Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dont Let the McChrystal Frenzy Obscure the Dirty Truth About Afghanistan

Hi. In sending you this particular essay I hope that people will look
beyond this maelstrom, in a way similar to looking beyond the Israeli
raid on the flotilla to the broad issue of Gaza and the ultimate isssues of
occupation and resolution of nationhood and peace in Israel/Palestine.
Just before the firing or not of McChrystal becomes the total focus of the
mass media and in turn, the public, here's a spur to keep eyes on the prize.

Dont Let the McChrystal Frenzy Obscure the Dirty Truth About Afghanistan

While we'll be treated to plenty of blather about the McChrystal incident,
the most important part of the story is largely being ignored by the
corporate media.

By Joshua Holland
AlterNet: June 23, 2010

It should come as no surprise that General Stanley McChrystal's return to
Washington to explain a series of derogatory comments he and his staff made
about the White House has ignited a media frenzy.

The story has everything a reporter could want -- tension within the
administration, a very public clash between civilian and military leaders
over just what we might hope to accomplish in Afghanistan, and even some
echoes of Truman's historic clash with General George MacArthur during the
Korean conflict.

But the story by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Hastings also reveals just how
narrow the discourse about our Afghanistan adventure really is. Because
while we'll be treated to tens of thousands of column inches and hours of
cable news blather about McChrystal's "insubordination," or whether Obama
looks "tough enough" in handling the situation, the most important part of
Hastings' article is largely being ignored by the corporate media.

Hastings told a tale of a project with no hope for success. His story shows
us that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is all about tactics dressed up as
a strategy. It's a profile of a military establishment running on inertia --
unable to withdraw because withdrawing is an admission of defeat, but also
unable to accomplish the wholly unrealistic tasks put before it.

This is perhaps the most revealing passage from Hastings' report:

"[Team Obama] are trying to manipulate perceptions because there is no
definition of victory - because victory is not even defined or
recognizable," says Celeste Ward, a senior defense analyst at the RAND
Corporation who served as a political adviser to U.S. commanders in Iraq in
2006. "That's the game we're in right now. What we need, for strategic
purposes, is to create the perception that we didn't get run off. The facts
on the ground are not great, and are not going to become great in the near

But facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to
a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal
know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn't begin to reflect how
deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. "If Americans pulled back and
started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular," a
senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn't prevent
advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to
withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up
its counterinsurgency campaign even further. "There's a possibility we could
ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here," a
senior military official in Kabul tells me.

Again, counterinsurgency is a matter of tactics. The strategy, we have been
told for almost a decade, is to defeat the remnants of the Taliban and
create a functional, legitimate state in a country where one has never
before existed. It was a "state-building" project that was supposed to
enhance our security by fostering the kind of stability and economic
progress that would supposedly make Islamic extremism unappealing to the

But as the New York Times reported earlier this month, the leader of that
government, Hamid Karzai, has "lost faith in the Americans and NATO to
prevail in Afghanistan." An adviser told the Times that Karzai has no
"confidence in the capability of either the coalition or his own government
to protect this country," and for that reason he has been "pressing to
strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country's archrival, Pakistan,
the Taliban's longtime supporter."

Anan Gobal noted that in 2008, after seven years of fighting, less than a
third of the country was under the control of the central government in
Kabul, and added: "Many say even that is now an optimistic assessment."
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon was making cash
payments to Afghan warlords. According to Bloomberg, "Contractors told
congressional investigators they believe that, in turn, the 'warlords make
protection payments to insurgents' who are fighting the U.S."

Our tax dollars are actually financing those trying to kill U.S. troops.

According to a report released in January, the U.S.-backed government is
also awash in corruption, which Afghans now view "as a bigger concern than
security and unemployment." The government we're backing may be extracting
as much as one quarter of Afghanistan's gross national product in bribes.
And Karzai's own brother has been implicated in Afghanistan's rich drug

Hastings' report also paints a picture of a White House that despite its
grand promises of change continues to fight George W. Bush's war much the
same way as he waged it for seven years. He noted how similarly divorced
from reality the rhetoric coming from this White House has been to that of
the Bushies:

"There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in
recent years - in education, in health care and economic development," the
president says. "As I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed - lights
that would not have been visible just a few years earlier."

It is a disconcerting observation for Obama to make. During the worst
years in Iraq, when the Bush administration had no real progress to point
to, officials used to offer up the exact same evidence of success. "It was
one of our first impressions," one GOP official said in 2006, after landing
in Baghdad at the height of the sectarian violence. "So many lights shining
brightly." So it is to the language of the Iraq War that the Obama
administration has turned - talk of progress, of city lights, of metrics
like health care and education. Rhetoric that just a few years ago they
would have mocked.

The conflict in Afghanistan is now the longest one the United States has
ever fought. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, at a cost of
hundreds of billions of U.S. tax dollars. That there are electric lights in
Kabul is as pathetic a "milestone for success" as one could imagine, and
Obama's focus on how sparkly the approach to Kabul's airport is offers
evidence of the same obstinate dismissal of reality that was so maddeningly
common in the Bush White House.

Ultimately, what the Rolling Stone story tells us is that even those tasked
with carrying out Obama's Afghanistan policy know it's an exercise in
futility. McChrystal and his aides are protecting his legacy against
harsh judgment of what will prove an incoherent policy from its inception.

Max Bergmann of the Center for American Progress didn't miss what lies at
the heart of the Rolling Stone report. "The significance of this food fight
is not in what was said," he wrote, "but in what it says about where the
United States is in Afghanistan":

What has become apparent is that . the mythic status now given to the
surge in Iraq led to a significant degree of over-confidence on the part of
McChrystal and others about their ability to turn the Afghan war around
after it had utterly deteriorated year after year under the neglectful watch
of the Bush administration.

The McChrystal incident provides some titillating political news for the
pundits to chew on for a few days. But it also tells us a lot about the
state of affairs in Afghanistan, and the picture is not pretty. That, rather
than some quotes from McChrystal's anonymous staffers, should be the Big
Story this week.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.

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