When you've been doing something self-defeating for eight years, at some point you begin to look just plain stupid. That's how US forces in Afghanistan look after calling in airstrikes on two villages in Farah province last week that extinguished the lives of 147-Afghan civilians.
So what's the American response? Why, blame the Taliban of course. The Americans say the Taliban used the villagers as human shields, forcing the civilians into homes from which they were shooting at US forces.
The Americans are probably right but that doesn't make their statement any less stupid.
The Taliban does use villagers as human shields. It's all set out in the third chapter of Guerrilla Warfare 101, "Luring the Government Forces Into Attacking the Locals." You see, it's not so much about shielding Taliban fighters as it is about goading the government side to rain down its heavy firepower on the villagers, driving a wedge of shattered bodies between the civilians and their government (that's our side). It's about getting our side to defeat ourselves and, when it comes to that, we're always ready to do our bit.
We're losing this war. In truth, it's probably already lost although we're not yet at the point of understanding that. There are plenty of signs for those willing to look at them and do the math.
We've spent more than two years fruitlessly trying to drive the Taliban out of Panjwai province but we've now ceded that territory to the Taliban, closing up our garrisons and falling back to defend Kandahar City. We 'control' a lot less territory than we did when Rick Hillier first frogmarched Canada's battle group into Kandahar province.
The Karzai government remains terminally corrupt and under the control of warlords, some as dark as anything seen from the Taliban. Karzai has now chosen a brutal warlord as his running mate for the August elections.
Not only has Karzai recruited a nasty warlord as his running mate, The Times reports he's about to ink a 'power sharing' deal with the nastiest of them all, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Until recently, Hek was fighting alongside his one time mortal enemies, the Taliban, happily killing American and French soldiers. Apparently GulHek thinks a few years on our side would be good for his prospects. Remember, the guy we were told so much about who liked throwing acid in women's faces? Yeah, same guy.
And what's the lesson in all this? We've lost control of the Afghan government, a now genuinely 'criminal enterprise.' If the Afghan National Army was stronger there might just be the possibility of engineering a military coup but time is not on our side and the army seems too weak and unstable to be capable of toppling Karzai and his warlords and fighting the insurgency.
But we'll keep plodding on, as we have since 2001, in our grotesque little fantasy where the war in Afghanistan is all about the good guys, us, fighting a valiant battle against the Taliban. We are definitely stuck on 'Stupid.'