July 12, 2010
Day after day we are told that in Afghanistan only counterinsurgency (or COIN,
as the Pentagon calls it) has a chance of success. And day after day we
see evidence that the guidelines for success are not being followed.
The central principle of COIN is said to be to get the population on our side. Two ways of doing this are to protect the population from the Taliban and to provide effective government and public services. But as long as our government supports Hamid Karzai, both of these ideas are doomed to failure.
Transparency International, a business risk assessment group, lists Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country in the world, slipping from fifth most corrupt in 2005. Only U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry, for a moment, seemed willing to speak the truth about this.
It seems that COIN, instead of being a military strategy, is more of a public relations campaign with a soothing acronym designed to mislead the American people into accepting a state of continuous war. The war started with an honest rationale, to bring justice to bin Laden, al Qaida, the Taliban leadership, and anyone who aided or sheltered them. But it has been turned into a war for control of Afghanistan.
Recent news stories show that there are cracks in the COIN story big enough for a whole country to fall through. The Afghan police are corrupt and abusive. The Afghan National Army doesn't want to fight for Karzai. U.S. tax money finds its way to the Taliban for protection money.to avoid attacks on supply convoys, which means that we are paying for bullets for both sides. The Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) continues to advise and supply the Taliban. We spend 90% of our Afghanistan funding on the military side and most of the 10% left for reconstruction is stolen or badly spent.
The 2009 election in Afghanistan gave our government an opportunity to support one of the candidates who actually cared about the Afghan people. Instead, President Obama chose to support Karzai, with his proven record of corruption, even after it became obvious that he had stolen the election. And to top it all off, bin Laden is still free.
General David Petraeus, the new commander in Afghanistan, is the principal author of the new counterinsurgency strategy. General Petraeus has been in the Army since he started at West Point in 1970. That's 40 years. You would think he would have learned by now.
Two of our greatest anti-war warriors, General Smedley Butler and General David Shoup, only needed 33 and 37 years in the military, respectively, to figure out what was going on. General Butler, Vice Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1928 to 1931, entitled his post-retirement book "War Is a Racket."
General Shoup, Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1960 to 1963, said in a speech at Pierce College in 1966 that he was against our involvement in Vietnam, and then he went further: "I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations, so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own they design and want, that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type...at least what they get will be their own and not the American style, which they don't want... crammed down their throat." (from "David M. Shoup: A Warrior Against War", by Howard Jablon, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, page 101)
General Petraeus, as of yet, has not turned away from the business of war. In a quote in a Wall Street Journal article in 1986, he said about Low Intensity Conflict: "LIC is a growth industry."("Latin Lesson: US Effort to Win 'Hearts and Minds' Gains in El Salvador", WSJ, Sept.8, 1986, p.1) Showing that he hasn't changed much, the general is quoted in Parade Magazine in 2009, answering a question about counterinsurgency: "It's a growth industry, and we will get what we require." ("General Petraeus Gives A War Briefing", Parade, Nov.29, '09.)
Both Generals Butler and Shoup came to their understanding after their retirements. Perhaps General Petraeus could receive some wisdom if he retired early. President Obama needs to look for advisers who don't see war as a business opportunity, but as something that needs to end as soon as possible on just terms acceptable to all parties, which includes the civilian population.
Thousands of words have been written in praise of the COIN strategy, but this narrow focus takes our attention away from what is actually happening- a struggle for control- with the U.S. offering the Afghan people a choice between the horrible Karzai regime and the more horrible Taliban. The Afghans deserve and are capable of much better than that.
After 32 years of war, the Afghan people are some of the poorest people in the world. We used them as cannon fodder to defeat the Soviet Union and we are responsible for much of their current suffering. We owe them a peace process and real help, not more war. And we need an Acronym Contest to replace COIN with a more hopeful idea. I nominate AA-HA! (America Against Hunger in Afghanistan!). Send in your ideas. First prize in the contest is a shiny Massachusetts quarter, the one with the image of the Colonial Minuteman, the original illegal enemy combatant, on the back.
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Bio info: Vietnam veteran; fire team leader and squad leader in Delta Co., 2/506, 101st Airborne Division, Dec. '67 to Sept. '68.
Member of Veterans for Peace since 2003. (The views are my own.)