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Hedging, Delusion and Dishonesty in Afghanistan

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"The Americans have not been honest about this, even among themselves."


That's how Mullah Attullah Lodin, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan sees our nation and its government as it relates to the question of permanent bases in Afghanistan and to his specific portfolio, the establishment of peace in Afghanistan.

Lodin is a former Hizb-e Islami militia commander (they fought the Russians), and he's now in the Karzai government. Some might suggest he has an agenda, which generally means he's not in synch with US policy. Americans don't have "agendas." The presumption is Afghans are backward and corrupt and somehow not as worthy of trust as a westerner or an American. And he's all for talking peace with the Taliban, which makes him radioactive.

Under the reigning myth of American Exceptionalism, whatever Americans do is right and good because they are Americans and -- more important -- because they have the most lethal weapons on the planet, up to and including the R&D marvel of the Afghanistan War, lethal drone technology.

As the rock anthem says: We are the champions!

Mullah Attullah Lodin, Kabul and the Mad Hatter by (unknown)

Only in America can a man in a flight suit in an air-conditioned room monitor TV screens following unaware people going about their business 10,000 miles away and, on orders from some other air-conditioned room, while sipping a Diet Pepsi turn those distant human beings into exploded pieces of steaming offal and flesh. This man, then, gets in his car and drives home to dinner with his wife and kids.

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So far, we have not heard what it's like in the realm of Post Traumatic Stress to do this kind of lethal and remote "combat" day-in-day-out. At what point does a drone "pilot" burn out or crack up? Is there a rest and relaxation spa and special counselors for drone pilots who begin to ask moral questions?

Drones are clearly the future of American warfare. As one NPR commentator put it recently, drone warfare in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan is the largest unreported story in America.

Recently I had a brief discussion on drones with an Iraq veteran turned reporter who said he had been in Special Ops. For him, the reason reporters are prevented access to drone "pilots" was a matter of security, while for me it was a matter of moral embarrassment. The secret technology isn't what's interesting; it's the mental human condition of these men (and presumably women) as they ponder the moral implications of this new field of remote warfare.

But drone pilots are part of the tactical aspects of the war. Like their physically vulnerable brothers and sisters on the ground in Afghanistan, they are just doing their jobs. For our deployed soldiers in Afghanistan, insurgents who see them only as "foreign" troops want them to leave and are trying to kill them. And nothing focuses the mind like someone trying to kill you.

But when Mullah Lodin talks about American dishonesty, he's talking on the level of strategic policy making. And, in this ethereal realm, he could not be more correct. The dishonesty operates at such a profound and widely accepted level it's become a national tragedy. The double-speak employed by US leaders concerning our future presence in Afghanistan is like passing through the looking glass to a land of giant toadstools and mad hatters.

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As the great reporter Rod Nordland points out in The New York Times [1], it's now being called "Great Game 3.0," following the Russian and English Great Games of the past. Before that you could include Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Like them, we are in Afghanistan because it's central in SW Asia and we insist on projecting our imperial power into the region.

As the US insists on building what appear to pretty much everybody as permanent bases, Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser in the Russian embassy in Kabul, asks the obvious question: "How is transition possible with these bases? ... We have no guarantee they're not permanent."

"One [American] says we are not building bases, another says we are building them, and it's very confusing." That's Mullah Attullah Lodin, again, from the Afghan High Peace Council.

The issue is a document called the Strategic Partnership Declaration for US-Afghan relations after 2014, the date the US declared it will remove its forces from Afghanistan, a date that replaced the original date, which was the end of this year. So, now -- if I have this correct -- US forces are negotiating how long to stay beyond 2014, the date they say they are going to leave.

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I am a 65-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and a video (more...)

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1. The New Middle East planned by the American Cen... by syed mahdi on Thursday, Apr 21, 2011 at 5:25:44 AM