Nine years ago this month we opened the dismal "war on terror" by sending CIA operatives, U.S. special forces and the American air force into Afghanistan to tip the balance in the stalemated civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Little did we realize it then but that was the opening salvo in a (for us) new form of warfare perhaps more accurately known as war of quagmire.
American career army officer turned professor, Andrew Bacevich, writing for AlterNet recently turned his pen to explaining why America's army and its Western allies cannot hope to prevail in Afghanistan:
"...an officer corps once intent above all on avoiding protracted wars now specializes in quagmires. Campaigns don’t really end. At best, they peter out.
Formerly trained to kill people and break things, American soldiers now attend to winning hearts and minds, while moonlighting in assassination. The politically correct term for this is "counterinsurgency."
Now, assigning combat soldiers the task of nation-building in, say, Mesopotamia is akin to hiring a crew of lumberjacks to build a house in suburbia. What astonishes is not that the result falls short of perfection, but that any part of the job gets done at all.
Yet by simultaneously adopting the practice of “targeted killing,” the home builders do double-duty as home wreckers. For American assassins, the weapon of choice is not the sniper rifle or the shiv, but missile-carrying pilotless aircraft controlled from bases in Nevada and elsewhere thousands of miles from the battlefield -- the ultimate expression of an American desire to wage war without getting our hands dirty.
In practice, however, killing the guilty from afar not infrequently entails killing innocents as well. So actions undertaken to deplete the ranks of jihadists as far afield as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia unwittingly ensure the recruitment of replacements, guaranteeing a never-ending supply of hardened hearts to soften.
No wonder the campaigns launched since 9/11 drag on and on. General Petraeus himself has spelled out the implications: “This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives.” Obama may want to “get out.” His generals are inclined to stay the course.
The truth is we’re lost in the desert, careening down an unmarked road, odometer busted, GPS on the fritz, and fuel gauge hovering just above E. Washington can only hope that the American people, napping in the backseat, won’t notice.
Our soldiers have done their job. We didn't do ours. We sent a woefully understrength, ill-equipped and incompletely trained force on real life mission impossible. We allowed political leeches and military ticket-punchers to sell us a rotten bill of goods. Remember that shit of a prime minister, Furious Leader Harper, who milked every drop of partisan advantage he could out of Afghanistan until there was nothing more to be had out of it and he turned his back.
Maybe next time we won't be so quick to listen to people like Bush and Cheney and Hillier and Harper. Maybe next time we won't be so quick to plaster stupid, magnetic ribbons on the trunk lids and tail gates of our vehicles. Maybe next time we'll realize that "supporting the troops" begins with making sure they aren't sent on a mission like Afghanistan in the first place. Maybe.