Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Formula For Endless War: The Wounded Shark, The Quest For Victory, And The Illusion Of Success

Yesterday, Chris Floyd posted one of his best pieces ever. It's called "The Wounded Shark: 'Good War' Lost, But the Imperial Project Goes On" and you must read the entire piece, if you haven't already done so. I can wait.

I respect and admire Chris Floyd's analysis -- especially in this case -- but I've also been having some mildly interesting thoughts of my own, about a few of the issues he touched on, and therefore I offer the following excerpts from his post, with extended comments.

I don't think I'm saying anything Chris hasn't already figured out. I think I'm saying things that he couldn't fit into his piece, which was already huge -- and brilliant! And therefore this commentary is not meant as a critique but rather as a companion piece to "The Wounded Shark", which starts this way:
Don't tell Obama and McCain, but the war they are both counting on to make their bones as commander-in-chief -- the "good war" in Afghanistan, which both men have pledged to expand -- is already lost.
This war was always lost; it was never even intended to be "won", in my opinion.
Their joint strategy of pouring more troops, tanks, missiles and planes into the roaring fire -- not to mention their intention to spread the war into Pakistan -- will only lead to disaster.
And this depends on what you mean by "disaster". We must always remember that the interests of the people running the war are not the same as, and in many ways are diametrically opposed to, the interests of the people who are being asked (or forced) to fight it.

In this case, the prognosis of "disaster" comes from
America's biggest ally in the Afghan adventure: Great Britain. This week, two top figures in the British effort in Afghanistan -- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK ambassador to Kabul, and Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the senior British military commander in Afghanistan -- both said that the war was "unwinnable," and that continuing the current level of military operations there, much less expanding it, was a strategy "doomed to fail."
The British seem shocked to discover all this, but it seems to me that the British were never meant to understand the point of this war, nor the reasons for it, nor the conditions under which it might be said to have been "won". And neither were any of our other "allies", and neither -- clearly -- were the American public.

As Reuters reports, the comments from the top figures in the British effort have already been derided as "defeatist" by Pentagon big dog Robert Gates, even though they were
echoed by the top United Nations official in Kabul, who said success was only possible through dialogue and other political efforts.
The basic disconnect here -- as elsewhere -- seems to be that nobody, from the top United Nations official in Kabul on down, has any idea what our Secretary of Defense means when he says:
"While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run."
Personally, I would want to know: How "long" is "the long run"? And just what do we mean by "successful"?

But simply posing such questions is akin to treason, apparently, because we never see them asked in the major media. So let's skip the questions and go straight to the undeniable facts of the matter.

Casting the outcome of this "mission" in terms of winning and losing, or success and failure, is a sham. It is every bit as false as casting any of our current wars -- or the entire GWOT -- in terms of "good" Christians against "evil" Muslims. And it is done for the same reason -- to obliterate the truth of the matter.

Chris Floyd rightly points out that the reasons given for the invasion of Afghanistan would make no sense, even if the official story of 9/11 were true, which it clearly isn't. But the falsity of the official 9/11 story is beside my point -- or beside this point: Afghanistan was bombed and invaded and remains occupied based on a tangled web of deliberate lies.

These lies obscure not only the causes of the war but also the intentions of the people running it.

Thus our British "allies" think the "mission" is doomed to fail because they're under the impression that the object of the exercise is to bring peace and democracy and progress to Afghanistan, by rooting out the terrorists of global reach who threaten the entire civilized world.

But that's not even close to the truth. We can see this in many different ways: sufficient for the purposes of this analysis is the fact that our tactics have no relation to our declared goals.

The reason for all this deception is simple: if the real aims, goals, and reasons for this war were laid bare, the United States would have no allies at all.

So instead, there's a veneer of lies over everything, including the "agreements" obtained under extreme duress from our so-called "allies". And this is why Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK ambassador to Kabul, wrote
"we must tell [the Americans] that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one.” The American strategy, he is quoted as saying, “is destined to fail.”
Destined to fail? Of course it is! It's designed to fail! Otherwise, the tactics -- and the result -- would have been quite different.

When President Kennedy took office in January of 1961, one of the first things he signed was the foreword for a new book, which had been commissioned under the Eisenhower administration, and was just about to be published. It was a study of counter-insurgency strategy, short enough and interesting enough that I wound up reading it several times in a row, nearly two decades ago.

(That book was part of the military history library of a software development firm for which I used to work; the firm no longer exists and I haven't been able to find the book anywhere else. But I spent quite a few lunch hours reading it and I still remember quite a bit of what I read.)

There were about a dozen chapters, each a case study illustrating a very successful (or very unsuccessful) counter-insurgency strategy as it had been played out in the decade and a half since the end of World War II.

It was good information -- solid lessons about what to do, and what not to do. Kennedy greeted it heartily and predicted that it would be extremely valuable in the guerrilla war which was then threatening to develop in Southeast Asia. But as things turned out, it wasn't.

I would never claim that JFK was assassinated because he said that book was the key to winning in Vietnam. But the facts remain that he was assassinated, and that the war was waged in utter disregard of every single hard-learned lesson embodied in that book.

We knew dropping napalm on civilians wasn't the way to win their hearts and minds. We knew kidnapping innocent people and throwing them out of moving helicopters was going to make their friends and families angry. We knew destroying a village in order to save it was not a reasonable or scalable approach. But we -- by which I mean the people who were running the war -- did all these things anyway, and more, over and over and over again.

In some important and overlooked ways, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the GWOT in general, and even the Wall Street "rescue" reflect the same tactics.

First they find an enemy which must be defeated, preferably at any cost. If no such enemy reports for duty, they'll create one. In some cases, the enemy can be embodied in a supremely evil villain, such as Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. In other cases, such as the Vietnam War and the Wall Street "rescue", the "enemy" is merely a potential outcome which must be avoided at any cost, such as a global depression, or all of Southeast Asia becoming communist.

Next they provide an alternative -- the only alternative, as it always turns out: and it's always and obviously much better than the enemy, which must therefore be thoroughly defeated. Whether we're talking about ensuring economic stability, defeating terrorism, bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, or saving the world from Communism, the stated goals are always infinitely more desirable than the outcomes that must be avoided, and therefore there can be no argument over the assertion that the ends justify the means.

In other words, we are always being told that what we are trying to do is so righteous -- and what we are trying to defeat (or avoid) is so terrible -- that all methods are acceptable, and nothing is "off the table". But then this "nothing-off-the-table" approach allows the use of tactics which preclude the ends we are allegedly trying to accomplish.

So we invade Iraq and continue to occupy it even though all our intelligence professionals tell us American troops in Iraq are contributing to a rise in terrorism.

We bomb civilian villages in Afghanistan even though we know it sets back the diplomatic "effort" at "reconciliation".

We throw hundreds of billions of dollars at the companies which caused the financial meltdown, while claiming that saving them is essential to preventing the continuation of the meltdown they have caused.

None of it makes any sense except in terms of secret agendas which are completely at odds with the public cover story.

In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the GWOT in general, our "finest" military minds are not only ignoring all the lessons of 20th century counter-insurgency warfare, but also the most time-honored knowledge about war itself, such as the bit of ancient Chinese wisdom that runs, "Know your enemy".

The ancients -- not just the Chinese but all of them -- knew that they could win their wars only by understanding their enemy, by gaining -- and using -- intimate knowledge of who they were fighting against, and what motivated these people to fight.

These days, we can't get a straight answer to any of it: You almost never see anyone mention that our enemies are people too. Nobody -- at least in the official national discourse -- can bear to admit that we're fighting against the best, the bravest, and the most resourceful citizens of the countries that we have invaded. Nor can anyone admit that they're fighting against us because we bombed and invaded and destroyed their countries, and stayed -- all on false pretenses.

It can be said -- and it often is said -- that the war is being run "inefficiently", or that the military has been "blundering", and so on; but when we systematically ignore some of the most valuable lessons of our history, and some of the oldest human knowledge pertaining to warfare, that's not a blunder. That's a telltale sign.

It points to the fact that what we're really doing -- and again by "we", I mean the people who are running the war -- is very different than what we say we're doing.

We're trying to conquer foreign countries, not to bring them democracy, but to bring them under our thumb. We want their natural resources. We want their territory -- and if we can't own it outright then we at least want to be able to move men and material freely and securely through it.

As even a brief study of our history will confirm, we do not now give and we never have given a damn about bringing democracy to any foreign country; in fact we have a tradition of overthrowing democratically elected governments if they don't do what we demand of them. But none of this can possibly be spoken in "polite" society (by which I mean not only television, radio and the mainstream newspapers, but also a disturbingly large number of allegedly dissident websites), where the only permissible talk seems to be about winning and losing.

If the opinion-makers can convince the chumps that the question is one of winning or losing, and that winning is the only acceptable outcome, then the war can go on forever -- especially if all methods are acceptable, including those which are actually intended to prolong the war.

Anti-war types who argue about winning and losing are doomed to fail, because they're playing into the hands of war supporters, who have obvious answers available for either eventuality: if we're winning, then we must be doing something right, and therefore we should do more of it; if we're losing, then we must not be trying hard enough, and therefore we should try harder. Either way, if winning the war is the outcome we seek, we must wage more war.

Furthermore, if we reduce a war of choice to the level of a game, we minimize all the things that matter most about the war: all the suffering we've inflicted becomes "collateral damage", and it doesn't even show up on the "scoreboard". Meanwhile, the false reasons that "justified" the war don't matter anymore, and we're free to proceed as if we hadn't done anything wrong, as if we're only in this "game" because we were "scheduled" to "play" it.

But war is nothing like a game. And the wars we are currently waging -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere in the GWOT -- were all "justified" based on transparent lies. Therefore they are also war crimes, and crimes against all of humanity: these are huge, unforgivable crimes, and we are the guilty parties. And here, when I say "we", I mean not only the people who are running the war, but also the people who are fighting it, and the people who support them -- no matter what form that support may take.

If you voted for George Bush, or for a Congressman or Senator who voted to fund this war; if you "support the troops" in any fashion, even by simply saying you do; if you pay taxes to Uncle Sam; if you believe that we should or must win any or all of our wars, in the sense that the administration and its supporters use the term; then you're part of the problem. And that makes just about all of us. I'm sorry to have to tell you that, but would you rather have me lie to you?

You can get plenty of comforting lies elsewhere -- almost anywhere else, sadly. And perhaps the worst lies of all are the ones that say, "We can win!"

The idea that we can "win" is a sham and its job is to cover up an enormous crime. Winning is impossible, not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq and in the GWOT in general; and in every one of these cases, the impossibility of winning is a deliberate feature of the grand deception.

For example: the US would consider that it had won the war in Iraq, if Iraq somehow became a peaceful, stable nation with a legitimate, democratically elected government, as long as that government was friendly to "US interests".

But that's not a possible result. That was never a possible result.

Even before "Shock and Awe", even before the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, even before the "liberation" overstayed its welcome and showed itself to be an occupation, even before the gradual, unsurprising, "revelations" that all of this hostility was based on deliberately crafted lies ... even before any of this, no legitimate, democratically elected government in Iraq could possibly have been friendly to "US interests", especially when the main US interests are (or are seen to be) building American bases on Iraqi soil and regaining American-multinational control of all that Iraqi oil.

In this sense we cannot possibly "win" in Iraq. But we are constantly told that we mustn't lose. And this means we can never surrender. So therefore the war will go on and on forever -- or until we stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

The same is true in Afghanistan, at least in general form, although in this case the particulars are different. We cannot win because the war is based on lies; and because the desired outcome is impossible; and because the tactics used to "approach" our goal only serve to move it farther away, thus prolonging the war.

Again the actual goals are hidden, and again they are very different than what we are told: At the heart of the war in Afghanistan lie vast opium fortunes, strategic bases, and the free passage through foreign territory of valuable resources owned by American-multinational corporations, not necessarily in that order.

Of course, there's also the "intimidation factor".

Every other country in the world must measure each action, plan, or strategic idea according to a number of factors, including whether they think the Americans will stand for it.

The bombing, invasion, destruction and subsequent occupation of Iraq -- based on no credible evidence to support any of the claims which supposedly made this course of action necessary, says to every other nation on the planet:
"Who wants to be next?"
As Jonah Goldberg explained in National Review in 2002:
I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago...
It's noy just Ledeen and Goldberg, of course. A huge segment of the bipartisan policy-making establishment (though they may not say it) act as if they believed the very same thing. So when the US talks about a "rogue state" or a "bully in the schoolyard", the rest of the world rolls its eyes.

In addition there's a common thread running through all our wars: every piece of equipment ruined must be replaced. Every bomb used, every bullet fired, every meal eaten must be supplied by somebody who is making money on the deal.

The longer the war goes on, the better it is for the weapons manufacturers, the defense contractors, and their financiers. These are the people who want the chumps thinking about winning and losing -- and now I mean the chumps in the corridors of power as well as the chumps in the streets.

Chris Floyd quotes an excellent piece from Pankaj Mishra which quotes George Bush telling his commanders in Iraq:
Kick ass! ... We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal ... There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!
Chris notes:
Anyone who has read Hitler's "table talk" will feel a shiver of familiarity -- and revulsion -- when reading Bush's words.
And I agree completely with that, but not with this:
This is the voice of our mud-brain thrashing its way through broken fragments of higher-order thought. This is the voice of an imperial elite -- of our imperial elite.
In my opinion, this is merely the voice of an imperial chump, a "mud-brain", channeling the nonsense he's been fed by the "imperial elite".

In the same way, Adolph Hitler proved to be just another imperial chump in the end, firing a bullet into his head to avoid being hanged for his crimes ... while his financiers skedaddled with the loot, and set up shop ... um ... elsewhere!

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