The debate last Fall about the strategic purpose of the Af-Pak war produced one result: the war’s advocates learned the American people will swallow almost any pretty rhetoric justifying the war. The war itself is its own justification. Our fighting by itself creates enemies to the American public. Our killing generates a stream of victories which can be spun into dreams of ultimate victory. The carping by critics — about the advocate’s misrepresentations, exaggerations, and outright lies — has no effect.
Chapter CXXXVIII in this sad tale comes from John A. Nagl (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, retired; Wikipedia): “Is Afghanistan the Right War?“, National Interest, March/April 2010 — A debate with Paul R. Pillar (US Army reserve, retired; 28 years service with the CIA, Wikipedia). Introduction:
With thirty thousand new boots on the ground, Kabul is set to become the primary focus of Obama’s strategic agenda. But is this the right choice? Pillar, former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, argues that a just intervention has devolved into a worthless quagmire, while Iraq War veteran Nagl believes al-Qaeda must be vanquished in the borderlands of AfPak.
Pillar responds as geopolitical experts have responded since the debate kicked off last Spring — and as have experts for generations since the development of modern propaganda in the early 20th century. Measured, calm debunking — assertion by assertion, fallacy by fallacy, lie by lie. Excerpt:
SO MUCH seems to flow, naturally and effortlessly, from pinning the label “war” on an endeavor. The term evokes images of a single and clearly identifiable enemy and of military force as the main instrument for defeating that enemy. John Nagl beats the “this is war” drum loudly and embellishes it with references to the “home base” of al-Qaeda and the need to fight close to the “enemy’s capital.”
This is argument by labeling. It pretends that by affixing a word, certain realities follow. They do not. South Asia is not the “home base” of al-Qaeda, which consists largely of Arab interlopers. No terrorist group has a “capital.” Nor is there a single enemy. Al-Qaeda—the group led by Osama bin Laden and holed up in South Asia—has not been organizing most of the terrorism in recent years, even if some of the organizers have chosen to fly the al-Qaeda flag. Nagl sometimes seems to want to go beyond that one enemy, as in referring to the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. That was perpetrated not by al-Qaeda but instead by other Islamists whose only safe haven was New Jersey.
Nagl assumes rather than establishes that if the Taliban prevails in Afghanistan, then al-Qaeda will rebuild a presence there, and that such a presence would make the group a greater threat. He says nothing to support the first contention; and on the second, only that Afghanistan is a big country and al-Qaeda would have “more room,” without explaining exactly what it would do in that space that it cannot and does not already do in other ways and in other places.
… NAGL IS to be commended for acknowledging that the cost of the war will be “high,” and his reference to five years for building a viable Afghan government and army is more realistic than the Obama administration’s timetable. The next appropriate step would be to acknowledge that the high cost in lives, limbs and money would do little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism.
It’s like telling an astrologer that the stars do not determine our lives. He’s heard it all before. Either he believes with unshakable faith — or doesn’t want to upset his rice bowl. In practice there’s no difference between the two.
Other experts have joined the chorus of voices criticizing the agitprop about the war:
- “The Incoherence of COIN Advocates: John Nagl Edition“, Bernard Finel, 23 February 2010
- “Pay Any Price . . . Bear Any Burden“, Michael Cohen, Democracy Arsenal, 24 February 2010
All in vain. Only time and events will change our expansion of the Af-Pak War. While necessary to lay the foundation for future public understanding, debate is futile today in terms of changing public opinion.
For more information from the FM site
Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page. To see all posts about our new wars:
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
- About the Iraq War – Goals and Benchmarks
Posts about the Afghanistan War:
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — George Friedman of Statfor on the Afghanistan War.
- Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
- The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
- “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
- The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
- We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
- Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
- You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
- “Afghanistan by the Numbers – Measuring a War Gone to Hell”, by Tom Engelhardt, 9 September 2009
- How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
- Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said, 23 September 2009
- About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
- A General explains how the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics will bring us victory in Afganistan, 27 September 2009
- DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
- Powerful and insightful new articles by Macgregor, 10 October 2009
- Stratfor: The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan, 21 October 2009
- Why All the President’s Afghan Options Are Bad Ones, 5 November 2009
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