaissance.

We’ll have to shed our neoconservative strain, though, and that will take some doing. I remember thinking, as the 2000 election approached, that the neocons and their talk of American empire were nutty, but assumed that our inherent system of checks and balances would keep them from getting their way. Even the neocons recognized they would need “a new Pearl Harbor” to get the American public to accept with their mad philosophy, which essentially called for the U.S. to invade and occupy every corner of the globe except Antarctica.

The American warlords got their catalytic event in Sept. 2001, and the rest of us fell in line with them from fear, which is how despots immemorial have suckered rubes into going along with delusional, militaristic grandeur. The Iraq catastrophe should have taught us to ignore the neocons. Unfortunately their unwarranted influence persists, even though most Americans understand that the Afghanistan conflict is not a “war of necessity.”

Candidate Obama’s promise to “finish the job” in Afghanistan was his tragic error. He can’t turn back. It seems the entire world cowers in fear of criticism of the Rush Limbaughs, Bill Kristols and Glen Becks of this world, who have managed to turn George Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate into a 24/7 phenomenon.

It looks now like Obama will cave in to the demands of his petulant general, Stanley McChrystal. A weasel-worded Oct. 14 article in the UK Telegraph reports that “President Barack Obama's administration is understood to have told the British government that it could announce, as early as next week, the substantial increase to its 65,000 troops already serving there.” (My italics.)

“The US is expected to announce a significant surge of up to 45,000 extra troops for Afghanistan” the Telegraph story says, “after Gordon Brown said that 500 more British troops would be sent to the country.

Is that how it works? 500 Brits jump off a roof so we have to throw 45,000 American kids over a cliff?

I hope this story is a pile of yesterday’s dog breakfast. The foreign press is worse than ours when it comes to pushing sensationalism, but the Telegraph story at least names some of its sanction leakers, which is more than you can say for the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said: ‘I don't want to put words in the mouths of the Americans but I am fairly confident of the way it is going to come out,’” the Telegraph reported.

Sir Jock (what a name) is an English Lord and an air force type, so he may not be the most reliable source. Nonetheless, we need to brace ourselves for the possibility that Obama will go slutty for McChrystal and the rest of the long war crowd.

That will be a shame.

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. I think Stirrup was "lorded" after he became chief of defense staff. His real name is Graham Eric. The "Jock" may be an attempt at military humour, the best way his last name could be emended to produce something vaguely rude. That doesn't make him any smarter, however.

    Wasn't Stormin' Norman knighted after Gulf War I by HM the Queen? He could never use the title, of course, but I bet he calls himself Sir Norman or Lord Schwarzkopf in private.

    But the reports of escalation in Afghanistan are all over the place this morning. Another propaganda assault to soften up the citizens for the inevitable, I wonder?

    One of our war cheerleaders, David Bercuson, opined in the paper the other day that if our NeoCon prime minister gets a majority in the next election, he may well extend Canada's involvement beyond the 2011 pullout date. Unlike the U.S. president, he can declare war all by himself, a fact not too many Canadians know.

    The story surfaced and disappeared like the last gasp of someone drowning.

    You mentioned Orwell in your post. I was reading some of his essays a while ago, written in the middle of WW2. Remarkable to imagine at that time that he had no idea whether or not Hitler would be victorious as he pondered the idea of a fascist Britain.

    I have the same tied-up-in-knots feeling about the future of our two countries and Britain. Are they just going to slide into this without a struggle? No wonder happy pills like Prozac are flying off the shelves and down the throats of the terrified populace.

  2. Fil,

    We Oceanians have much to be concerned about. ;-)

  3. Anonymous7:21 PM

    I read an article yesterday about some US propagandists following McCrystal on a tour around a market in some small Afghinam town.

    He was very concerned, patronizing and asked each Afghan merchant what we, meaning the US and NATO, could do for them.

    They all wanted to be given, none wanted to get up and move out.

    One wanted a school, another more "security".

    However, our glorious military chief forgot his role as leader and nothing was said about what he asked any of them to do for themselves.

    Likely they are too busy attending Taliban smalls unit arms training sessions to care about doing anything for themesleves that might match NATO plans.

    If they won't do it, and there is no attempt to get them to do, it won't work any better in Afghinam than the other 'nam.

    First, timein years I could follow Friedman.


  4. Jeff Huber writes:
    even though most Americans understand that the Afghanistan conflict is not a “war of necessity.”

    Just saw a TV-program about Afghanistan, where an American soldier in Afghanistan confidently declared that it was better to fight the Afghanistans in Afghanistan than to have to do it at home/ in USA.

    Wonder what he had seen of the capacity of the Afghanistans that the rest of the world know nothing about? Maybe that they are impressive swimmers.

  5. Anonymous7:42 AM

    The young fellow does not know the mission.

    If it is not getting down to the shooters, maybe there is no mission.

    Just slogans, and domino theories.


  6. "Jock" has to be his call sign. Goofball aviator humor.


  7. Kerstin, the thing I hate the most about all this is how much crap these kids get fed to keep them motivated.


  8. Anonymous8:40 AM

    Obama has asked for $68 billion for Afghanistan for next year. That works out at over $2000 per Afghan. Instead of dropping propaganda leaflets why not just drop $10 billion in dollar bills all over Afghanistan, and then tell the locals that this process will be repeated every four months while the Taliban remains out of power. That way you will stop killing the locals and get the aid to the people who really need it. How long would the Taliban last then?
    The US could even get Europe and Japan to cough up once a year each to avoid sending any troops to Afghanistan so that would reduce the cost to $10 billion for the US per year. Ten years of this and Afghanistan should be on its way to being a developed country. A real bargain.