Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Surge to the Sinkhole

It's as if the American public believe that the President's main calling is Commander-in-Chief, to wage wars, and wage 'em real good. Why else would the number one quick fix for sagging popularity for any U.S. President be the Macho Maneuver: start or "rev up" a war? Of course, as Bushes I & II can attest, this pumped-up poll surge generally gives a fast, short-lived high, followed by a much-longer depressed state - unless the war is itself short-lived, euphoric, & sanitizable - e.g., Grenada. Afghanistan, Obama's albatross, is none of the above.

Granted, he gave fair warning during the campaign, stating that we oughta get out of Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan where, as the story goes, the "real war on Terror" is fought. But Obama also promised to use diplomacy when at all possible instead of blanket military solutions; to listen to "folks on the ground", meaning seeing beyond the perhaps ego-laden views of top commanders; to use his considerable intelligence to weigh events as they occur in real time, and not apply old solutions inappropriately to new problems. In all of these more serious promises, Obama has been a huge let-down.

There is the omnipresent refrain, "if we leave Afghanistan, it will become a haven for terrorists." Same was said about Iraq. Same was said about Vietnam, inserting "communists" - the enemy du hour - for "terrorists." The truth on the ground is that an invasion is an invasion. You can never reconstruct it as a "liberation". Semantics don't feed the hungry, lay down arms, or grow crops. Those words are obvious lies and propaganda.

People in Afghanistan must have been thinking, "What are the Americans doing?" The answer seemed to be (from their viewpoint), killing people and enforcing a corrupt central government. The Taliban - unpopular during the invasion - has started to look like a People's Movement, albeit with nasty tactics. The "unaligned" middle ground of Afghanistan, which includes various tribal leaders, city-dwellers, and large numbers of people who just want their children to survive, may not see the wisdom of drones "surgically striking" homes where "insurgents" live with their wives & kids.

These are essentially foreign troops fighting people whose homeland is Afghanistan. It's very hard to change that fact to "win the hearts and minds" of those unaligned masses. Military action is the least effective way to do it - as it inevitably must disrupt civilian life in the most traumatic ways.

And as to the "terrorist haven" argument: such havens are created not by lack of well-trained foreign troops to target guys in the mountains - but rather by an overwhelming sense of oppression felt to be caused somehow by the West or the U.S. Military action only exacerbates this. They say people will always remember how you made them feel...

The real reason for the "surge" is not "liberation" or Afghan security or the war on terror. The terrorist threat from Afghanistan is no greater than the terrorist threat from, say, Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt. Why don't we fight all six at once?? Of course, that is suicidal or, at best, absurd. But so is the war on the Taliban. And no, it doesn't work as an "example" for all the other potential "havens" on the possibly-ever-expanding list. After Iraq, I'm sure they've noticed the U.S. is a sucker for overkill. The terrorists' tactic is the most basic of martial arts - get the "bully" or attacker to charge with all his weight - then get out of the way and watch him fall all over himself, collapsing in defeat. Use his weight against him. And the U.S. typically, is biting the bait. Obama, don't you remember LBJ and Vietnam? Happy replay.

The significant parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan are starkly presented in Thomas Johnson's incisive article in Foreign Policy magazine, notably the point where we, the Big Guys, don't get the nature of the war we're supposedly fighting:

In Afghanistan, the United States still insists on fighting a secular counterinsurgency, while the enemy is fighting a jihad. The intersection of how insurgencies end and how jihads end is nil. It's hard to defeat an enemy you don't understand, and in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, this fight is being played out in a different war.

A refusal to learn from Vietnam and to understand the nature of the war has to have its reasons. Especially considering the supposed goal of "nation-building" and "helping the Afghani people", you'd think by now someone in power would've figured out that military action is NOT the way to do it. As Johnson points out, just as in Vietnam's stated goals of "helping" and "liberating" the Vietnamese:

Almost exactly the same percentage of personnel in Afghanistan has rural reconstruction as its primary mission (the Provincial Reconstruction Teams) as had "pacification" (today's "nation-building") as their primary mission in Vietnam, about 4 percent. The other 96 percent is engaged in chasing illiterate teenage boys with guns around the countryside, exactly what the enemy wants us to do.

And as in Vietnam, our "puppet" government in Kabul looks, tastes, and smells like Saigon, as Johnson describes:

Contemporary descriptions of the various Saigon governments read almost exactly like descriptions of the Karzai government today. Notwithstanding all the fanfare over this week's presidential voting in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will never be legitimate either, because democracy is not a source of legitimacy of governance in Afghanistan and it never has been. Legitimacy in Afghanistan over the last thousand years has come exclusively from dynastic and religious sources. The fatal blunder of the United States in eliminating a ceremonial Afghan monarchy was Afghanistan's Diem Coup: afterwards, there was little possibility of establishing a legitimate, secular national government.

We can't "democratize" people against their will, nor can we "free" them against their will because this is an oxymoron or worse - the very meaning of freedom and democracy holds that people are allowed their own free will to be enacted. And that means it can't be "our way" or our terms. So this cannot justify the surge.

No, the real reason for the Surge is pride. Military pride: "We can't be defeated! We're No. 1!" - Collective, patriotic pride: "America is The Superpower! USA! USA" - Political: who votes for a loser? or a yellow-bellied coward who backs down from a fight? - Simplistic: "To hell with the consequences! We gotta win!" - and Personal: "I'm not gonna go down as the Commander-in-Chief who backed down, who blinked." A chorus of Republican nasties are taunting already in the bleachers: "Are ya gonna GIVE UP? Are ya gonna LET ALL THOSE DEATHS OF PATRIOTS BE IN VAIN? Isn't America worth anything to you? WE wouldn't back down - we'd die with our boots on."
Etc., etc...

And pride is the downfall of nations, when it gets in the way of reason, logic, sense, or...principle. When it causes armies to invade other countries and call it liberation, in order to take revenge against a rag-tag group who are not in fact citizens of either of the two invaded countries. When it ignores or denies the fact that this invasion will cause the deaths of many innocent civilians, including women and children, not to mention thousands of men who were never involved in the original "triggering" crime - that pride has become conceit. When it causes a nation to use the methods of torture it banned and condemned, that pride has become conceit. When it causes the use of military might to take sides in other nations' civil internal strife or domestic issues, even claiming that this (invasion) will resolve economic and social problems - this is no longer pride, but at best, raw conceit. These are lies in action, and lies in action cannot create peace, prosperity, or the common good.

Conceit is false pride, pride taken to the level where it betrays its own principles. And America has reached that point. Maybe quite awhile ago.

We elected Obama to swallow that pride and lead us on a path of reason, principle, and inspiration. The road to Afghanistan takes him and us in the diametrically opposite direction.

No comments: