Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bananas in Bananastan

The long war just got longer, by fiat of Minister of Peace Robert Gates. In an interview with al Jazeera’s Abderrahim Foukara, Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term." To paraphrase the punch line to a joke about asylum inmates, we’re freaking nuts and we’re never getting out of there.

The long warriors have won. They have their everlasting conflict that will eternally justify the existence of a bloated U.S. military, and they suckered a Democrat into doing it for them. "I do not believe that President Obama would have made the commitment he has made if he did not believe we could achieve our objectives in Afghanistan," Gates told Al Jazeera.

It seems more certain by the day that Mr. Obama has, in fact, signed off on an open-ended involvement in the Bananastans*. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have been on message of late about their boss’s "war of necessity" and of the need to promise the two countries involved that we will never abandon them. It is a singular symptom of America’s diseased strategic thinking that our top military leaders seek to reassure people in foreign countries who want nothing more than for us to go away by telling them that we never will.

Another leading symptom is Bananastan NATO commanderGeneral Stan McChrystal saying that "We are operating in a way that is truly protecting the Afghan people from all threats" as he surveys the damage from a NATO drone strike that killed Afghan people. Also indicative is that McChrystal was sold to the Senate as a counterinsurgency expert when, in fact, his main experience in Central Command had been as head assassin of Donald Rumsfeld’s Joint Special Operations Command hit squad, a rogue unit that operated outside of the formal chain of command.

As journalist Gareth Porter noted in May 2009, McChrystal’s nomination to become director of the Joint Staff in May 2008 was held up for months while the Senate investigated abuse of detainees by military personnel under his command. Sixty-four service personnel assigned or attached to Stan the Man’s Special Operations units were disciplined for detainee abuse between early 2004 and the end of 2007.

Gaunt and steely-eyed, McChrystal was also sold to Congress for his ascetic habits; he supposedly only eats one meal a day and sleeps only a few hours a night. Which is crazier: that those are his habits or that those habits are supposed to be considered suitable in an officer expected to make sane decisions on matters of national strategy? (Hungry and sleep deprived? Sure, he’s the guy we want calling the shots.)

McChrystal recently submitted a classified report on the Bananastan situation that apparently asks for a new strategy. It would replace the strategy Obama’s White House war wonks whipped together in March which was no strategy at all, but rather a cut-and-paste job that kluged together the most deranged think tank talking points from the last nine years. Gates says the March strategy hasn’t had time to work. So it looks like we’ll do what we always do when we don’t know what to do: escalate. If that doesn’t work, we’ll escalate again (strategy to follow).

A number of models exist that define the elements of strategy. One of my favorites is ends-ways-means-risk. Ends are the objectives, ways are the methods or tactics, means are the amount and type of resources needed and risk considers costs, necessity and consequences. This is the calculus most of use, at least subconsciously, for virtually every decision we make (I want to own expensive, sinful and fattening thing X. How do I afford it? Would the consequences of taking another job be worth whatever sin or fat thing X will give me? Do I really want to be sinful, fat and broke?) The way our military works now, we say "Just go buy thing X and we’ll figure out the rest later, maybe."

Obama says he wants to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, but nobody in his national security brain trust can tell him what the end game is so there’s no way of telling when the job is finished. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s remark that the United States had to be "clear about what our national interests are," but success can only be defined as something we’ll know "when we see it." If we can’t define it, we can always say we can’t see it yet but it’s just around the corner.

The New York Times reported that National Security Adviser James Jones approved a July 17 policy document "setting out nine broad objectives for metrics to guide the administration’s policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan." Metrics, or measures of effectiveness, are things you use to determine if you’re meeting your objectives. I have no idea what "objectives for metrics" are, and probably never will because the policy memo is classified. Gates and Mullen say that some of the metrics will remain classified. So we’ll have secret measures to determine whether a rudderless escalation is succeeding. When they tell us they’re making progress, we’ll just have to take their word for it, like we took Dick Cheney’s word for everything.

Every time we ask how long we’ll be embroiled in Bananastan, we hear that time is running out. Time has been running out for almost eight years now. If time keeps running out for as long as it looks like we’re going to stay, it will never run out.

If the war brass sound to you like they’re the maddest hares at the tea party, it’s because they are. Folks who spend time around the five-sided puzzle palace quickly become as puzzled as the rest of the inmates, and the puzzle masters have been around so long that it all makes perfect sense to them.

Everything about the Bananastan scenario is bananas. Petraeus, Mullen, McChrystal, Odierno and the rest of the cockamamie cast are straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan (they are the perfect models of the modern crazy general), and they’re about to embalm this country on the far side of the Khyber Pass.

President Obama fell into this trap when, as a candidate, he deflected criticism that he voted against the Iraq surge by saying it took focus away from the "war of necessity" in Afghanistan. If you’ve noticed, the war mafia constantly refers to "Obama’s war" and "President Obama’s strategy" and the "mission the commander in chief has given us." In a recent open letter, neoconservative icon Bill Kristol and his Foreign Policy Initiative loonies reminded Obama that he has "called Afghanistan an ‘international security challenge of the highest order,’ and stated that ‘the safety of people around the world is at stake.’" And, of course, they invoked 9/11.

That’s all quackery of course. None of the 9/11 hijackers came from Afghanistan. Afghanistan has never and will never successfully invade another nation. The safety of the world would be better served by keeping its strongest nation from squandering its military and economic might in a country still trapped in the middle ages.

But Obama has made an undeniable commitment, one that he can only reverse by showing the set of baby-makers he displayed when he slapped down the demented right during his health care speech.

*Pakistan and Afghanistan, our banana republic-style quagmires in Central Asia.

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. Lavrenti Beria4:20 PM

    I don't think Obama has fallen into anyone's trap. He's doing what he's doing purposefully and not without a truckload of accompanying calculation. He both owes his presidency to K Street filth and is cynical enough to know full well the effect that any sharp reductions in arms expenditures would have on a sagging economy. The two fit together like hand and glove. Don't count on any troop reductions soon, or likely ever.

  2. I'm not counting on it, trust me.


  3. Anonymous8:28 PM

    Obama is surrounded by Bilderberg members, CFR and trilateral comm members. He has no choice but to follow those dictates. The goals of the Bilderbergs is endless war, destruction of the US dollar, dumbing down of education, wholesale transfer of technology, etc. So far, these goals are being accomplished if not met yet. The US military strategy is set also to accomplish these goals. Most of the propaganda is set to confuse, engender fear, and to obfusicate the real goals. Seems, at least, that is working as designed.

    If you don't like these goals, expose the bastards for who they are and who they really work for. Start with Gates and Kristol. But anyway, do your own research.

  4. If we can't get rid of this insanity, with a Democrat in the White House -- how are we going to get rid of this insanity?

    I wish I knew.

    This was a "political" decision, not a policy decision.

    That the neocon pundits are fighting amongst themselves over the politics of it, would indicate to me -- somebody struck a nerve.

    The "soft on national defense" party, now has their very own war.

    History has shown us, that it will be a disaster.

    History has also shown us that regardless of how big the disaster, we don't change parties-in-power -- in wartime.

    It all sux.

  5. The problem, EL, is that the only party we could change to is the one we just got rid of because it gave us such stupid wars.


  6. Good interview on Antiwar Radio, Jeff.

    At one time I confused the two Scott Hortons, wondering how one guy could run Antiwar Radio and a news website and also practice constitutional and international law and be a classical music buff at the same time. Until I heard Scott Horton interview Scott Horton, that is, and then it all became clear.

    Does anyone still try to make sense of what these guys are saying, the Gateses, the Petraeuses, the Odiernos, or has everyone simply given up and tuned out?

    Here's to good old Yeats:

    "...Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity."

    Oh, damn.

  7. To good old Yeats indeed!


  8. This
    was pretty funny, in a black humorish way:

    After a Nato airstrike killed as many as 125 people last week, General Stanley McChrystal was keen to get the situation under control — fast.

    When he tried to contact his underlings to find out what had happened, however, he found, to his fury, that many of them were either drunk or too hungover to respond.

    It reminds me of the snide jokes about the American military that they used to make on Yes, Prime Minister, to the effect that the U.S. soldier was always far more interested in drugs, sex and booze than in repelling a Soviet invasion. In this instance, I feel strangely compelled (for a change) to "support the troops." I mean, if McChrystal was my boss, I'd be down at The Swamp hitting the still every chance I got.

  9. After the initial "Oh, gawd" feeling when I'd read the story jpwhite mentioned above, I felt the same way about sympathizing with them. Soldiers in horrible places have been medicating themselves for years, or forever.

    It's really strange to be pulled in two directions like that. Humans are full of contradictions.

    On an up note (sorta), the people without mush for brains have decided not to blow things up in the courtyard of the Canadian embassy in Washington later in September.

    Apparently, the media reports (yay, media!) of planned fake IED explosions and gunfire to simulate an Afghan village penetrated the echo chamber of the military ambassadorial complex and somebody finally realized what a really, really stupid idea it was.

    Canada scales back D.C. military demonstration

    "A planned Canadian military demonstration that would have included simulated bomb blasts within blocks of the White House and the Capitol, has been scaled back after media reports focused on the explosive elements."

  10. Sorry to be so verbose, but I couldn't let this one pass.

    Stan the Man, the Mechanic in Chief, looks at the war in Afghanistan as a simple mechanical problem. Do we fix this beater so it will run or do we just paint it over?

    ""My position here is a little bit like a mechanic. We've got a situation with a vehicle and I've been asked to look at it and tell the owner what the situation is and what it will cost to make the vehicle run correctly and I will provide that," he said.

    "Now I understand that the vehicle owner then has to make a decision on what the car is worth, how much longer he intends to drive it," he added. "Whether he wants it to look good or just run."

    One problem. After trainng the guys that wrecked it in the first place, then destroying it some more by dropping bombs on it to get the bad guys, they've forgotten that the Afghan people still have to live in their car, whatever is left of it.