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Archive for February, 2012

Reasonably careful attention to the news media, shows that writers and talking heads are increasingly surprised that things are not going our way in the Middle East. Recently a number of commentators have expressed surprise that Iraq looks to be sliding toward chaos and indignation at the recent killings of some of our advisor/soldiers in Afghanistan.

We have now been in Afghanistan for over a decade. That is twice as long as we were involved in World War II – and longer than any foreign war in our history. We went to Afghanistan to redress the attack of 9/11. We then completely took our eyes off the ball and invaded Iraq, an act that may well turn out to be the greatest foreign policy gaff in the history of the United States.

We went into Afghanistan on the premise that we were fighting the Global War On Terror (GWOT) and in fairly short order we had completely eliminated Al Qaeda from the Afghan countryside. By 2002, GWOT/Afghanistan was all over. In 2003, we invaded Iraq, destroying whatever planning continuity we may have had for Afghanistan. And guess what happened. As time dragged on, the struggle in Afghanistan ceased being a counterterrorism program and became a counterinsurgency with Afghan people rising up against us. The Bush administration avoided acknowledging that. They purposefully continued to call it counterterrorism. It’s easier to get sympathy and support fighting terrorists than it is fighting insurgents.

The problem here is that, according to the US Army’s own experts, a counterinsurgency program requires 25 troops for every 1,000 indigenous residents, which would have meant a commitment of 850,000 US troops to effectively combat the Afghan insurgency. So, by 2011, ten years in, we were fighting an insurgency with a force that was one eighth the size required by the facts on the ground.

How did we manage to get to the point where we are so roundly disliked by the Afghans? A look back on our behaviors in Afghanistan show a pattern that clearly was not designed to win Afghan hearts and minds. The torture and abuse of Afghan prisoners at Bagram began in 2002 and came to public light in 2005. Helicopter and drone attacks have regularly caused collateral civilian damage. Afghans have seen American soldiers urinate on Afghan dead. And most recently, we have been burning Korans, which is an incredible sacrilege in Islam.

This is certainly not to say that we have purposefully committed these acts. Clearly, the haze of war, cultural ineptitude and plain old stupidity are co-responsible. What is fact, however, is that we are the foreigners in Afghanistan and we have been there for over a decade. The average Afghan, if he remembers at all, thinks we came to get rid of Al Qaida. And we did, by 2002 at the latest. So they ask, why have we stayed?

Are these American troops perhaps here for some other reason? Are they here as the new Crusaders to occupy Afghanistan? Are they here to bring us Afghans a new form of government – democracy, for example? If that is the case, we Afghans are uninterested. The point is that, having been given absolutely no good answers to their questions, and given the fact that Afghanistan has been invaded innumerable times in the past, they simply have to be suspicious of us and our motives. Even the roundly disliked Taliban is preferable to the foreign occupiers.

The Afghan people have never supported a strong central government. Quite the opposite, they are tribally and nationally diverse people. They are Pushtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Amak, Turkmen, Baloch and many others. They have survived over the years by keeping power at home in their valley, being suspicious of everyone not in their tribe and keeping Kabul at arm’s length.

There is no news here. This is the way the Afghans have always been and may always be. What is sad is the fact that Americans who really understand Afghanistan have known this forever. In the process of getting mired down in Afghanistan, many of those experts spoke up and predicted quite accurately what the future held for the US in Afghanistan.

Of course, the problem is that our politicians didn’t listen to them. Do they ever? Did they on Iraq? They went ahead with their plans for their own internal domestic political reasons and in doing so, proved conclusively how wrong they were.

George W. Bush’s great Neoconservative Middle East experiment is drawing to an end, leaving a deeply fractured America, with trillions of dollars of debt wasted on military adventures we rationally never could have concluded in our favor.

 

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