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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The U.S. Military as Quagmire Specialists

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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Consider this: the number three book at Amazon.com at the moment is entitled Obama's Wars, and yet the war that may most truly turn out to be the president's seems only now to be gaining steam. Is it a case of premature titling?

I'm talking, of course, about the U.S. war in (with?) Pakistan. Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA was ready to beg, borrow, or steal any armed drone the U.S. military could spare to expand what has morphed from a "covert" assassination campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders into something closer to a full-scale robot air war over the Pakistani tribal borderlands, especially North Waziristan.

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As the CIA's drone war escalates, so have airborne border crossings of a different sort. U.S. helicopters are pursuing "fleeing" Taliban fighters as part of what the military terms armed "self-defense," once known as "hot pursuit," into those Pakistani "sanctuaries" from which the Taliban is said to be conducting its own successful surge in Afghanistan. ("Enraged and embarrassed," Pakistani officials have responded to the incursions by closing a key border crossing that supplies the American war effort in Afghanistan -- and the Taliban has torched a series of fuel trucks left idling near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, by that blocked crossing.) Clearly escalating as well is the frustration of U.S. commanders at an enemy elusively lurking across a largely unmarked frontier.

And what's happened so far may be only the beginning. In his new book, Bob Woodward reports that Obama administration officials, military and civilian, were eager to do something more in Pakistan as early as the fall of 2009. As Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, put it obliquely but clearly enough to the Pakistani ambassador at the time, if his country didn't agree to a "strategic partnership," essentially by moving against militant networks in North Waziristan, "[W]e will have to do what we must to protect U.S. interests." Last Sunday, Greg Miller of the Washington Post reported that the administration's Afghan War "review" back then had actually "centered largely on the need to eliminate insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan." He also noted that Afghan War commander General David Petraeus is now advocating "a more aggressive posture with Pakistan, and [has] been particularly supportive of the CIA drone effort."

If one passage in recent news reports raised a warning flag, however, it's this eerie one from Saturday's Wall Street Journal, which should give any reader the creeps: "U.S. officials say a successful terrorist strike against the West emanating from Pakistan could force the U.S. to take unilateral military action -- an outcome all parties are eager to avoid." Such a strike would "force" the U.S. "to take unilateral military action"? Think about that for a moment. Amid a sudden drumbeat of announcements of possible strikes by Pakistani-based terrorist groups in Europe, there may, in fact, be a growing contingent of U.S. military and civilian officials so frustrated with the disastrous war in Afghanistan that they are ready to expand the war significantly in Pakistan, and are only awaiting the necessary excuse to do so.

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Talk about playing with fire. Pakistan isn't Afghanistan. Further major escalations of the American war in that country -- flailing responses to ongoing failure -- would be asking for trouble of every sort. Ask long enough, and it will come. With that in mind, consider the assessment Andrew Bacevich, author of the bestselling Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, offers of the first nine years of war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). To catch Bacevich discussing how the U.S. military became specialists in quagmires in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview click here or, to download it to your iPod, here. Tom

The Long War: Year Ten
Lost in the Desert with the GPS on the Fritz

By Andrew J. Bacevich

In January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's charge to a newly-appointed commanding general was simplicity itself: "give us victories." President Barack Obama's tacit charge to his generals amounts to this: give us conditions permitting a dignified withdrawal. A pithy quote in Bob Woodward's new book captures the essence of an emerging Obama Doctrine: "hand it off and get out."

Getting into a war is generally a piece of cake. Getting out tends to be another matter altogether -- especially when the commander-in-chief and his commanders in the field disagree on the advisability of doing so.

Happy Anniversary, America. Nine years ago today -- on October 7, 2001 -- a series of U.S. air strikes against targets across Afghanistan launched the opening campaign of what has since become the nation's longest war. Three thousand two hundred and eighty five days later the fight to determine Afghanistan's future continues. At least in part, "Operation Enduring Freedom" has lived up to its name: it has certainly proven to be enduring.

As the conflict formerly known as the Global War on Terror enters its tenth year, Americans are entitled to pose this question: When, where, and how will the war end? Bluntly, are we almost there yet?

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Of course, with the passage of time, where "there" is has become increasingly difficult to discern. Baghdad turned out not to be Berlin and Kandahar is surely not Tokyo. Don't look for CNN to be televising a surrender ceremony anytime soon.

This much we know: an enterprise that began in Afghanistan but soon after focused on Iraq has now shifted back -- again -- to Afghanistan. Whether the swings of this pendulum signify progress toward some final objective is anyone's guess.

To measure progress during wartime, Americans once employed pins and maps. Plotting the conflict triggered by 9/11 will no doubt improve your knowledge of world geography, but it won't tell you anything about where this war is headed.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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