Full speed into the "Big Muddy".
May 23, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

While the President is under The Pressure of an Expanding War; appointing Stanley McChrystal; the general from the dark side; some vets ask about Afghanistan "What was I fighting for?" suggesting that the $94.2 billion supplemental war-funding bill "will be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, as we continue to pursue a military solution for a political problem"; and that America should Rethink Afghanistan. ( previously: all three videos are up now ). Last October British commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith warned that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won. ( related )
posted by adamvasco (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sound familiar?
posted by Balisong at 2:23 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

appointing Stanley McChrystal; the general from the dark side;

Um... axe-grinding much?
posted by dw at 2:45 PM on May 23, 2009

Um... axe-grinding much?

it's an allusion to this:
We loved him back in 2006, when Bush first outed him and Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry dubbed him "a rising star" in the Army and one of the "Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls 'the shadows.'"
I think it's a general rule of US culture that we are incapable of discussing any topic without alluding to a movie or TV show. It's how we make sense of the world, by making it conform to mass-market media cliches...
posted by geos at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Pressure of an Expanding War (Tomdispatch.)
posted by metagnathous at 2:53 PM on May 23, 2009

Damn, I missed that Tomdispatch link was in the post. If somebody can delete my duplicate above I would appeciate it. Apologies.
posted by metagnathous at 3:00 PM on May 23, 2009

In its first hundred days, the Obama presidency introduced us to a brand new acronym, OCO, for overseas contingency operations, formerly known as GWOT (as in global war on terror). Use either name, or anything else you want, and what you’re really talking about is what’s happening on the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean. It’s there that the Liquid War for the control of Eurasia takes place. - Pepe Escobar

The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline... is a proposed natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank. The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. ... the project has essentially stalled; construction of the Turkmen part was supposed to start in 2006, but the overall feasibility is questionable since the southern part of the Afghan section runs through territory which continues to be under de facto Taliban control.
- Wikipedia

Pakistan finally bowed to Washington's angry demands last week by unleashing its military against rebellious Pashtun tribesmen of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) -- collectively mislabelled "Taliban" in the West. The Obama administration had threatened to stop $2 billion US annual cash payments to bankrupt Pakistan's political and military leadership and block $6.5 billion future aid, unless Islamabad sent its soldiers into Pakistan's turbulent NWFP along the Afghan frontier. The result was a bloodbath: Some 1,000 "terrorists" killed (read: mostly civilians) and 1.2 million people -- most of Swat's population -- made refugees. -
Eric Margolis

The human exodus from the war-torn Swat valley in northern Pakistan is turning into the world's most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the UN refugee agency warned. - The Guardian
posted by Joe Beese at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

"sigh"...dw if you bother to read the links at all you will see that this is from the first line of the article from the first link which has been repeated by metagnathouous. As this is Memorial day weekend it might be thought that the policy of pursuing the unwinnable will result in a lot more to "celebrate" in the future; though how these young men and women loosing their lives can be said to be doing so in defence of America is a little confusing to put it mildly.
posted by adamvasco at 3:07 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

$94B @ $100k per worker would fund about a million wealth-creating jobs.

That's about a thousand thousand-person projects, 20 per state or one massive project for every 300,000 people.

Of course, other US defense spending is around $600B per year, twice what in was in the 90s.

That's nominally 10 million $70k/yr defense-related jobs up & down the line. But hey, at least we'll have a "strong" military. ::eyeroll::

While my knowledge of Afghanistan is lax, my knowledge of the Vietnam war is not, at least for a civilian hobbyist historian. Gen. McChrystal seems to be repeating the Phoenix Program policy direction, something that might prove necessary but not sufficient to bring about stabilization for the Kabul regime.

The casual comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam are there to be made; the Russians were the French, the "Northern Alliance" are the Vietnamese Catholics, and of course the Taleban are the Viet Minh. We play the Americans in both scenarios.

I like the idea of making shithead terrorist fundamentalists unsure of when their last breath is going to be. The events of 9/11 certainly entitled us to take the gloves off and use whatever violent means at our disposal to remove them from the face of the earth.

The flip-side is blowback against collateral damage (the harming of people caught in the cross-fire as it were) -- like what the recent home-grown sting operation cultivated and harvested.

We really need to plan -- and commit -- in terms of decades and not look for quick fixes.
posted by toroi at 3:12 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

dw: "Um... axe-grinding much?"

Think of "dark side" as an allusion to McChrystal's preferred operating environment.

It was a point of pride that the Red Cross would never be allowed in the door, Jeff says. This is important because it defied the Geneva Conventions, which require that the Red Cross have access to military prisons. "Once, somebody brought it up with the colonel. 'Will they ever be allowed in here?' And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in — they won't have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators."- Esquire [emphasis mine]

Gee... I wonder why a General might directly order his men to violate the Geneva Convention?

the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that his men had seen evidence of prisoners with burn marks and bruises and once saw a Task Force member "punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention." ... During his first six or seven weeks at the camp, Jeff conducted or participated in about fifteen harsh interrogations, most involving the use of ice water to induce hypothermia. By his reckoning, at least half of the prisoners were innocent, just random Iraqis who got picked up for one reason or another. Sometimes the evidence against them was so slight, Jeff would go into the interrogation without even knowing their names.

posted by Joe Beese at 3:19 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

...waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.
posted by RussHy at 3:24 PM on May 23, 2009

though how these young men and women losing their lives can be said to be doing so in defence of America is a little confusing to put it mildly

Our intervention in Afghanistan can be viewed idealistically if one chooses to.

The US suffered over 100,000 battle deaths in WW I. It is also hard to say that they died in defense of America, or the 50,000 dead in Korea or the 60,000 dead in Vietnam.

The demonstrated ability of a popular democratic-esque to sacrifice its young far overseas is a quite interesting phenomenon, which AFAICT comes from our ability to believe our own bullshit.

We fought in WW I to make the world safe for democracy. That kinda sucked for us but Japan and Germany decided to fight us in WW2 and had to do it again. The Cold War saw us animated against the creeping global communist conspiracy enslaving the world one small nation at a time.

Plenty of our idiot friends on the right believe the next global conspiracy the US must lead the free world in eliminating is the Islamic extremist hordes of Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia; Iraq and Afghanistan are the front lines of this battle.
posted by toroi at 3:27 PM on May 23, 2009

might directly order his men to violate the Geneva Conventions

Treaties are two-way streets.
posted by toroi at 3:28 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't really find a lot of that first link especially convincing on the subject of LTG McChrystal. It appears that the author is trying hard to indicate some close relationship between the general and Cheney & Rumsfeld, but doesn't actually substantiate the claim(s). I mean: "In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld's effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA."

That's all he's got on that? He links the hell out of everything else, but we're to just accept that McChrystal and Rumsfeld were tight?

As for Cheney, all he writes is: "Seymour Hersh, describing McChrystal's role in what he calls an "executive assassination wing" of the military's joint special-operations command that Hersh claims reported directly to former Vice President Cheney's office."

The author comments on how the media has been praising him as a saint. I agree with him, McChrystal is no saint. We can see that in examples like what happened at Camp Nama-- but there is actual evidence there, in the form of courts-martial against members of the task force.

A lot of the praise of McChrystal may be overeager, but I don't really accept this author's narrative either.
posted by lullaby at 3:58 PM on May 23, 2009

I mean to add this on the bottom of my other post...

As this is Memorial day weekend it might be thought that the policy of pursuing the unwinnable will result in a lot more to "celebrate" in the future; though how these young men and women loosing their lives can be said to be doing so in defence of America is a little confusing to put it mildly.

I don't see what the defense of America necessarily has to do with memorial day, which is broadly meant to honor those who have died in service of their country.

We, for example, honor those Marines who died in the Beirut Barracks bombing in 1983 even though one would be hard-pressed to explain how peacekeeping operations in Lebanon were in the "defense of America."
posted by lullaby at 4:00 PM on May 23, 2009

With just a little more time and a little more money and a little bit more troops, we're going to build an excellent barn door in Afghanistan.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:05 PM on May 23, 2009

Concerning "What was I fighting for?":

I'm sorry, but a Marine Corps corporal was and is in no position to have even the slightest insight as to whether $92.4 billion will be spent effectively in the war or not. A corporal, generally speaking, has neither the strategic overview nor the tactical understanding to speak for the spending of a single penny of war spending. The article describes Reyes as "a retired corporal", but he's clearly not served 20 years, and I've found no evidence that he's medically retired from wounds sustained. (Though even if he'd jumped on a hand grenade, his insight in the matter would not have increased in the slightest.) So blame The Nation, or blame the corporal, but when the first sentence of your biography is incorrect, I'm skeptical.

I did a tour in Afghanistan with 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2006. My experiences are no less valid than those of Reyes. I could enumerate the number of schools built, local nationals fed and vaccinated and Taliban forces killed. I don't have any question as to "What I was fighting for." We had a very good relationship with the locals. Our team guys built strong rapports with Afghan communities, and a lot of good work was done.

Reyes claims bad intel led his fireteam to beat up innocents, and break furniture. That's unfortunate, but frankly, if that is the worst he had to report, I think things went pretty well, all things considered. He was, you know, fighting a war. He even reports that we compensated the victims when such incidents occurred. That's hardly My Lai redux.

Reyes sounds like a typical bitching corporal, whose sole contribution at the time was to decrease morale, and whose contribution after the fact is to chase down the spotlight. He's successfully peppered his bad experiences into a narrative that gets him into magazines and onto Capitol Hill, where such rhetoric is preapproved.

So good for him.

But let's not pretend he's anything but what he is. Some guy at the bottom, who didn't do much or see much, didn't understand what was going on, and has little idea how things are conducted now.

Here's my testimony: I worked with dedicated soldiers -- not all of whom agreed with the war, mind you -- that did their job with the utmost professionalism. I worked with NATO and coalition forces from around the world, all of whom served honorably and with pride. (I never miss an opportunity to single out the Canadian forces, who fought valiantly while I was there and suffered terrible losses, and the Polish forces, maybe the happiest warriors I ever laid eyes upon, and with whom I had the very good fortune of training with despite a language barrier.) I befriended many local Afghanis, who very much appreciated our efforts, and who worked with us to rid their nation of the worst kind of gangster oppression. It was not fun over there, and I wouldn't want to go back, but I don't for a minute regret anything I did or begrudge my fellow soldiers of the honor they earned and deserve.

Can we win? If former corporal Reyes says no, there's no reason why this former sergeant can't say yes. Will it be easy? It never is. War is never easy.
posted by dbgrady at 4:15 PM on May 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

He was, you know, fighting a war.

This kind of casual dismissal is exactly how we lose a war.

War is never easy.

And rarely necessary; at any rate spending less than 1% of GDP wasn't and isn't a "Global War on Terrorism" despite what the service medal you earned says on its obverse. Our actions in SW Asia are indeed better described as limited overseas military operations. The critical thing is to make our soldiers' effort, and the significant taxpayers' sacrifice in labor, productive towards improving the situation rather than self-defeating. WRT this I am reminded of the bumper-car video of a US column forcing its way through Iraqi traffic congestion that raised a rather interesting discussion here two years ago.

IMHO, as demonstrated in that video, left to its own devices the Big Green Machine can really fuck the situation up since Job #1 for the soldier is keeping himself and his buddies alive and in one piece until their tour is over. "Winning" the "war" is secondary, and somebody else's problem.

In war we can clear & secure grid squares but securing a population against internal threats is a problem of a higher order. As John Paul Vann said, "this is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I'm afraid we can't do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worst is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle — you know who you're killing."

he also said this, "we don’t have twelve years’ experience in Vietnam. We have one year’s experience twelve times over" which was pretty incisive.
posted by toroi at 5:01 PM on May 23, 2009

He was, you know, fighting a war.

This kind of casual dismissal is exactly how we lose a war.

With respect, the incidents described are about as good as you can get in a combat situation. (Especially in 2001, when the war was Intelligence will never be perfect, ever, and expecting or demanding such is absurd. It will never, ever happen.

War is never easy.

And rarely necessary; at any rate spending less than 1% of GDP wasn't and isn't a "Global War on Terrorism" despite what the service medal you earned says on its obverse.

I'm not debating the relative merits of war; only what I saw and did when I was there. As for convoy operations, I will simply defer to your YouTube combat experience.
posted by dbgrady at 5:26 PM on May 23, 2009

The open parenthetical should read: "(Especially in 2001, when intel had yet to be properly vetted.) Intelligence will..." continues as read.
posted by dbgrady at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2009

posted by stbalbach at 5:51 PM on May 23, 2009

I like the idea of making shithead terrorist fundamentalists unsure of when their last breath is going to be.

This sentence is so macho a few hairs popped out on my chest as I read it.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:55 PM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

"In war we can clear & secure grid squares but securing a population against internal threats is a problem of a higher order."

A doable problem though. More boots on the ground for a longer time building a rapport with local folks and ensuring security can make that happen. Plenty of other methods I've delineated a number of times here before. The Taliban has been fighting an insurgent campaign for about three years. Speaking purely ballpark here, most counterinsurgent campaigns take about nine to see success.

I'll agree that war is rarely necessary. But as it is the situation in that region has been neglected for decades. And it is, in part, our mess. Yeah, yeah, blowback from the Mujahideen, but it's more than that, we've been dancing around India and Pakistan for some time - been doing it since there were Soviets. Once there stopped being Soviets, we pretended the problems between them went away.
And then they have nukes. And instability.

Now, I've been made aware (elsewhere) that I've got a bit of blind spot concerning India where this all plays out (and I still haven't really chewed over India's position) but broadly speaking I think my (earlier) point is still valid - you still have nasty relations between two nuclear states (Pakistan and India) with domestic strains and Pakistan is using Afghanistan as a secondary theater for their rivalry to play itself out because they lack the strategic depth by themselves.
And let's stop dancing around the issue that Pakistan didn't help the Taliban become a military force. They helped the Muj against the Soviets, they helped the Taliban seize Herat in '95, it's not me or some righty hawks saying this, HRW back in '01 said - of everyone - looking to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting Pakistan's efforts had the largest scale in funding, providing cash and diplomatic support, training, ammo, fuel, occasionally combat support.
According to the HRW now (and if you watch the news), it's biting them on the ass (from our POV, I understand the drone attacks tactically - but it's the wrong move if you're looking to serve a larger agenda)

So - whether the U.S. is there or not, whether NATO is there or not - this is what's going on and what's going to be going on. And it seems pretty intractable and it's only getting worse.

So it is one of the few actual problems in the world in that it could end life in that region of the planet, if not wider. No hyperbole.
No "domino theory" ideological bullshit. This is straightforward survival strategy here (there are other matters, oil, mining, etc. etc. - I'll cede to the exploitive reasons - but those I've outlined are reasons enough to be there. Can't say I like mother courage either myself).

War, strictly speaking, might be too heavy handed a term. But we do need to support certain political moves there. What are we going to do - leave? Let it spiral into a nuclear exchange? I think the Chinese might not like having their crops ruined by nuclear fallout. Their involvement makes my nuts go into my throat.
On the whole, I'd rather fight fire with water, but I don't think there's much question that the 'Afghan war' such as it is with all the attendant regional conflicts and issues - is the heavyweight champion of foreign policy issues (watch, Obama's going to steal that line from me). Iraq - yeah, it sucks. But we could just split.
I mean, we'd be bastards, but....

Anyway, looks to me like the papers don't get what Carleton-Smith is laying down on this. There's no question the engagement in Afghanistan needs to be rethought. The war *is* unwinnable as a conventional war the way the political situation is.
And it seems like that phase is more or less over anyway. And I agree they should be talking to the Taliban (talking - see below*. I will cede that when they toppled the Rabbani Government in '96 they were working along the traditional lines of sovereignty...not that they were fanatic about it, but...)
But that doesn't mean zero military force should be there.
You actually need more troops for a less violent resolution. The more security you have the less often you're likely going to have to get into firefights. Carleton-Smith asked for 4,000 troops last month. Unusual step the telegraph says.
Hnh. That was 2008. Just before he left.

He also said, in '08, that this is a generational problem and that will take 10 to 15 years to change, and we will need to be here.
Also *Qari Mohammad Yousuf who was the big noise there with the Taliban said they'd never hold talks and all foreign forces should get out without condition.

Far as I can tell, Carleton-Smith is saying we should leave it to the Afghan army because "we" is NATO and the Afghan army was projected to double - when he said that - by the U.S. providing those resources. So about, 125,000 to 140,000. I think they'd need double that. But I'm not one for 1/2 assing, so I'd want even more.

I recognize that it's a humanitarian catastrophe over there, but you need security first. Once that's accomplished you can start kicking out foreign influences over Afghani affairs.
This would require some delicacy (not my field, but I respect it).

One of the reasons the catch-phrase-acronym is the (deplorable) Af-Pak is the recognition that the situation in Afghanistan's politics ain't local, it's a number of transnational interests (and not necessarily on the open state level).
But there's no comprehensive plan, far as I can tell, to order down and de-puzzle the interlocking security problems in south central Asia - and it's dragging west Asia down too - into this downward spiral pattern of behavior (like a dysfunctional family - dad hits mom, mom hits kid, kid hits dog, dog bites dad).

So, yeah, talking's good. Hell, I'd talk to anyone. I don't see why we wouldn't. (Oh, yeah Bush, right)
'You hate all the Jews? Great. Let's talk about some non-Jew subjects, ok?' - Like the UN making some long term assurances that the Afghanis can determine their own future and the international community is committed for the long term, I think it's doable. Peer pressure, all that. Plus it extends sovereign state validity to the Afghanis, not to the Taliban - something they've had a hard time with.

The enemy isn't, and has never been, a fractious bunch of tribes eking out their existence under their religious strictures. The enemy is desperation and chaos (to a lesser extent hunger, etc.). A people in chaos will embrace nearly any order. Folks were happy to look the other way at the glaringly obvious oppressive nature of German National Socialism because they'd just been through near-anarchy and chaos in the streets (granted, some of it by design).
So Afganis are human too. Joe Taliban stops the craziness in the streets. Ok. You work with him.

So no, you need the military force, the 'war' for lack of a better word to create the order and security so you can successfully deliver the humanitarian mission.
But yeah, you gotta deliver the humanitarian mission. It's pretty much the big magilla there.
Otherwise you're just putting ordinance down field. That's not good for anyone or anything but lining the pockets of defense contractors.

(sorry, bit long. Just want to be clear tho)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:42 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

(and yeah, snuffys)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 PM on May 23, 2009

For the amount the war in the mid-East is costing, we could have flown every citizen over to North America, put them up in homes with good food, educated hell out of them, sent them back to their homeland, and helped fund them as they rebuilt their country.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:18 PM on May 24, 2009

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