Kubler-Ross gives us a good perspective on the evolution of the Afghanistan War

Summary:  What stage is the Af-Pak War in our minds?  As it did during the Iraq War, Kubler-Ross stages of stages of dying provides perspective.

In November 2006 an analysis on this website described America as moving through five of the stages of dying into bargaining with respect to its expedition to Iraq.  Now we’re in the final stage, acceptance.  We greet the news with indifference as our forces withdraw.  China signing contracts to exploit Iraq’s oil.  Iran consolidating its political gains in Iraq (as described in today’s Guardian), becoming the regional hegemon (albeit now a weak one).  Those bases we spent tens of billions of dollars constructing become Iraq’s.  Perhaps we’ll keep one, giving us the base from which to project power across the Middle East — one of the primary reasons for our invasion and occupation.  But probably not.

Now our time comes in Afghanistan.  As many 4GW experts forecast, the NATO Expedition to Afghanistan was doomed before it began, largely due to unrealistic goals.  Replacing the Tailiban with the Northern Alliance, chasing out al Qaeda were both reasonable objectives.  But we couldn’t quit there, and went on to a larger and delusional goal:  building a stable western-like State — bringing democracy, women’s rights, etc.  Now the bitter end comes into sight. 

The Kubler-Ross “Death and Dying” process offers a good metaphor for our conduct of the war.  (For more on the theories of Kubler-Ross see Changing Minds and Wikipedia)

The five stages described by Kubler-Ross:

  1. Shock & Denial:  Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news:  trying to avoid the inevitable.
  2. Anger:  Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
  3. Bargaining:  Seeking in vain for a way out.
  4. Depression:  Final realization of the inevitable.
  5. Testing and Acceptance:  Seeking realistic solutions; finally finding a way forward.

 America’s elites remained for a long period in Denial, and then moved into Anger.  They directed their anger at anybody other then themselves:  Bush/Hitler, Leftist traitors, “Neville Chamberlain’s” in the Democratic Party, Al Qaeda, various elements of the Afghanistan people, and Iran.  Now we advance to Bargaining.  Unfortunately we will bargain in vain, as we have not accepted the inevitability of our defeat.  Too many of us have come to think like President Nixon:

“What President Nixon means by peace is what other people mean by victory.”
— Said in 1972 by Don Oberdorfer of the Washington Post, from the last chapter of David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.

The conditions necessary for negotiations

As the war burns to its 10th year, our leaders look for exit strategies — before we’re forced out by deteriorating conditions in Af-Pak, a slowly breaking Army, fading public support, and a tide of red ink.  Domestic politics in America makes negotiations difficult unless from a position of strength (however imaginary).   The solution:  declare that we’re winning.  Info ops are a DoD speciality, and so we see:

Speculation about the future

Seeking victory – even a small one – by negotiating with the winners seems unlikely to achieve anything but burning more time.  We can bomb more, Nixon’s tried-and-failed method of improving our position — probably doing little but recruiting more Taliban fighters. 

David Kilcullen is a counter-insurgency expert who worked for General Petraeus in Iraq and now advises the State Department. He has shown that two per cent of the people killed by the robot-planes in Pakistan are jihadis. The remaining 98 per cent are as innocent as the victims of 9/11. He says: “It’s not moral.” And it gets worse: “Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased.”
— “Obama’s robot wars endanger us all“, Johann Hari, op-ed in The Independent, 15 October 2010

We have little to offer the Taliban, other than an exit which will come eventually in any case.  Still, we might arrange a face-saving facade for a gradual withdrawal.  Eventually we will, as with Iraq, end with acceptance.

Too bad about the money and lives lost.

For more information

Articles about negotiations:

Esp note Is the Taliban open to negotiations with the US?, 16 November 2009.

Posts about the reason we fight in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  3. New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
  4. An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
  5. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  6. “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
  7. We must stay in Afghanistan to prevent atomic war!, 24 August 2009
  8. Quote of the day: Our Afghanistan War explained in 22 words, 26 August 2009
  9. Foust describes the case for our war in Afghanistan, 28 August 2009
  10. Another attempt to justify our Af-Pak war, and show the path to victory, 31 August 2009
  11. The advocates for the Af-pak war demonstrate their bankruptcy. Will the American public notice?, 1 September 2009
  12. Every day the war’s advocates find new reasons we should fight in Afghanistan!, 7 September 2009
  13. A new reason to kill thousands of people? Stay tuned for the answer!, 24 September 2009
  14. Stratfor: The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan, 21 October 2009
  15. We destroy a secular regime in Afghanistan (& its women’s rights), then we wage war on the new regime to restore women’s rights. Welcome to the American Empire., 20 November 2009
  16. Bernard Finel justifies our crusade in Afghanistan (insufficiently), 24 November 2009
  17. The SecDef gives the definitive analysis of the situation, a must-read, 30 December 2009
  18. Today’s propaganda: we must fight in Afghanistan to help its women, 10 August 2010
  19. About our sudden concern for Afghanistan’s women (& the desperate search for a reason to fight), 12 August 2010
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