Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Long War: America's Love Affair with the Bogeyman

The Long War: America’s Love Affair with the Bogeyman

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Pardon my cynicism, but does anyone else find President Obama’s weekend pep rally in Afghanistan a bit show-boat-y? Especially, coming as it did on the heels of a weeklong spree of Presidential power-lifting? — health care reform, student loan help, underwater mortgage help and recess appointments. And then, as we all know, nothing spells ‘presidential’ like parachuting into the front lines of America’s “War du Jour.” I could almost hear the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” as back-up for Obama’s motivational moment with the troops before they start dying, in earnest, to make a point in Kandahar.

“’I know it’s not easy,’ he said. ‘If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.’”

“The United States has made progress in the fight against al Qaeda and its allies. I know it’s not easy,” he said. “If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.”

“The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something. … We keep at it. We persevere. And together, with our partners, we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that.”

When I look at that be-camouflaged audience, all I can think of is “Why?” Why would anyone put a single one of those lives in harm’s way for something as dubious and irrational as a foothold in Afghanistan. These soldiers aren’t laying their lives on the line to make anyone safer – their very presence in Afghanistan makes them, and us, considerably more unsafe.

Non-partisan experts from all corners of the earth and many diverse disciplines have told us that, in compelling terms, for years now, but it has become increasingly clear that neither reason, nor prudence, not even survival instinct will dissuade the “powers that be” from replacing the Cold War with the Long War. Al Qaeda has very effectively become the 21st century version of ‘dirty, rotten Commies.’ “Better Dead than Red” has been replaced with a fatwa on Terrorism, ensuring decades and generations of defense contracts, weapons development, arms sales, special ops, espionage and war games aimed at “making the world safe for democracy.”

The Long War in a Nutshell

Scenes from a Long War

Whenever I want to get an update on the Long War, I look to Tom Hayden who has been screaming into the wind about it for ages now (and for you old Hippies, yeah – that Tom Hayden). Just yesterday Hayden wrote an article for the LA Times that is a short, good read that will catch you up on the “Long War” concept if it has escaped your attention.

Basically, the Long War is an undeclared, undebated, largely undisclosed 80-year (give or take) war plan cooked up by the Pentagon and its neo-con fellow travelers and think tanks. The theater for the Long War is primarily the Middle East and South Asia or wherever else our Soldiers of Fortune see fit to lead us. As taxpayers, we needn’t worry our little heads about any of this because our representatives in Congress, don’t really have a role to play, outside of approving any and all Defense budgets, supplemental, emergency and otherwise. Since that signatory function has become a political measure of patriotism, it is unlikely that outspoken constituents can have any impact.

If you are scratching your head, at this point, and saying ‘what the hell is she going on about?’ you’re in the right place, as far as DoD is concerned. You see, the Long War is less a war and more, a state of mind that is being fed to the American psyche by slow-drip intravenous.

Here’s Hayden’s timeline:

“The term ‘Long War’ was first applied to America’s post-9/11 conflicts in 2004 by Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of U.S. Central Command, and by the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State, Gen. Richard B. Myers, in 2005.”

“According to David Kilcullen, a top counterinsurgency advisor to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and a proponent of the Long War doctrine, the concept was polished in “a series of windowless offices deep inside the Pentagon” by a small team that successfully lobbied to incorporate the term into the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the nation’s long-term military blueprint. President George W. Bush declared in his 2006 State of the Union message that ‘our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy.’”

“The concept has quietly gained credence. Washington Post reporter-turned-author Thomas E. Ricks used The Long War as the title for the epilogue of his 2009 book on Iraq, in which he predicted that the U.S. was only halfway through the combat phase there.”

“It has crept into legal language. Federal Appeals Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a darling of the American right, recently ruled in favor of holding detainees permanently because otherwise, ‘each successful campaign of a long war would trigger an obligation to release Taliban fighters captured in earlier clashes.’”

“Among defense analysts, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran who teaches at Boston University, is the leading critic of the Long War doctrine, criticizing its origins among a “small, self-perpetuating, self-anointed group of specialists” who view public opinion “as something to manipulate” if they take it into consideration at all.”

Lovely! Already we see how one war can seque into another; as troops are drawn down from Iraq, troops swell in Afghanistan. Some “troops”, that we prefer not to speak of, are already at work in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. Avenging Angels are poised to strike Iran, if Ahmadinejad doesn’t behave. Even Turkey is currently misbehaving, not to mention Israel . . .

An amorphous (or imaginary) “enemy” calls for untraditional tactics and boatloads of money to completely refit our own enormous military, as well as the foreign militaries that we are re-purposing and creating in our own image and likeness. Unfortunately, so far, we really suck at it . . .

The Afghan National Police and Other Insecurities

One of the more ludicrous goals that the US has set as a measure of success in Afghanistan is to leave the country in the hands of a well-trained National Police force that will provide the safety and security necessary for the flowering of a law-abiding Afghan society into a well-armed, fully compliant partner in US control of the Middle East.

Never mind that currently there are neither laws nor a judicial system in place to support police activities — all things in good time. When the laws are written and the courts established, prisons have been built and judges appointed, there will be a crack police force in place to enforce those laws. All Afghans will surely rejoice when their thousand years old de-centralized system of tribal justice is replaced with a top-down well-policed system. No doubt, tribal warlords will be happy to relinquish their local power for the sake of modernization.

The notion of the Afghan National Police program defies reason in so many well-documented ways that it boggles the mind that, eight years and $7 billion dollars later, sane people would countenance renewing contracts with Dumb and Dumber, Inc. (Xe aka Blackwater and/or DynCorp) for another $1 billion whack at this losing proposition. Unless, of course, the architects of the Long War find it expedient to create impossible goals to keep us interminably engaged in the region and supporting that military-industrial complex which is currently America’s only ‘booming business’ and major export.

I’m no military expert but I do know a thing or two about business management and I’m certain that, without an endless flow of taxpayer dollars, this dog of a project would have been written off ages ago by any self-respecting private or publicly-owned business. A joint team of Defense and State Department Inspectors General wrote a lengthy (and fairly scathing) analysis of the situation in 2006. That investigation found that the contractors hired (DynCorp) were ill-equipped to do the job (some of the trainers police backgrounds were as campus security guards) and that the State Department was doing an epically bad job of managing the contracts. There were essentially no stated contract requirements and virtually no oversight – just blank checks and free rein.

Unfortunately, this program is not only a fiasco it can be argued that it is actually colossally counterproductive to the US mission in Afghanistan (if there is such a thing). As Pratap Chatterjee reported on TomDispatch.com:

“The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can’t put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won’t be able to begin a drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.”

“’The Obama administration’s strategy for the Afghan police is to increase numbers, enlarge the ‘train and equip’ program, and engage the police in the fight against the Taliban, says Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The Police in War. ‘This approach has not worked in the past, and doing more of the same will not achieve success.’”

“When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is not unusual — and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in fact, been training the Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based DynCorp has been doing the same for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now. Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax U.S. State Department oversight, has left the country of 33 million people with a strikingly ineffective and remarkably corrupt police force. Its terrible habits and reputation have led the inhabitants of many Afghan communities to turn to the Taliban for security.”

And, later:

“’There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up,’ Brigadier General Gary O’Brien, former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. ‘They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people — they are the robbers of the people.’”

Seven years and $7 billion of taxpayers’ money later, at a June 2008 discussion at the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units of that moment this way:

“Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting.”

That dismal result did not come flying unexpectedly out of the blue, either. As Chatterjee reports:

“DynCorp and [the] State [Department] had too few people, too few resources, and too little experience building a police force in the midst of an insurgency,” Seth Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation who spent most of 2009 traveling with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, told the commission. “While it may be necessary to utilize [private] contractors to help execute some security programs — including helping U.S. military or other government officials conduct some police training — contractors should not be the lead entity, as they were from 2003 to 2005.”

And:

“’A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police must remain a military force while insecurity lasts,’ writes Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who worked as an advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. ‘If such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector reform would be considered, and Afghanistan would be caught in a vicious circle of using force against force without employing other approaches to secure stability and peace.’”

And this:

“Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, admitted that police training has been a train wreck since the toppling of the Taliban almost nine years ago. ‘We weren’t doing it right. The most important thing is to recruit and then train police [before deployment]. It is still beyond my comprehension that we weren’t doing that.’”

“The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training) was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in a country with no prior history of such things? That turns out to be a conundrum, even for President Obama.”

“If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training scheme, it doesn’t look good for either governance or peace in Afghanistan. Yet the likelihood remains low indeed that Pentagon officials will take the advice of a chorus of police experts offering critical commentary on the mess that is the police training program there. Instead, it’s likely to be more of the same, which means more private contracting of police training and further disaster. Bizarrely enough, the Pentagon has given the Space and Missile Defense Command Contracting Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the task of deciding between DynCorp and Xe for that new billion-dollar training contract. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Counterinsurgency Sniff Test: Shit Happens

Collateral Damage

Meanwhile, the old Afghan War continues with its new Counterinsurgency strategy which seems to involve many of the old conventional tactics – night raids, special ops, drone attacks, checkpoint shootings. etc – with the notable addition of apologies from Gen. Stanley McChrystal whenever the wrong people get killed, which appears to be frequently.

Rumors about collateral damage are no longer solely the province of “bleeding heart liberals,” anonymous sources or anti-war politicians. ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’ we have this incredible admission from Gen. McChrystal to no less than The New York Times (where some neocon gatekeeper was clearly out to lunch):

’We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,’ [my emphasis] said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.”

“Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as “escalation of force” episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.”

Well, General, if you think that’s frustrating, imagine the “frustration” of the dying and maimed innocents and their families and loved ones.

To make the point McChrystal-clear, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall (the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan and a trainer in the same session) added that:

“Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew. There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents. Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed.”

And then, of course, there are the recent inconvenient revelations of one Jerome Starkey, an Afghanistan-based reporter and an eyewitness to atrocities committed by Coalition forces, followed by a fairly bungling campaign to deny and discredit Starkey’s report.

Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.

In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.

In the second case, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.

Get used to it, though, 80 years of Long War can’t be conducted without casualties and since the “enemy” is such a shape-shifter, well . . . mistakes happen. On the bright side, evidently, it’s now OK to shoot an “amazing number of people” who don’t pose a threat, if you’re convinced they are Taliban, or al Qaeda or something like that . . .

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