Tag Archives: afghanistan

Our wars: using the military to do Social Work with Guns

Summary: A wonder of the age is our continued confidence on people whose decisions proved wrong in the crucible of war, while those whose advice proved correct remain on the sidelines. It’s easy to distinguish the two groups by looking at their past work. Four years later this essay by Andrew Bacevich looks prophetic. That we continue to make the same mistakes shows that we are slow to learn. That Bacevich and his peers remain on the sidelines of US policy-making shows that we are stupid. Slow and stupid are two sins always punished, eventually.

Will Work For Change

Contents

  1. “Social Work with Guns”
  2. About the author
  3. For more information

Social Work with Guns“, Andrew Bacevich
London Review of Books, 17 December 2009
Reposted with the generous permission of the LRB and Andrew Bacevich

By escalating the war in Afghanistan – sending an additional 34,000 US reinforcements in order to ‘finish the job’ that President Bush began but left undone – Barack Obama has implicitly endorsed Bush’s conviction that war provides an antidote to violent anti-Western jihadism.

By extension, Obama is perpetuating the effort begun in 1980 to establish American dominion over the Middle East, hoping through the vigorous exercise of hard power to prolong the postwar Pax Americana. In ways that Obama himself may only dimly appreciate, his decision on Afghanistan affirms the pre-existing character of US foreign policy. But by advocating ‘counter-insurgency’, the McChrystal report also represents a tacit acknowledgment that a decades-long military reform project has definitively failed.

Understanding the contradiction at the heart of McChrystal’s report requires a quick survey of the way the United States managed to mire itself in its current predicament. It’s a tale of recurring miscalculation and disappointment followed by intensified military exertions yielding disappointment on a larger scale.

It began in 1979, when Jimmy Carter formulated his response to the twin shocks of the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Carter Doctrine, promulgated just weeks after the Red Army entered Afghanistan, declared the Persian Gulf a vital US national security interest and committed the United States to using ‘any means necessary, including military force’ to secure that interest. To make the commitment credible, the Pentagon created the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an embryonic instrument of military intervention.

At the urging of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter also initiated a programme of covert assistance to the Afghan mujahedin resisting the Soviet occupation. Oblivious (or indifferent) to the potential consequences of destabilising Afghanistan, Brzezinski hoped to turn it into Russia’s Vietnam.

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Some questions as we march to war in Syria

Summary: We’re off to war in yet another nation. Little Syria has suddenly become a nation whose fate can shake the foundations of the United States. Rather than again dissect the mad arguments of the hawks, let’s step back to see the larger pattern at work. After all, our opinions on the war matter not at all to our ruling elites. These significance of these events lies only in their ability to show that our leaders are incompetent, that we can no longer see the world through the fog of propaganda, and as a result we have lost control of the Republic.

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It might take a century or more, but future historians will devise a catchy name for the US interventions in Afghanistan (1979 – now), Iraq (1990-2011), Libya (2011), and Syria (2013) — our bipartisan policy of overthrowing secular regimes, replaced by Islamic regimes — with dubious results for their people and the US. It is a coherent but mad policy, with several characteristics.

It’s just a game to our rulers

  1. No clear plan; we rely on our awesomeness for success
  2. Ignorance or indifference to the historical record of the target nation
  3. Ignorance or indifference to the past failures of the methods used
  4. Indifference to the fate of women in the target nation

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(1) No clear plan

Imitating the plan of Imperial Japan in WW2: our awesomeness will produce success.

Our lavishly funded foreign policy apparatus (mostly military), with its middle and senior managers stocked with people holding advanced degrees (at the higher levels, mostly from elite universities), seem unable to form a first-year B-school level plan for our interventions. Goals, entry, execution, exit, follow-up. That’s obvious in the histories published about the Afghan War. It was obvious at the time in the post-9-11 interventions. Such questions were asked in the general media, but our confident elites blew them off with in effect instructions to “trust us”.

Despite repeated failures, we do. Again and again. This time they’re scarcely bothering to give coherent stories to build support for this war. They’re just ringing the bell, knowing we’ll respond. WMDs! Iran! Overthrow tyrants!

See the posts at the end about the Libyan War for examples of ignored warnings and daft propaganda.

(2) Ignorance or indifference to the historical record of the target nation

All these nations were weakly held together, with deep ethnic (and religious in Iraq, Libya, and Syria) divisions. All had traumatic experiences with colonial aggression, with ours seen as just another chapter. Experts warned about the risk of prolonged instability, but were ignored.

(3) Ignorance or indifference to the past failures of the methods used

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More bad advice about Afghanistan. Why do we continue to listen?

Summary:  We see our broken OODA loop at work in the daily newspapers, but never so clearly as in the prominent role of people with a track record of consistently wrong analysis and advice. Screw-up and move up during the Vietnam War. The analytical failure of the “team B” analysis during the cold war, which led to career success for its members. And now we see the hawks who led us into two wars continue to dominate US geopolitics, while those who gave sound advice (eg, Andrew Bacevich) remain on the fringes.

Afghan National Policeman patrolling with the US Army in Kandahar, but not yet shooting them (Reuters)

The ‘Andar Uprising’ and Progress in Afghanistan“, Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2012 — Gated copy; a free copy is posted at AEI’s Critical Threats.  Mr Kagan is considered one of the advocates of the “surges” in Iran and Afghanistan, which ran up the costs and body counts of both wars — while not changing the outcomes.

“The war is far from won, but a path to victory remains evident and viable if we have the will to pursue it.”

Opening:

Success in Afghanistan remains possible. As tragic and regrettable as they are, recent “green-on-blue” attacks against U.S. forces do not signify the failure of U.S.-Afghan partnership efforts or the enmity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Afghan people. Incidents spectacular enough to grab headlines in an overheated election year have badly distorted our understanding of what actually has happened on the ground in Afghanistan this fighting season.

The most important developments this year have been the failure of a determined Taliban effort to regain key terrain that they had lost, and the displacement of continuing violence away from populated areas and toward remote locations. Add to that the resiliency of the Afghan Local Police in key villages under determined Taliban attack, and the emergence of new anti-Taliban movements in former Taliban strongholds. The war is far from won, but a path to victory remains evident and viable if we have the will to pursue it.

It’s difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this foolishness.  It’s extraordinary, even for someone as consistently wrong as Frederick Kagan.

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Michael Yon suggests that we leave Afghanistan, stat

Summary:  Today we have two articles by Michael Yon from his online magazine, reposted here with his generous permission.  He says its time to leave Afghanistan.  I agree. Once free from outside interference, their civil war that began in 1978 might eventually burn itself out. And we can turn our attention to vital unmet national needs.

Michael Yon 2011

Contents

  1. “Time to Leave Afghanistan”
  2. “Afghanistan: cut losses”
  3. An earlier correct prediction by Yon
  4. About Michael Yon
  5. Other articles about defeat in Af-Pak
  6. Other posts about defeat in Af-Pak

Michael Yon’s honesty, clarity, and on-the-ground perspective have shown us what’s happening in our wars far in advance of reports from the mainstream news media. Now he reports on the last chapter of our war in Afghanistan.

(1)  “Time to Leave Afghanistan“, 21 January 2012

This war is going to turn out badly. We are wasting lives and resources while the United States decays and other threats emerge.  We led the horse to water.

Importantly, there is no value in pretending that Pakistan is an ally. We should wish the best of luck to the Afghans, and the many peaceful Pakistanis, and accelerate our withdrawal of our main battle force. The US never has been serious about Afghanistan. Under General Petraeus we were starting to gain ground, but the current trajectory will land us in the mud.

The enemies will never beat us in Afghanistan.  Force on force, the Taliban are weak by comparison.  Yet this is their home.  There is only so much we can do at this extreme cost for the many good Afghan people.  We must reduce our main effort and concentrate on other matters.  Time to come home.

(2)  “Afghanistan: Cut Losses“, 23 August 2012

Most people likely wish to hear that everything will turn out right in Afghanistan.  The reality is that it will not end well.  This bastard war will have a thousand fathers and nobody will claim it.

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Seeing our society’s dsyfunctionality in tangible form, in the comments

Summary:  Polling acts as one kind of mirror to our society; Internet comments provide a reflection of another kind. With over 23 thousand comments about geopolitics, the FM website gives us a perspective on America’s ills. Here we sort them and find one ominous pattern.

Result of broken OODA loop

There is conflict in every society because  people always debate the important things in life. How to interpret the past. How to see the kaleidoscope of current events. What path we should take towards the future. How to relate to incompatible values: individual rights vs the needs of the community, freedom vs. equality, etc.

We’re living the Best and the Brightest but larger. That book examined the failures of America’s elites during the 1960s. Now we experiencing the same thing but on a larger scale.

America’s intelligent and well-educated people should be one of our great resources, best able to see and understand our nation’s problems.  Instead our society’s dysfunctionality — our gullibility and credulity — has allowed our best to become indoctrinated.  They have been taught an interlocking set of historical falsehoods and bogus theory, become fervent believers of things that are not so, fearful of things not likely to happen.

It’s not political, appearing on both the Right and Left. It’s converted American politics into a theater of the absurd, a Kabuki of over-coked actors.

In my experience these people cannot be broken from these beliefs. Contrary facts, testimony of experts — all useless.  This is the battle fought out every day in the comments on the FM website since 2007.   Here are two examples.

(1)  Smart guy fearful of the absurd

Comment:  Question by a licensed clinical laboratory scientist, who has studied chemistry:

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Hidden history of our first step into the Afghanistan War. It’s still important for us to understand.

Summary:  Here we examine one of our key steps into the Afghanistan War, in 1979.  It’s bitterly ironic, showing that we played the USSR into Afghanistan just as bin Laden suckered us in the WOT.  Beyond that it’s an example of one of the themes on the FM website: our hidden history. To move forward to a better America we must better understand our past. Observation is the vital first step of the OODA loop.

It was our piece, but rebelled.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. CNN interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski
  3. Brzezinki was more specific in an interview in Paris
  4. Brzezinski later qualifies the story
  5. A rare moment of candor from a high US official: Robert Gates
  6. For more information

(1)  Introduction

The post-WWII history of American foreign policy to an astonishing degree consists of the government lying to us — and our consistent gullible belief in their new lies.  The bomber and missile gaps.  Eisenhower lied in May 1960 about the downing of the U-2. The largely fake Tonkin Gulf incident of August 1964, used to justify the Vietnam War. Saddam’s nukes. And the start of US involvement in Afghanistan before the December 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union.  None of the officials involved paid any price for these lies, so we must enjoy being lied to.

This little vignette is in one sense just another lie, denied for so long. Our government goaded the Soviets into a long, draining, hopeless Afghanistan war. Our role supporting the insurgents before the invasion was concealed to better paint the Soviets as evil invaders — and not a great power to some degree responding to our interference in their zone of influence — as we have done so often in Latin America.  (The Soviets’ role helping women in Afghanistan is crimethink, as is our role wrecking their lives — as we’ve done in Iraq)

The Soviets took the bait and suffered accordingly. Just as we responded to bin Laden’s provocation on 9-11, fulfilling all his dreams of a US jihad against Islam — trashing our reputation, damaging our political regime, draining our strength. Bin Laden did to the USA what we did to the USSR  (Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?)

Bitter irony.

Here is some of the available evidence about our involvement at that critical stage in the long Afghanistan nightmare. I doubt that this tells the full story. BTW — it’s also counter-evidence to the “Carter as wimp” theory, more evidence policy continuity between the Carter and Reagan administrations (eg, foreign policy, deregulation).

(2)  CNN interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter’s National Security Advisor)

CNN, 13 June 1997. From the George Washington U National Security archive.

Interviewer: How did you interpret Soviet behavior in Afghanistan, such as the April revolution, the rise of — I mean, what did you think their long-term plans were, and what did you think should be done about it?

Brzezinski: I told the President, about 6 months before the Soviets entered Afghanistan, that in my judgment I thought they would be going into Afghanistan. And I decided then, and I recommended to the President, that we shouldn’t be passive.

Interviewer: What happened?

Brzezinski: We weren’t passive. (An interruption followed; this line of inquiry was not continued — they skipped ahead to the Soviet invasion)

(3)  Brzezinski was more specific in an interview in Paris

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Mission Failure: Afghanistan

Summary: The very first articles articles at DNI, in 2003, expressed skepticism about the Afghanistan War.  By 2009 it was clear that we could achieve nothing useful from the war. But our military exists to feed itself, disconnected from any rational national goals, and only after ten years has the drawdown slowly began. Today Tom Engelhardt begins the long review, necessary if we are to avoid the post-Vietnam amnesia and learn from our expenditure of blood and treasure in that distant land.

A Message Written in Blood That No One Wants to Hear
By Tom Engelhardt
Published at TomDispatch on 31 July 2012. Posted here with his generous permission.

Imagine for a moment that almost once a week for the last six months somebody somewhere in this country had burst, well-armed, into a movie theater showing a superhero film and fired into the audience. That would get your attention, wouldn’t it? James Holmes times 21?  It would dominate the news.  We would certainly be consulting experts, trying to make sense of the pattern, groping for explanations. And what if the same thing had also happened almost once every two weeks in 2011? Imagine the shock, imagine the reaction here.

Well, the equivalent has happened in Afghanistan (minus, of course, the superhero movies).  It even has a name: green-on-blue violence. In 2012 — and twice last week — Afghan soldiers, policemen, or security guards, largely in units being trained or mentored by the U.S. or its NATO allies, have turned their guns on those mentors, the people who are funding, supporting, and teaching them, and pulled the trigger.

It’s already happened at least 21 times in this half-year, resulting in 30 American and European deaths, a 50% jump from 2011, when similar acts occurred at least 21 times with 35 coalition deaths. (The “at least” is there because, in May, the Associated Press reported that, while U.S. and NATO spokespeople were releasing the news of deaths from such acts, green-on-blue incidents that resulted in no fatalities, even if there were wounded, were sometimes not reported at all.)

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