Posts Tagged ‘Petraeus’

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

All hail the birth of Afghan democracy!

The willingness of Americans to allow our political leaders to spend $1 million per troop, per year in Afghanistan has been rewarded: we can now stand back in awe as the unpunished perpetrators of massive election fraud vie for control of the criminal enterprise called the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Extra-constitutional President Hamid Karzai (whose initial vote totals were 32.2 percent fraudulent) and prime challenger Abdullah (whose initial vote total was 12.8 percent fraudulent) will face off on November 7. The process of the last election was so corrupt that the UN is replacing 200 — more than half — of the top election officials who were complicit in the fraud. No matter who loses, fraud wins.

So here’s a question for those who are pushing COIN who haven’t totally abandoned their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success (and believe me, those are few and far between these days): what systemic changes have or will be made prior to November 7 that will prevent a replay of the August fiasco? While replacing bad apples is essential, it won’t prevent rot if the barrel itself is corrupted. Recall that during the last round of voting, fraud schemes included:

  • Alliances with warlords, who will deliver votes from their territories for Karzai by hook or by crook. Some have already made threats of reprisal against village elders if they did not cooperate with the vote fraud schemes.
  • Massive registration of underage voters (up to 20 percent of the rolls)
  • Rampant (as in 85-percent occurrence) issuance of multiple voting cards to single individuals, including one case where one person was given about 500 voting cards.
  • Issuance of voting cards to people before they registered.
  • Issuance of cards to women without their physical presence based on lists provided by family (in some provinces this practice was used in 90-99 percent of registration stations).
  • Allowing men to take registration books home for the ostensible purpose of obtaining their women-folk’s fingerprints for registration. This practice, combined with the list practice mentioned above, led to outrageously fraudulent numbers of “women” being issued cards–between double and thirty percent more than the number of cards issued to men. Female Members of Parliament in Afghanistan have called these numbers not credible.
  • Purchase of voting cards from locals by warlord vote organizers.
  • Manufacture and sale of many thousands of fake registration cards.

What steps have been taken to prevent these sorts of violations of the process from recurring? I’ve not seen a single indication that the systemic factors that allowed and rewarded election fraud have been addressed. Not one. Have you?

In this context, it’s understandable that Nagl and Co. would want to wave their hands and assert that counterinsurgency can work when host-nation elections break, but that’s contemptible, dishonest, face-saving bull. Sarah Sewall’s introduction in the COIN manual calls host-nation government legitimacy a “north star.” The main text of the manual defines victory flatly as the moment when “the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” And Nagl’s backpedaling in the L.A. Times’ opinion section aside, it’s clear throughout the manual he helped write that he wasn’t talking about the local mayor: he was talking about the host-nation government. And there’s not a single possible outcome now for the ’09 Afghan elections that leaves us with a credible, legitimate partner. What we’ll get is a regime staffed with former warlords, human rights abusers and drug lords, headed by Mr. 32.2 Percent, Mr. 12.8 Percent, or both. Take your pick.

I can’t prove it, but the willingness of the pro-COIN crowd to fudge their own doctrine’s prerequisites for success and definitions of victory makes me suspect the American people have been the victims of what’s essentially an intra-military turf battle, with the Petreauses and the Nagls and the McChrystals of the world (all Army men) fighting to return the infantry to primacy in a world of stealth bombers and killer drones. The Army’s doctrinal weapon in that fight, COIN, seems to have fit perfectly with the Bushies’ PNAC-sponsored imperial eschatology, paving the way for a civilian/military public relations campaign to make infantry-heavy pacification campaigns the new, sexy way of war. Congrats on the snow job, gentlemen.

Someone holding the purse strings (that’s you, Congress) better decide right now how much taxpayer money and how many dead U.S. soldiers are a fair price for “victory” in Afghanistan, because any minute now you’re going to receive a request for more blood and treasure. Specifically, the Pentagon wants more money to grow the Afghan military and may be about to push for more troops.

A January 23rd Congressional Research Service report, “War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress,” contained this exercise in passive-voice-understatement:

One critical issue is funding the development and sustainment of the ANSF. Senior Afghan and international officials estimate that it will cost approximately $3.5 billion per year to increase [Afghan National Security Forces] ANSF force structure, and then $2.2 billion per year to sustain it. Unlike Iraq, whose oil revenues have funded an increasing share of the costs of growing and sustaining the Iraqi Security Forces in recent years, Afghanistan has few natural resources and little economic activity, other than poppy production, that could generate significant revenue in the near future. [The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] GIRoA, which contributed $320 million to the ANSF in 2008, is not a realistic source of ANSF funding in the near term.251 International support, and particularly U.S. support, is expected to bear the near-term burden of developing the ANSF, until it reaches its current endstrength targets…

It is expected that the currently planned ANA growth will be funded by the international community; the United States is currently the leading contributor.

Translation: Afghanistan’s government lacks the revenue to support its own military and police as-is. The U.S. taxpayer pays for it, and if the U.S. cajoles the Afghan government into increasing the size of the military, the U.S. taxpayer must pay for that as well.

General McChrystal’s response? Hooah!

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

…The Afghan army is already scheduled to grow from 85,000 to 134,000, an expansion originally expected to take five years but now fast-tracked for completion by 2011. Several senior Pentagon officials indicated that an adequate size for the Afghan force may be twice the expanded number.

The Post also reports that WHOA HEY Defense Secretary Gates never said anything about a cap on U.S. troop levels!!!!

Despite concerns that too large a U.S. military presence would undermine efforts to eventually put the Afghans in charge of their own security, Jones said McChrystal is “perfectly within his mandate as a new commander to make the recommendation on the military posture as he sees it…There was never any intention on my visit [to Afghanistan] to say, ‘Don’t ever come in with a request or to put a cap on troops.’ ”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen, told reporters Wednesday that the White House and the Pentagon are “committed to properly resourcing this endeavor.”

…”If you’ve got Stan’s word . . . and Petraeus standing behind him” in requesting more resources, the official said, Obama can stress the need for a “marginal adjustment” based on advice from commanders on the ground.

“Marginal adjustment?” Yeah, about that…

“Escalation” is a word for a methodical process of acclimating people at home to the idea of more military intervention abroad — nothing too sudden, just a step-by-step process of turning even more war into media wallpaper — nothing too abrupt or jarring, while thousands more soldiers and billions more dollars funnel into what Martin Luther King Jr. called a “demonic suction tube,” complete with massive violence, mayhem, terror and killing on a grander scale than ever.

…In the spring and early summer of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson decided to send 100,000 additional U.S. troops to Vietnam, more than doubling the number there. But at a July 28 news conference, he announced that he’d decided to send an additional 50,000 soldiers.

Why did President Johnson say 50,000 instead of 100,000? Because he was heeding the advice from…a secret document…about the already-approved new deployment, urging that “in order to mitigate somewhat the crisis atmosphere that would result from this major U.S. action . . . announcements about it be made piecemeal with no more high-level emphasis than necessary.”

Solomon’s article is not about Vietnam; it’s about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Each small increase in funds and troops for this war sounds so reasonable, with victory lurking just around the next corner. But sometimes, all those corners turn out to be a labyrinth, and all those small, reasonable troop and resource increases total up to a massive investment of blood and treasure.

There are many, many things I wish the U.S. government would learn from pacifists. “There are realistic alternatives to war,” comes to mind. For right now, though, I’d settle for this:

  • One should decide before an endeavor what means you are willing to use to achieve your ends.
  • Then, renounce ends that cannot be achieved by those means.

Fred Charles Iklé, no pacifist he, wrote that nations often make the mistake of “launch[ing] upon a dangerous course of action because one cannot think of any better means to pursue one’s old ends, but fail to examine whether one’s ends ought to be changed” (Every War Must End p. 49).We need to decide what we’re willing to do to “fix” Afghanistan before we commit another dime or drop of blood. We have limits.  Failure to consciously decide on those limits before we make further decisions does not mean those limits do not exist; it only means that we will be incrementally pushed toward and then past them, painfully and to our regret, before we discover them.

Rare is the political or military leader who explains their failure to achieve a stated goal in terms of their own shortcomings and blunders. The problem is never that we lacked a good plan, that we executed it poorly, that the assumptions of the plan were wrong, that we were wrong. The more common tune follows disaster like night follows day: We didn’t have enough resources; we lacked support; we would have won if not for the stab in the back. This stab-in-the-back narrative, Iklé says, “often provides the convenient self-justification that moral cowardice demands” (p. 50). The prequel to the stab-in-the-back storyline, however, is always a general or a president firmly convinced that we can win this thing if we just go in for one more “marginal adjustment.”

Requests for a never-ending line of credit for the Afghan military and for additional U.S. troop deployments are on the horizon. Congress should say no.

Pardon a Brief Interruption

Posted: September 17, 2008 in Uncategorized
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I have to help run a two-day conference at work, which will prevent me from blogging again until Saturday, September 20th.  See you then.  In the meantime, here’s a letter to the editor I wrote in response to a breathless editorial praising General David Petraeus’ performance in Iraq.  Here’s hoping it gets published:

I was disappointed to see the Statesman editorial page take its eye off the ball (Quiet transition of Iraqi command shouts success, Sept. 17). Only by drastically reducing the scope of discussion can one use the word “success” regarding any facet of the U.S.’s Iraq policy. The event you claim “shouts success” provides no model for future action and highlights the increasing belligerence of the Bush administration toward other nations. Wednesday’s editorial indicates ludicrously low standards for foreign policy outcomes after eight years in the wilderness.

Military and international relations expert Andrew Bacevich, himself an Army colonel and West Point graduate, recently said:  “In Iraq, President Bush’s vision of regional transformation [died]…No amount of CPR credited to the so-called surge will revive it. Even if tomorrow Iraq were to achieve stability and become a responsible member of the international community, no sensible person could suggest that Operation Iraqi Freedom provides a model to apply elsewhere.”

Petraeus and Odierno rose to their current positions in large part because they share President Bush’s view of the Middle East. Both share the President’s tendency to view our problems in Iraq stemming not from bad decisions and a lack of planning and foresight, but rather from our current boogeyman: Iran.  Odierno in command of Iraq under a Petreaus at CENTCOM gives President Bush what he wants: a consistent worldview throughout a command structure that will not challenge his basic — and horrendously counterproductive — assumptions about the region.

Success? Hardly. The removal of dissenting voices from the CENTCOM command structure indicates a Bush Administration unchastened by its repeated, disastrous run-ins with reality, and an active attempt to deepen its own myopia.

The anti-war movement in the U.S. has been described as the weakest social movement in America, and for good reason. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) 2.0 is very, very smart.  It understands that Congress wields the power of the purse, and so it distributes its business across every single congressional district, thereby investing most Members’ constituencies economically in the various defense contractors’ well-being. How do you vote against the economic interests of your constituents (in a very concrete way, irrespective of whether your tax/budget policies in a wider sense harm your constituents) and keep your House or Senate seat? Let me give you a hint: you usually don’t.

It’s hard to tell what happened first in this chicken-egg situation: was the MIC 2.0 able to seed every congressional district in the country because the anti-war movement in the U.S. was so weak, or is the anti-war movement so weak because the MIC seeded every congressional district in the country? It really doesn’t matter. We’re hear now, with the Pentagon unable to wage war without the help of corporations, and a vast swath of U.S. citizens happy with it that way.

I had a thought while stuck in traffic this morning.  NPR aired a story about Gen. Odierno taking over in Iraq, which has been considered by some as an ominous indicator for our Iran policy, and I pondered what could be done to slow down what might be a very ugly process unfolding. It occurred to me that, while protests and symbolic action are important, considering where I was sitting at the moment, they’d be wholly insufficient.  The militarism of the U.S. is my daily routine multiplied by 350 million or so: my 30-minute, gasoline-powered commute to work, my patronage of companies-turned-defense-contractors, etc. In an important way, the typical daily routine of a typical American is the military-industrial complex, atomized and spread over the entire economy.  Those daily routines, and the howling protest that would ensue should they be altered by government policies (not to mention the economic strain on dependent communities), are the leverage used to generate ever more government patronage of not just a handful of egregious war profiteers, but a diffuse system of military corporate profit-sharing.

So. I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture here. What’s the point?  The point is that since, in a very real sense, the MIC has succeeded in turning itself into almost every American, every American has the ability to act on it.  The dynamics of the system emerge from us, so we can alter what emerges.

The traditions of the early Christians provides good guidance on how to deal with this situation.  For around three centuries, the church remained relatively uniform in its nonviolence.  The Apostolic Code of Hippolytus makes it clear that Christians serving in the military or in the civilian government who might be called on to kill or order the deaths of others must renounce the power of life and death over others or be rejected by the church. Kurlansky has noted that this attitude made the early Christians history’s first totally anti-war, anti-violence sect.  While the early church faced a rampant militarism hostile to the peace of Christ, they could probably never have imagined the sophistication of a military-industrial complex of today.  But, drawing on their general attitude, I’d cautiously offer the following update:

  • Christians should renounce killing in all forms, period. National interest and self-defense do not free us from Christ’s teachings and example.
  • Christians should renounce positions of authority that include the power to order the deaths of others.
  • Christians should withdraw from industries that profit from the production of weapons and should do all in their power to avoid patronizing such organizations.

This last point is not as simple as it sounds, though.  Nick Turse’s book The Complex details how pervasive military contracting is in our society. Endeavoring to follow this last bit of guidance will take constant effort, vigilance, and intentionality. But considering the state of the anti-war movement in general and the pervasiveness of MIC 2.0, it’s really the only viable option for either stopping the growth of American militarism, or at least removing Christian complicity with it.

Many Christian communities are working on what this could look like: check out The Simple Way and the New Monastics.


Posted: August 12, 2008 in Uncategorized
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I remember sitting in my office down the hall from the first “Petraeus Hearing,” watching the closed-circuit feed as the general and Ambassador Crocker showed charts tracking the Balkanization of Baghdad. The charts illustrated in mathematical, sterile terms that Baghdad reorganized itself along lines of ethnicity and mutual suspicion. The report below dramatizes the cold numbers with pictures and stories. It’s a heartbreaking repudiation of the myth of redemptive violence. Those who say that the “surge is working” have a very limited and brutal view of success.

The image in part 2 of the desolate wasteland of junk, each piece an impromptu gravestone for an unnamed victim of the militias, is heart-rending and poignant.

(Hat tip to Crooks and Liars for finding and posting these links.)

Look on these neighborhoods, these endless, shallow dust-fields of unmarked graves, these walls feebly containing an overflow of pain-wracked violence, and tell me that this is fruit of a Christian nation’s actions on behalf of Christ.

One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Have mercy on us
One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Free us from the bondage of sin and death
One:     Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
All:     Hear our prayer. Grant us peace.

One: For the victims of war
All: Have mercy
One: Women, men and children
All: Have mercy
One: The maimed and the crippled
All: Have mercy
One: The abandoned and the homeless
All: Have mercy
One: the imprisoned and the tortured
All: Have mercy
One: The widowed and the orphaned
All: Have mercy
One: The bleeding and the dying
All: Have mercy
One: The weary and the desperate
All: Have mercy
One: The lost and the forsaken
All: Have mercy

One:   O God — Have mercy on  us sinners
All:     Forgive us for we know not what we do
One:    For our scorched and blackened earth
All:     Forgive us
One:    For the scandal of billions wasted in war
All:     Forgive us
One:    For our arms makers and arms dealers
All:    Forgive us
One:    For our Caesars and Herods
All:    Forgive us
One:     For the violence that is rooted in our hearts
All:    Forgive us

–From The Litany of Resistance.