Bing West tells us about “Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan”

Summary:  Today we have a review of what seems likely to be a major genre of military literature for the next generation, if our experience in Vietnam repeats itself — why we lost in Afghanistan, and how we could have won.  It’s a well-researched, thoughtful book, reviewed by a top professional.  Both the book and the review grapple well with military realities of the war.  Both seem somewhat deaf to the political realities that led to our defeat.  In this key respect Afghanistan is a repeat of Vietnam.

“We have fought the wrong war with the wrong strategy. Our troops are not a Peace Corps; they are fighters. Let them fight, and let the Taliban fear.”
—One of the best known quotes from Bing West’s THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan, demonstrating the combination of jingoism and ignorance about insurgency warfare since WWII that has resulted in our debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contents

  1. Review of THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West
  2. About the reviewer
  3. More information about this book
  4. Other posts about the war in Afghanistan

(1)  The Review

THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West.  Reviewed by T X Hammes (Colonel, USMC, Retired). Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette of March 2011.  Republished here with their generous permission.

Bing West is an author who needs no introduction to Marines. From his classic, The Village (Pocket Books, 1972), to his remarkable efforts covering the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, “West has contributed to the knowledge of individual Marines. Just as important, he has contributed to Americans’ understanding of the Corps’ traditions and combat performance. On both counts, The Wrong War is a solid addition to his body or work. It draws on 8 extended trips West made to Afghanistan over the last 3 years.

Unlike most pundits, his trips are not limited to Kabul. Instead, he embeds from the battalion to the platoon level, patrolling with the squads. He has sat through the shuras and endured the heat, altitude, mountains, vineyards, villages, mud, boredom, and sudden engagements. While his book focuses at the tactical level, West has the contacts and background to evaluate top-level decisions. As the title indicates, he has concluded that population-centric counterinsurgency will not work for this war. He then asks the very important question, “Since it would be disastrous to pull out and we can’t win with the current strategy, is there an alternative?”

West sets out to answer that question by describing “the fighting, the objectives, the interaction with the tribes, and the different tactics our military has undertaken.” To provide background, West takes the reader through a years-long summary of key efforts in both the north and south of Afghanistan. In doing so, he provides context over time that pointedly illustrates both the grit of our forces and the failure of the current approach.

West is at his strongest in describing the action at the platoon level. His willingness to go to the very tip of the spear, combined with the experience to truly understand and interpret what he is seeing, brings both immediacy and empathy to his narration. For those Marines bound for Afghanistan, it provides a wealth of tactical scenarios that will enhance their training.

West weaves together years of repeated trips to key areas to support his contention that counterinsurgency is failing. In his chapters on the fighting in Konar Province, West traces the repeated efforts by U.S. units to pacify the Pech River valley and the highlands surrounding it. Despite the intelligent, skillful application of counterinsurgency doctrine by several units in a row, no unit was able to convince the people to openly support the government.

West notes that GEN David McKiernan pointed directly at Pakistan. “It all goes back to the problem set that there are sanctuaries in the [Pakistan] tribal areas that militant insurgent groups are able to operate from with impunity.” The Afghans are acutely aware that even if they cooperate with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to drive out the Taliban, they will simply withdraw a few miles into Pakistan. Once there, they can patiently wait for ISAF to leave and then return to punish those who fought them.

Even more devastating than the sanctuaries is the lack of a credible Afghan Government narrative. The narrative is central to gaining support, both for the insurgent and the counterinsurgent. West notes that:

In the Korengal and across the entire Pashtun belt in Afghanistan, the Taliban narrative wove together the Pashtun warrior spirit and a jihadist duty to drive out the infidel invaders, with eternal reward for death as a martyr for Islam. In contrast, Afghan security forces usually fought for paychecks. They scoffed at the Taliban narrative. but their leaders didn’t build a counternarrative.

West unequivocally states that counterinsurgency as reflected in Field Manual 3-24 (FM 3-24), Counterinsurgency, is failing in Afghanistan. FM 3-24 states that the heart of counterinsurgency is to support the establishment of a legitimate government. Yet despite years of U.S. presence and mentoring, the vast majority of the country lacks a credible government presence. West’s first person reporting at the tactical level highlights the weakness or corruption of the few Afghan civil servants in the conflict areas. Magnifying the problem, he notes that honest officials lack support from their ministries.

To overcome the frequently made counterargument rhat we have just started to use a counterinsurgency approach, West makes the point that we actually adopted a counterinsurgency sttategy in 2008 under General McKiernan. Thus the idea that we have only been using this approach since the arrival of GEN David Petraeus is simply not true. Our evaluations of success of counterinsurgency should not be tied to last summer’s arrival of Petraeus. Instead we must evaluate its effect since 2008. West is convinced it has failed. He concludes one chapter on the fight in the Korengal Valley with, “The American goal was to persuade Afghan tribes to support a centrally controlled, deeply corrupt democracy.” Not surprisingly, we failed. Later West noted that both Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen could not define the mission but simply contended we are there to win. He observes:

If the highest-ranking officer in the military cannot explain the mission, he cannot expect a corporal to carry it out. . How do you tell a squad leader to ‘diminish’ the enemy?

Over the course of 13 chapters West provides a detailed tactical look along the critical Konar and Helmand Province fights. However, with his typical directness, West provides the bottom line up front. In his introduction, he states:

There is a grinding inconclusiveness to the battles that yields a grudging admiration for the endurance of the Pashtuns and a resentment against the sanctuary Pakistan provides. The valor of our soldiers is on display as well as the determination, cunning, and Islamist fervor of the Taliban and other opponents. Different strategic and operational approaches are tried, but none provides pivotal moments or political breakthroughs. Instead, there is a frustrating repetition of patterns. The American military loathes the mere mention of ‘a war of attrition.’ But that’s what Afghanistan is. But that’s the kind of war the military is fighting. It is past time for our military to shift its effort in order to ensure that the Afghan forces can win their own war.

This introduction ties directly to the very brief strategic recommendation West makes at the end of the book. During the first 15 chapters, West makes a very convincing case that the current approach is not working. Unfortunately, he dedicates only a few pages to an alternative approach. In essence, he proposes a combination of a large-scale advisor effort backed by effective counterterror operations.

West’s model is the highly successful special forces team he observed advising an Afghan kandak (battalion). Reinforced with a platoon of infantry, engineers, and fire support specialists, the special forces team proved Afghan Army units can meet and defeat Taliban units and successfully protect the population. This is critical because “such advisor task forces offered the means of transitioning the war at a faster pace, with a higher risk.” West suggests that expanding the program nationwide will require about 50,000 U.S. troops. And while the U.S. population is rapidly tiring of the current massive but inconclusive effort, he feels the U.S. public will support such a very long-term but smaller advisory-based effort to achieve success in Afghanistan.

West’s strategic recommendation is the weakest part of the book. This reviewer was left wishing West had expanded on this idea and where he envisioned it going. It was particularly difficult to buy into the recommendation since West had undercut this approach earlier in the book. At the end of his section on just such a combined task force, West quotes the special forces team commander, CPT Matt Golsteyn:

We’re the insurgents here and we’re selling a poor product called the Kabul government. The district governor has been Taliban for years. The people believe Kabul’s the enemy. Now we’re here with askars (Afghan soldiers) who are Tajiks and Uzbeks-outsiders like us.

West’s closing recommendation never addressed two key problems he identified repeatedly in the book-the corruption/incompetence of the Karzai government and the unwillingness/inability of Pakistan to close the border. While recognizing the local successes an advisory system can create, this reviewer questions whether any approach can work as long as these two problems remain unaddressed. Without an effective government, neither the Afghan population nor the Afghan Army has a real motivation to fight. And as long as the Taliban has sanctuary in Pakistan, they can choose the level of attrition they are willing to sustain.

Despite my discontent with the final analysis, The Wrong War is an essential read for those Marines going to Afghanistan, as well as those who have returned and want a longer view of the tactical actions in which they participated. I also recommend it for family members so they can better appreciate the realities our Marines are facing on the ground. Most important of all, national decisionmakers need to carefully consider whether West’s conclusion that counterinsurgency has failed in Afghanistan is correct. And if it is, how do we adjust our strategy?

Author’s Note:  The views expressed in this review are those of the author only and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or National Defense University.

(2)  About the reviewer

Colonel Hammes served from platoon to Marine Expeditionary Force level during his 30 years in the Marine Corps. Upon retirement he read for a Ph.D. at Oxford, London. He is now a Senior Research Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies, National Defense University.

Publications:

(3)  More information about this book, and other books about the war

(4)  Other posts about the Afghanistan War

To see all posts, go to the FM Reference Page About our wars – Iraq, Af-Pak & elsewhere

Some posts about the war:

  1. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  2. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  3. The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
  4. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  5. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
  6. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
  7. About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
  8. 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
  9. The future of Marjah, after the invasion and occupation, 23 February 2010
  10. A powerful story from Afghanistan, an illustration of our un-strategy at work, 18 April 2010
  11. On Strategy (specifically in Afghanistan), 1 September 2010
  12. Presidential decision-making about Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have 3 choices, sir”, 5 October 2010
  13. Kubler-Ross gives us a good perspective on the evolution of the Afghanistan War,19 October 2010
  14. About our operations in Kandahar – all that’s old is new again, 20 October 2010

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31 thoughts on “Bing West tells us about “Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan”

  1. The entire “War on Terror” is a protracted effort by the wounded American psyche to prove to itself that had Vietnam been “done right,” then the United States would have won.

    1. But Duncan, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan WERE “done right” (imagine withering sarcasm) and we “won” (imagine more of the same). And Libya, Yemen, and Somalia have all benefited from more of the same (withering sarcasm times two).

      In fact, it is getting so the US military can predictably be seen wading into any area that is sufficiently miserable and bringing, well, more misery, but “winning the war” (that didn’t necessarily exist). This is leading us slowly and steadily towards conflict with better organized miserable places such as Iran, Syria, and possibly the Mexican drug cartels. Eventually we shall find ourselves attacking miserable places in the US.

      It will be very hard to explain to future historians why we did this to ourselves.

    2. Pluto, on the basis of what evidence do you assume that our future will be sufficiently well organized that it should have fellows such as historians, to whom any such explaining would need to be done?

  2. After 9/11, it was incumbent upon America to invade Afghanistan to apprehend Osama bin Laden, to bring him to justice, and to displace his Taliban hosts. We failed to apprehend bin Laden for more than ten years, and were only able to murder him with a special operation so preposterously orchestrated as to suggest weakness rather than strength. We routed the Taliban pretty much instantly, and could have just as well withdrawn right away and let Afghans sort their nation out for themselves.

    For me, Bing West’s cheerleading for the courage of the American fighting man is indicative of how deeply America suffers a “war addiction.”

    What is the point of clever tactics and noble valor in the absence of wise strategy?

    America’s lack of a practical and constructive world view is striking. Who in America is talking about a purposeful vision for Americans?

    1. “After 9/11, it was incumbent upon America to invade Afghanistan to apprehend Osama bin Laden, to bring him to justice, and to displace his Taliban hosts.”

      (1) “It was incumbent upon America to invade”

      Perhaps it was incumbent upon America to negotiate with the Afghanistan government before invading. When we’ve learned that lesson perhaps we’ll be on the road to adulthood.

      From page 332 of the 9-11 Commission Report, Chapter 10 — Wartime, and ponder the road not taken:

      The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: produce Bin Ladin and his deputies and shut down al Qaeda camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Therefore, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

      Both departments would consult with NATO and other allies and request intelligence, basing, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan detailed a public U.S. stance: America would use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture. (State Department memo, “Gameplan for Polmil Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” 14 Sept 2001)

      President Bush recalled that he quickly realized that the administration would have to invade Afghanistan with ground troops.

      (2) “to apprehend Osama bin Laden, to bring him to justice”

      And how do you know bin Laden was in Afghanistan in 2001? He was not there in 2011. Nor in 2011 did we attempt to bring bin Laden to justice.

    2. at any rate, Bush outsourced the cave search for Osama to the natives, not wanting to risk US troop lives. Obama’s drones follow the latter undignified policy.

    3. Yes, by incumbent, I mean our government had a duty or obligation to apprehend bin Laden and bring him to justice. As I noted originally, we did not accomplish that.

      As to negotiating, my understanding (limited to what little I glean in the press) is that we asked the Taliban to hand bin Laden over, and they blew us off peremptorily. So, I think in that instance we needed to act with all speed. We had to go there and try to get him ourselves, hence invade.

      As to whether we knew where bin Laden was, well, obviously we’ve had a problem with that. However, I believe that reports that he was still in Afghanistan in the early goings were likely accurate. Either way, the question was cooperation from the Afghan government at that point, and they already said that they would not help us.

      I absolutely agree that we failed in the last instance to bring bin Laden to justice. Quite the contrary, I believe that our actions belied our own weakness by not trusting in our legal institutions to try him fairly for all the world to see. This is why I said originally that our approach was a sign of our weakness and not our strength.

      All of this was to say that, as far as I can see, we have had no strategy in Afghanistan to speak of, which is why I have a hard time seeing Bing West’s cheerleading for warriors as being constructive, and why I ask:

      What is the point of clever tactics and noble valor in the absence of wise strategy?
      And, Who in America is talking about a purposeful vision for Americans?

    4. While I agree with most of your analysis, these comments suggest that you are a good consumer of information from the government. Bush, Obama, and the stenographers of the press corps thank you!

      “my understanding (limited to what little I glean in the press”

      When someone cites (and links to) the 9-11 Commission report, prepared at considerable expense by a wide range of experts, don’t expect to be taken seriously with the “I think a newspaper told be something different” rebuttal.

      “However, I believe that reports that he was still in Afghanistan in the early goings were likely accurate.”

      Yep, just like the Tonkin Gulf incident and the WMDs in Iraq. The repeated discovery that they lie to you is no reason for skepticism.

    5. Well, my understanding on bin Laden’s whereabouts in the aftermath of 9/11 was based on the video made in Afghanistan where he was bragging about how it went off even better than he had expected. Was that ten days later? 30 days later? I don’t remember the exact time lags anymore, though maybe the date of that video is cited in your Commission report.

      Do you have information that bin Laden was not in Afghanistan at that time? at Tora Bora, for instance? Do you know where he was? For my part, I admit that I am not privy to secret intelligence on the matter, and can only rely on open sources. Naturally, all sources of information, in war and in peace, need to be approached with skepticism and cross-checked as much as possible.

      It’s not clear to me from the excerpt you have provided, how the State department plan is relevant to what we are discussing.

      I think I’m as skeptical as the next person, but often in life we need to take action with incomplete information. In this particularly regrettable case, prompt action was necessary, in my opinion.

    6. (1) “my understanding on bin Laden’s whereabouts in the aftermath of 9/11 was based on the video made in Afghanistan where he was bragging about how it went off even better than he had expected.”

      (a) I doubt his videos give the location where they were made. If they did give evidence of a location, would you believe it?

      (b) The first tape released after 9-11 was on 16 September 2001; in it bin Laden denied involvement with 9-11. You may be thinking of the tape the US government said was found on 9 November 2001. The US government’s translation of bin Laden’s words in it is disputed; either way, the invasion alaready had begun on 7 October. Wikipedia has a list of BL’s tapes.

      (2) “Do you have information that bin Laden was not in Afghanistan at that time? at Tora Bora, for instance? Do you know where he was?”

      Of what relevance is that? The US government wanted to invade Afghanistan. Bush vetoed the State Department’s plan to negotiate. The government gave reasons for the invasion which the 9-11 Commission found false (eg, Afghanistan was not a staging ground for the 9-11 attacks). Nor was bin Laden found in Afghanistan.

      (3) “It’s not clear to me from the excerpt you have provided, how the State department plan is relevant to what we are discussing. ”

      It’s neither difficult nor complex. Try reading that comment again.

      (4) “I think I’m as skeptical as the next person,”

      You’re comments show no trace of a skeptical attitude, at least with respect to statements from the government and news media.

      (5) “prompt action was necessary, in my opinion”

      Except that all the reasons you’ve stated are false. That you’ve been lied to obviously doesn’t bother you, or change your thinking. You are an ideal American citizen for the new order.

    7. The video I am thinking about was not one of bin Laden’s “official” releases. It was a recording of a supper at the house of an Afghan in which bin Laden refers to the events of 9/11. Bin Laden’s gestures and statements in this video tend to contradict his denials of involvement, but of course he may simply have been exaggerating his involvement. It may be the 9 November find you are mentioning, I’m not sure.

      The 9/11 Commission excerpt you have quoted is neither here nor there. You have merely framed it with characterizations such as “road not taken” , “found false”, etc. But these are simply your characterizations. The excerpt is not particularly relevant to the main idea of my original post, which could be summarized as “Strategy? What strategy?”

      From what you say, I take it you were not informed of bin Laden’s whereabouts either.

      As you point out, the US invaded Afghanistan on 7 October, nearly a month after 9/11. As it turned out, this was not prompt enough to apprehend bin Laden.

      As you point out, bin Laden publicly denied involvement, so there was that margin of doubt at the time. However, his complicity was likely and logical. In my mind, the US government had a duty to bring him to justice. As I stated originally, I believe we failed in that.

      I’m not quite sure what to make of the aspersions you are casting about my person. You seem to be cherry picking statements, taking them out of context, and then jumping to conclusions that do not resemble me. I suppose that is your style of debate. I don’t have any illusions about the capacity of governments or others to lie or mislead.

      Just to be clear, I was an active and vocal opponent of the Bush invasion of Iraq from even before the very beginning. But I thought we had to take action in the case of Afghanistan. Since the Afghans were tweaking us, we had to take a “less good” course in the interests of time. I was never in favor of a long occupation of Afghanistan either. I was in favor of a police action to apprehend bin Laden to bring him to justice.

    8. Since I no longer have any idea of what you are attempting to say, I guess we’re done. I’ve given specific quotes, rebuttal with specific facts. You reply with half-remembered myths and inability to understand simple points. Not much more can be done here.

    9. Is this sad or funny?

      Stegan refers to a video of bin Laden, a man from a foreign culture speaking in a foreign language.

      The video I am thinking about … was a recording of a supper at the house of an Afghan in which bin Laden refers to the events of 9/11. Bin Laden’s gestures and statements in this video tend to contradict his denials of involvement, but of course he may simply have been exaggerating his involvement.

      My guess is that it’s an example of widespread American indoctrination, unquestioning belief in what the government tells us. In this case:

      • bin Laden is guilty
      • the tape is evidence of his guilt
      • in this tape bin Laden denies his guilt
      • therefore his gestures show his guilt

      I vote for sad. Sad for America.

    10. In the video which I saw, bin Laden is celebrating the attacks of 9/11. He says that the attacks worked even better than he had expected by actually toppling the buildings. As he speaks, he gestures with his hands to emphasize his joy at the effective murder of thousands of people. I pass no judgement over his guilt. These may be empty boasts. That’s why I favored his apprehension and fair trial.

      However, the tape tends to show that he was in Afghanistan after 9/11. And in this private dinner he boasts of his involvement. Whether he thinks of himself as guilty is another matter altogether.

    11. Stefan’s comments deserve close attention, as representative of a type increasingly common since 9-11. He believes what he is told to believe. Look at the last comment.

      • He doesn’t recall what tape he saw, or when.
      • He doesn’t know what bin Laden said, since he doesn’t speak BL’s language.
      • He doesn’t know where bin Laden was when he made the tape.
      • When these simple facts are pointed out to him, he doesn’t see them.
      • All he knows is the government narrative; contrary facts and logic remain invisible to him.

      Here we see what George Orwell called “crimestop” in his book 1984:

      Crimestop means the factility of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc …

      Stefan is a fine citizen for our new order in America. With so many like him, the government can release increasingly preposterous stories about jihadist and Iranian plots in America. Each generating the desired waves of fear — and support for stronger government programs.

      With so many like him, Obama can boast about his drone attacks and assassinations — but claim they’re too secret even to mention in Court (see today’s Glenn Greenwald article in Salon).

      The Republic is dying. We are the cause.

    12. Your speeches remind me of Dostoyevski’s Grand Inquisitor:

      “Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought, of their science and cannibalism. For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood. And we shall sit upon the beast and raise the cup, and on it will be written, “Mystery.” But then, and only then, the reign of peace and happiness will come for men. …Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them.”

    13. Stefan,

      A defense of your statements takes the form of “I know where Bin Laden was because _____”. “I know what bin Laden said because ____.” “I found a copy of the tape I saw at ___.” “Here is an article by expert Ms Jones supporting my statement.” Or something equivalent.

      Instead you complain about “cherry picking” (btw, I don’t think that means what you think it means) and repeat your assertions. You have not given a defense of your statements, nor replied to my rebuttals (except to say you don’t understand them).

      Showing errors of fact and logic is called analysis. Drawing conclusions on that basis is necessary for rational decision-making. Doing so is not like the behavior of the Grand Inquisitor. Your analogy is daft. (Note that, as in your previous comments, you assert the analogy without explaining why it is valid).

      It is a commonplace on the Internet to consider critical analysis to be unfair. And so it is on some websites. Some are clubs for those sharing a common belief (eg, global warming, no global warming, religion, beenfits of bulimia). Some are forums run like friendly discussions over drinks at a pub. But that’s not how the FM website is run.

  3. Exccerpt from De bello gallico, Book VII

    Critognatus … sprung from the noblest family among the Arverni, and possessing great influence, says, “I shall pay no attention to the opinion of those who call a most disgraceful surrender by the name of a capitulation; nor do I think that they ought to be considered as citizens, or summoned to the council. … To be unable to bear privation for a short time is disgraceful cowardice, not true valour. … What, therefore, is my design? To do as our ancestors did in the war against the Cimbri and Teutones, which was by no means equally momentous; who, when driven into their towns, and oppressed by similar privations, supported life by the corpses of those who appeared useless for war on account of their age. …
    For in what was that war like this? The Cimbri, after laying Gaul waste, and inflicting great calamities, at length departed from our country, and sought other lands; they left us our rights, laws, lands, and liberty. But what other motive or wish have the Romans, than, induced by envy, to settle in the lands and states of those whom they have learned by fame to be noble and powerful in war, and impose on them perpetual slavery? For they never have carried on wars on any other terms.
    But if you know not these things which are going on in distant countries, look to the neighbouring Gaul, which being reduced to the form of a province, stripped of its rights and laws, and subjected to Roman despotism, is oppressed by perpetual slavery.”

    In Critognatus’ speech, substitute “Romans” with “Americans”, “Gaul” with “Irak”, “Kosovo,” etc. The Talibans are fighting for “aris et focis”, altars and homes, and as the Soviets (but even the British Empire, or Alexander’s army) might tell us, they are the kind of folks who take very seriously a fight for “rights, laws, lands, and liberty”.

    Caesar won, and Gallia was romanized. If the USA (and unfortunately, my country, Italy, whose soldiers are fighting, as askars, with American troops) is ready to go for:

    • a full military occupation of the country (I’d say, at least half a million troops)
    • large scale ethnic cleansing
    • maybe, use of biological weapons against the resistants (as Italy succesfully did in its Ethiopian war, 1934-36, in not too different an operative situation)
    • a couple of centuries of American administration and americanization of Afghanistan

    then, maybe the Afghan war can really be won, and in XXIV century’s schoolbooks the students will find the classic parallel between Vercingetorix and Mullah Omar.

    1. A key difference between Rome and US is that they were fighting to build an Empire. Conquest of Gaul brought Rome still more power and wealth.

      As so many posts on the FM website have explained (as have so many articles by experts during the past decade), our wars bring no benefit to America. A decade of blood and treasure has brought us what?

      Our failure to understand this is yet more evidence that our OODA loop — our ability to see and relate to the world — is broken. No degree of exceptionalism or greatness can save a mad nation.

    2. What’s in the wars for the US?

      Nothing but that’s not the important point. There’s lots in it for the people who run and supply it.

      There’s nothing worth stealing in the various theaters of operations (oil is cheaper to buy than steal). The loot is in Washington. The US tax payer is the target of the pillage and most happily go along with it as long as they think it brings “jobs” and occasionally get to see gun camera footage of foreigners getting vaporized or read stories about our “heroes”.

    3. I think there is a longer-term bigger-picture strategic logic to these wars. If you divide the world into a financial elite and various national camps of consumers waiting to be harvested, it makes more sense. Wars like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan allow the financial class to harvest the consumer camp of America. They also serve to expand the reach and influence of American-centric financial and political institutions, which turn additional populations into consumer camps ripe for harvesting.

      Apparent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan are only the tip of the iceberg. “Globalization” has spread American-centric financial and political institutions across the entire world in the past 20 years. This spread has not been organic– it has required heavy diplomatic and sometimes covert pressure to make it happen.

      The spread never would have happened into Russia or eastern Europe without the fall of the Soviet Union– and the American military-industrial complex deserves much credit for this event. The system would not have nearly so firm a hold on the western-aligned states of the middle east if Saddam’s ambitions had not been crushed. Oil is cheap to buy because we protect and manipulate the states that have most of it.

      Maybe it would have been better to leave Saddam as a bulwark against Iran, but you know what’s just as good? If we leave both states are too devasted, exhausted and confused to cause any major disruptions. No independent centers of gravity that would dare oppose the system. By that measure, we have one down, and one on the way.

      As for Afghanistan, we may never achieve our stated ends, but we have done a wonderful job of destabilizing and weakening Pakistan, one of the only remaining countries in the world which is openly hostile to Western-style finance. There are debates right now over whether to allow interest-based financing– if we can’t win them over to the global system, best to leave them disorganized, internally violent, and weak, right?

      One of the first official acts of the Libyan Ben Ghazi rebels was to form a “central bank”.

      Or maybe Afghanistan will be counted as a true failure, both apparently and deeply. Even if this were so, one failure on the tip of the iceberg doesn’t negate the trend. The trend is working. It might not be sustainable, but its working.

  4. Bing West has done his nation a great service, first as a Marine in Vietnam, and now as a brilliant and patriotic man putting his life in danger to give it to us with the bark off. It is especially noteworthy when you consider he’s in his 60’s and has earned any easy life at home by the fireside.

  5. Fabius Maximus wrote: “A key difference between Rome and US is that they were fighting to build an Empire. Conquest of Gaul brought Rome still more power and wealth. As so many posts on the FM website have explained (as have so many articles by experts during the past decade), our wars bring no benefit to America. A decade of blood and treasure has brought us what?”

    I’d be very,very happy if Fabius Maximus’ point of view about American empire were shared by US ruling classes. But begging your pardon for my wondering about your country’s spirit and destiny, I think that you should elaborate a little, when you say “our wars bring no benefit to America”.

    First: the real, historic Fabius Maximus, as a patrician of the old Roman Republic, could have said the same if a time machine had transported him into I century post Christum natum: “our wars bring no benefit to Rome”. And in effect, before destroying so many foreign peoples and nations, Roman Empire utterly destroyed the Roman Republic, and the ancient kind of men who had built (and were built by) it. Fabius would have seen Roman soldiers – peasants expropriated by the immensely wealthy, latifundum absorbing all domestic and foreign lands; Roman civic liberties reduced to a bad joke; senatus morphed in an assembly of trembling and base yesmen; Roman citizens’ army progressively transforming itself first into an army of professionals, then into an army of foreign mercenaries; Roman ethics and morals dissolved by an all-encompassing lust; etc., etc.

    Second: American Empire is an Empire of Sea and Air, non en Empire of land. The eagle in your seal is not the Roman mountain eagle, but a sea eagle. While Roman Empire was a direct, all too concrete presence in its dominions, American Empire does not need to establish its direct governance on conquered peoples. Its governance is, somehow, an invisible one: a governance over minds, ethics, way of living and thinking, enforced through money, media, and – as a last resort – Air Force.

    Three: So that when you say, “ours war bring no benefit to America” you are perfectly right, because I think that when you say “America”, you think the American Republic, land of the free, homecountry of constitutionally guaranteed freedom and individual liberty for all; and when you think about “American people” you think about people for whom independence, hardworking freedom, rule of law are paramount (that’s why I so attentively follow your blog: because I think that I understand, and surely respect, your way of being and thinking). But I’m sorry; I think that your kind of America, your kind of Americans, are somehow resembling the old Roman republicans during the first times of Roman Empire, let’s say a Tacitus, a Seneca…

    To sum up: I agree that your wars do not benefit this kind of (better) America; unfortunately, they are benefitting the imperial rulers. My best wishes for your fight against them.

    1. Thank you for posting this great comment!

      “when you say “America”, you think the American Republic, land of the free, homecountry of constitutionally guaranteed freedom and individual liberty for all; and when you think about “American people” you think about people for whom independence, hardworking freedom, rule of law are paramount “

      Exactly!

  6. (1) Did the Afghan gov have an extradition treaty with the US ?
    (2) Was a proper request for arrest and extradition of OBL made ?
    (3) If the Afhan gov had requested the US arrest and deportation of a Canadian citien to Afghan , with a similar standard of evidence , would the US have done so ?
    (4) Could OBL have been tried in absentia at The Hague ?
    (5) Why does nobody seem to discuss the previous period of Westernisation and US aid to Afghan , and why , after initial success , it failed ?

    1. This is a complex subject. Given how little Americans know of this important history, it deserves a post. However, I’ll hit some highlights to answer your questions.

      (1) Did the Afghan gov have an extradition treaty with the US?
      No.

      (2) Was a proper request for arrest and extradition of OBL made?
      We didn’t have diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 2001, so there was no direct way to make a formal request. We did demand that the Afghansistan goverment hand over bin Laden.

      (3) If the Afhan gov had requested the US arrest and deportation of a Canadian citien to Afghan , with a similar standard of evidence , would the US have done so ?
      That’s a vital question. Evidence is required for extradition under most agreements. Did we have sufficent evidence to have bin Laden extradicted from Canada, let alone convicted in any sort of real court?

      • On 23 September 2001 SecState Powell said on Meet the Press that the US would soon release “a white paper” giving the evidence against BL. Never happened.
      • Seymour Hersh cited CIA and Justice sources saying that the government’s evidence was weak (New Yorker, 1 October 2001).
      • Kay Nehm, Germany’s Chief Federal Prosecutor, said there was little hard evidence (The Guardian of 17 September 2001 and The Times of 28 September 2001)
      • German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is alledged to have said something similar on TV on 10 December 2001
      • The Brits released their evidence on 4 October 2001, which was widely mocked as weak.

      More to come.

      (4) Could OBL have been tried in absentia at The Hague ?
      (5) Why does nobody seem to discuss the previous period of Westernisation and US aid to Afghan , and why , after initial success , it failed ?

    2. (4) Could OBL have been tried in absentia at The Hague?

      Yes. The Afghanistan government reportedly offered various options for bin Laden trial in a third nation, but the US refused to negotiate. Perhaps because the US had been planning to invade Afghanistan. Cofer Black and the Counterterrorism Center staff started planning operation “Blue Sky” in December 2000. Richard A. Clarke and CIA Director George Tenet both described in their books how this plan was on President Bush’s desk before September 11, and that this plan was (in Tenet’s words) “the template for the war plan” used in Afghanistan. See p26 in Clarke’s Against All Enemies and pp 130-131, 143-144, and 186 in Tenet’s My Years in the CIA.

      (5) Why does nobody seem to discuss the previous period of Westernisation and US aid to Afghan , and why , after initial success , it failed ?

      It’s widely discussed. There have been articles and books in the dozens, perhaps hundreds.

    3. More references.

      (a) While we remained ignorant, much of the world knew that we were planning to invade Afghanistan before 9-11

      US ‘planned attack on Taleban’“, BBC, 18 September 2001

      A former Pakistani diplomat has told the BBC that the US was planning military action against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban even before last week’s attacks. Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October.

      Mr Naik said US officials told him of the plan at a UN-sponsored international contact group on Afghanistan which took place in Berlin. Mr Naik told the BBC that at the meeting the US representatives told him that unless Bin Laden was handed over swiftly America would take military action to kill or capture both Bin Laden and the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar. The wider objective, according to Mr Naik, would be to topple the Taleban regime and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place – possibly under the leadership of the former Afghan King Zahir Shah.

      Mr Naik was told that Washington would launch its operation from bases in Tajikistan, where American advisers were already in place. He was told that Uzbekistan would also participate in the operation and that 17,000 Russian troops were on standby. Mr Naik was told that if the military action went ahead it would take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest. And he said it was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if Bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taleban.

      (b) These things were reported extensively, but Americans prefer to remain ignorant.

      MSNBC, 16 May 2002:

      President Bush was expected to sign detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11 but did not have the chance before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. and foreign sources told NBC News. The document, a formal National Security Presidential Directive, amounted to a “game plan to remove al-Qaida from the face of the earth,” one of the sources told NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski. The plan dealt with all aspects of a war against al-Qaida, ranging from diplomatic initiatives to military operations in Afghanistan, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

      In many respects, the directive, as described to NBC News, outlined essentially the same war plan that the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks. The administration most likely was able to respond so quickly to the attacks because it simply had to pull the plans “off the shelf,” Miklaszewski said.

  7. annnic wrote: “Why does nobody seem to discuss the previous period of Westernisation and US aid to Afghan , and why , after initial success , it failed ?”

    If I may I suggest an interpretation, based on tales told me by Italian soldiers who did a stints in Afghanistan : Afghans take Western things, take Western technology, take Western money, take, sometimes, Western ideas, because all those things material and immaterial are very powerful; they do not take Western identity.
    Why? Because, to cut a very long story very short, Western identity does not tell them anything really convincing about life (i.e. family, clan, tribe, religion) and death (i.e. metaphysics, faith, warrior ethos).
    To make them accept Western identity you should seriously apply yourself in genocide. A people is like a carpet, a thousand threads interwoven, coming from the past and stretching into the future. Genocide does not mean killing everyone, means unweaving the carpet and leaving the threads alone. See what happened to American Natives.

    1. The most/least comical cultural clash I saw in Afghanistan was the incredulous looks on local laborers faces when the San Diego Charger cheerleaders (all very blessed by God) –complete with camo hot pants, knee high boots, plunging necklines on halter tops and cute little cowboy hats — were scampering around a FOB receiving in depth briefs on the vital operations of the mail room and defac.

      Previously when university educated Afghans asked me if all western women were prostitutes before marriage I laughed and wondered where they could get such a silly idea.

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