Monday, November 16, 2009

Our National Dissonance

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."

-- Bertrand Russell

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on the Sunday gab circuit that rooting al-Qaeda out from Afghanistan is our only goal in that country. That’s interesting, considering that the “maximum estimate,” according to National Security Adviser James Jones, says there are at most 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since there are roughly 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, we already outnumber them 100 to one. Why does Gen. Stanley McChrystal insist we need more troops to avoid mission failure?

Our biggest problem is that we don’t really know what we’re doing there. On ABC’s This Week, Hillary said, "We're not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear."

That’s in stark contrast to what Pentagon types have been putting out. In the latest issue Joint Force Quarterly, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen wrote, “The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: ‘Will you really stay with us this time?’ ‘Can we really count on you?’ I tell them that we will and that they can.”

In a recent appearance on Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term."

The Pentagon has been trying to make Afghanistan the spine of its Long War, a concept that envisions 50 years of low-level armed conflict that will ensure the gravy caisson keeps rolling along. They probably don’t like Hillary saying we don’t have a long-term stake there.

McChrystal was supposedly fuming when Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a retired Lt. Gen. who was once commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sent cables to Washington saying that sending more troops there was “not a good idea.”

One of McChrystal’s top advisers on Afghanistan, counterinsurgency “expert” David Kilcullen, says the counterterrorism mandate isn’t “at the top of my list” for reasons to be in Afghanistan. Kilcullen thinks it’s far more important to stay the course in Afghanistan to preserve NATO, the dinosaur alliance that hasn’t had a useful function since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down 20 years ago.

Secretary Clinton said, "I have made it clear that we're not going to be providing any civilian aid to Afghanistan unless we have a certification that if it goes into the Afghan government in any form, that we're going to have ministries that we can hold accountable.”

We’ll never be able to hold Afghan ministries accountable. We’re stuck with Hamid Karzai, who just stole two elections, and whose brother is a heroin dealer on the CIA payroll, and who has ties to the Taliban. Oh, yeah, he’s going to clean up his act hubba hubba ‘cause Hillary told him to. He’s said to be forming a “high-level anti-corruption unit” to investigate graft among his senior officials. One suspects this anti-corruption unit will consist of the same crooks he assigned to rig his elections.

Hillary told ABC, “This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy and build a more functioning state and do all of these wonderful things.”

Problem: that’s precisely what McChrystal proposes to do with his “classic counterinsurgency” plan, based on the Pentagon’s cockamamie COIN doctrine that amounts to giving birth to nations at gunpoint.

A recent report by the Army indicates that troop morale in Afghanistan is sagging. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. “They’re tired,” says psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen. Yeah, who wouldn’t be? The Army has been at war for eight years and change, and there’s no end in sight.

There’s also a significant question, one straight out of World War II rhetoric: was this trip necessary? I sense that as the war timeline shifts right, more and more of our rank and filers in uniform sense that the sacrifices they’re making are for naught. Much of service for one’s country is Orwellian. It involves accepting the brainwash one is constantly fed, even though at heart one knows it’s untrue. A break comes at some point, though, and that’s why we’re seeing so many cases of PTSD and other mental problems with our war veterans.

Our woebegone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become our national cognitive dissonance. By now, all but the rabid among us know that our military adventurism is a counterproductive waste of effort, that we create two or more terrorists for every one we kill or capture, that our military and its supporting civilian and political structure have far more control of our government than they should.

Can we change course? Not easily. Can President Barack Obama put us on a vector of enlightenment? We’ll see. I for one am full of doubts on that score.

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. Pretty amazing. Looks like Hillary and the generals aren't talking to one another. The soldiers of all nations, or the ones with consciences and a sense of right and wrong, anyway, are depressed. To my mind, being depressed sounds like the only sane response to what's going on.

    What kind of mind would you have to have to not be depressed?

    I heard a podcast several years ago that told the story of a young man who joined up with three of his friends. Of the four, only he had survived. When asked how he managed to cope with that, he said he put his anxiety "in the closet and closed the door" until a later time when he would open it up and deal with it. Those who managed to keep those doors closed are starting to open them up - and they can't cope. How could they?

    It's like ignoring a leaking roof or a crumbling wall. These things don't simply stop or get better. The greatest threat to our countries may be uncontrolled generals and craven politicians.

  2. Anonymous7:20 PM

    @ Jeff Huber,
    The Iraq occupation is a blatant war of aggression. The Afghan war is also a war of aggression but with a much better cover story so that condeming those who take part in this war is some what more difficult.
    But whether or not a person thinks that the US is justified in having forces in Afghanistan it should be clear that there is something very fishy going on behind the scenes in the US government based on the tactics and or strategy that the US has employed to wage its war in Afghanistan.
    What I am getting at is that it seems to me if our government was really interested in helping the Afghan people, and creating a society that does not tolerate Al Quida our operations there would be a strictly Green Beret affair.
    I am no expert but maybe you have some contacts who are. What would they say about my proposition? If they would agree then why has a greater stink not been made about this?
    Also it seems to me that if our government was really on the up and up they would be trying to make friends with the Iranians rather than antagonize them, as they are also enemies of the Taliban and Al Quida. So if the rank and file were really on the up and up it does not seem to me that it would be to hard to figure that out. And if the rank and file figured that our and were really on the up and up it should not take very long for all hell to breake loose.
    So it looks to me that either they are not on the up and up or they have the political sense of gravel.
    In fact they would have to be so stupid that anyone who shoots them would be doing them a favor.
    That may seem really harsh but I think that I surgar coated it.
    Do I have the political sense of gravel for asking you that question?
    You are Zen I am sure that you can figure out way to address at least the question about the Green Berets doing all the work if we want to get involved in this Afghan civil war.
    Curt Kastens
    That is funny although the post seems to have posted after I hit preview a message came up saying that the word verification did not match so I will try again although this may post the same thing for a second time

  3. At some point, deep down inside, you know things aren't right.


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