Forty-three years ago in Vietnam, I was one of the grunts who watched the high sounding theories of counterinsurgency turn into the ugly reality on the ground. Although counterinsurgency has been given an update, one thing hasn't changed: we still think we can decide the fate of other countries. This attitude explains why we think we can tell the story of Afghanistan without including the Afghans.
Many think-tankers, generals, and politicians favor endless war. U.S. peace activists are rarely asked their opinion. But the group asked their opinion the least are the people with the most at stake, the Afghan people.
Through their personal histories, Afghans know the story of this war in a way that no American does. But a true picture of the human cost of this war might make it harder to sell.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been both a success and a failure. One success has been the ability of the military to control the message. Instead of asking the first question: "Is the war right or wrong?", we have been led to debate less important questions, such as: "Are we winning?"
General Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan and proponent of counterinsurgency, laid out guidelines for "success". The population must be protected and brought to the government side with good governance and services.
When the general accepted this assignment he must have known that success was impossible because:
2) the government he is offering the Afghans is considered the third most corrupt government in the world by Transparency International;
3) he works with U .S. contractors who are accused by the U.S. Senate's Commission on Wartime Contracting of stealing "tens of billions" of dollars;
4) he violates his own guidelines for protecting civilians by increasing air strikes and night raids;
5) he weakens the health of the population by leaving thousands of untreated amputees and wounded children as a burden on their families;
6) he makes no honest effort to empower Afghan women. Like the wounded, they are left to fend for themselves.
Why would U.S. policy deliberately undermine democracy? A recent news article offers a clue. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most brutal and woman-hating mujahideen warlord in Afghanistan, will be allowed to participate in peace negotiations with the Karzai government. But he must agree not to attack the proposed Turkmenistan to India natural gas pipeline (TAPI) that will pass through his territory.
If the profits from mineral extraction are to go to corporations and not the people, it is necessary to have a corrupt central government and a weak and disorganized population. General Petraeus' methods are certainly accomplishing that.