Afghanistan 2014: How the US will Lose Yet another fruitless War (Jones)

Ann Jones writes at

Kabul, Afghanistan — Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat — the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think — as Afghans once did — that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them — exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.

In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) — and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts — from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans — have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans — the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question — do you think American forces should stay or go? — the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people — and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan — and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age — compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable — like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario — collapse — haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties — Islamists all — agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping — until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

Ann Jones is the author of Kabul in Winter: Life without Peace in Afghanistan (Metropolitan 2006) and more recently War Is Not Over When It’s Over (Metropolitan 2010).  She wants to acknowledge the courage and determination of all her friends in Afghanistan, especially the women, and the men who stand beside them.

Copyright 2013 Ann Jones


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25 Responses

  1. The thing that people forget about Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal is that the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul held on pretty decently until the USSR collapsed and the flow of money and weapons stopped. If the US and the international community can maintain a stream of finance to Afghanistan (expensive yes, but certainly less than keeping an army in-country) it may enable the government to hang on and deal with the disparate insurgent groups from a stronger position than expected.

  2. Ann’s description of the internal political and social situation in the country is as strong as her analysis of the military question is weak.

    Discussing the outcome of a war like the one currently going on in Afghanistan in terms of “victory” or “losing” is profoundly misguided.

    TomDispatch has its virtues, but their commentary on military affairs is second to several.

    • Gee, Joe, the War Guys who run the Pentagram and the really deep policy people and the folks who feed the news hens in the FOX coop sure sold and sell it to us as something where a misty water-coolered vision called “Victory” and “Success” and “Defeat of the Enemy” are what it was, is and will be, for all the wealth and bodies we feed it, in future spasms of expensive imperial invasion and rout. Or was that public face of the whole thing just “profoundly misguided?” As in “The whole idea is to keep the public who pays in the total darkness (except for the mandatory ‘light at the end of the tunnel’) about what the Game Really Is”?

      So that once again, after trillions of dollars and (hundreds of) thousands of lives, and further warpage of “civil society,” inter alia to prolong the
      Oiligarchy, the Smart Guys can come up, post hoc, with all the reasons why, “yeah, we really meant to do that!” and “It’s NOT MY FAULT!” And the people that bring us these “wars,” these rackets, these meaningless, mindless transfers of wealth, gaily painted in patriotic colors with banners flying reading “National Interest!” are going to tell the folks who pay for them, every which way, that any “analysis of the military question” that does not follow the Script for the Narrative is what, again? WEAK?

      And you toss the author off in three sentences. Do you have three sentences that can capture and explain what the “national interests” are that made it mandatory to march on into a place like Afghanistan, all drums and bugles and “We’re Gonna Win This Sucker?

      And yep, “it’s complicated,” too complicated to be understood except by the parasites who live in the belly of it, because there are so many ways that billions of dollars can be disappeared, and there’s always the excuse that “Stuff happens” on accounta the unknown unknowns, don’t you non-military-cognoscenti know?

      Don’t like what Engelhart and Turse and folks who study the Beast and its behaviors from outside? Pretty weak to relegate them to “second to several.” Like some of your retired generals and war wimps who Speak The Lingo?

      With the possible exception of WW II, every US “war” since then has been a “victory-fail” bust from the standpoint of the Common Man… And WW I, where the General Officers set in motion the notion that They Had A Plan and Had Everything Under Control. And here we are, back to wars of attrition, where the wearing down is done by guys in turbans with WW I rifles, RPGs, and re-gifted Good Old American Ordnance. What nonsense.

      • You should ignore “the war guys” and acquaint yourself with some more nuanced, thoughtful analysts. Fox News’ military analysts are just as beholden to an eternal, unchanging narrative as…well…you.

      • JT,

        Like some of your retired generals and war wimps who Speak The Lingo?

        Among your numerous shortcomings is your habit of dividing the world into “people who think exactly like me” and “everyone else.”

        If you imagine there is even the slightest similarity between what I think, and what appears on Fox News, you need to leave your bubble more.

    • Joe,
      I would believe an analysis of military outcomes at TomDispatch before I’d believe any of the self-delusion posted at Long War Journal, Foreign Policy or Joint Forces Quarterly.
      The reason John Allen is unfit to wind down the Afghan War is because he is too invested personally in somehow proving that it was all worth it. Obana would have replaced him already if it weren’t for the Broadwell imbroglio.
      If you’ve fought there, or even if you just went there as a REMF, you cannot see clearly. It’s too personal.

      Jones is easily duped by “Strategic Communnications” (US military propaganda directed at the US Congress.) She believes, for example, that the US military was serious about negotiating with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, because they said so.

      But she has a willingness to allow resistant facts to disturb her preconcieved notions. “Military”-friendly sources suffer from no such weakness.

      “Military” has layers of meanings.
      To politicians, it means the Generals and the Contractors. To vets like me, it means folks who serve in the lower ranks.
      Those are two completely different entities, and completely different meanings. All they have in common is a deep interest in the suffering and dying of the second group, but for completely different reasons.

      And Joe, I’ve got some bad news:
      while we won the invasion of 2001-2002, we lost the occupation and imperial era of 2005-2014.
      Anyone can make the judgment: just check to see if the military achieved it’s assigned goals/ objectives/ mission.
      Use any version: the 2 Administrations have cranked out at least a dozen versions between them, and we’ve failed to meet any.

      • Brian,

        I would believe an analysis of military outcomes at TomDispatch before I’d believe any of the self-delusion posted at Long War Journal, Foreign Policy or Joint Forces Quarterly.

        I would them in roughly equal esteem, or lack thereof.

        If you’ve fought there, or even if you just went there as a REMF, you cannot see clearly. It’s too personal.

        I wonder, do you bring this same misguided idea to any other fields of government endeavor? Should we ignore Dr. Howard Dean on health care issues, because having real-world experience in the field means that it’s “too personal?”

        And Joe, I’ve got some bad news:
        while we won the invasion of 2001-2002, we lost the occupation and imperial era of 2005-2014.

        It’s usually not a good idea to describe the future using the past tense. Doing so is certainly not “news.”

        Use any version: the 2 Administrations have cranked out at least a dozen versions between them, and we’ve failed to meet any.

        Actually, the one currently being articulated by the Obama administration sounds sufficiently modest, and therefore workable: to leave Afghanistan with a government that can defend its borders, which is not an ally of al Qaeda. Being rather modest myself, I think it would probably be best to wait until we have some real-world evidence before we draw a conclusion about whether this goal has been achieved, instead of merely checking our guts and proclaiming that it can’t possibly be, because that’s what (some of us, rather callously) want to believe.

        • A constant theme with Bill and Joe seems to be that “we,” us dilettantes who don’t reside in one of the Rings of Power, should just leave all this to the “experts.”

          Took a walk down memory lane, hearing an interview of the guy who wrote one of the many “Vietnam” books, “DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle.” Reminded me of just how idiotic the whole thing was, top to bottom, winning hearts and minds by invading them and killing them and trashing their land to “stop Commyanism,” with lots of real-world evidence inescapably concluding that “we” did not even achieve our modest re-re-re-re-re-re-revised goals of leaving a government in half a country that could defend its borders and not be allied with the USSR. A much bigger enemy than the current one, albeit painted the same color.

          Apparently a lot of GIs from the present land wars are coming to the same realization, some, many even, to the point of suicide.

          McNamara was an “expert,” a great business success and a wonderful War Manager. Kissinger was (and is) an “eggsbert,” in everything, at all times. Petraeus was (and is) an “expert” in the Brassing of his position, and the promotion of elevated doctrines of serial failure pedigree, and so are the other general officers who are masters of complexity and interoperability and procurement and logistics and dare one say it, institutionalized corruption so big that it can’t even attempt to be audited.

          Since maybe even Eisenhower, it sure don’t seem to me that we have been served by much in the way of effective, win-it or even break-even, expertise.

        • I intentionally haven’t followed you, Bill and Joe in your bickering. However, I will say that Petraeus’ re-write of the rules of ‘counter-insurgency’ was preposterous from the get-go. If the Vietnam lesson is clear on anything, it’s on how and why counter-insurgency is a failure. Which is maybe why Petraeus, while mouthing promotion of counter-insurgency, actually did more on counter-terrorism once he took over Afghanistan. That was always Obama’s priority and Petraeus, by handing the Presiden Bin Ladin’s head, could have collected the entire drone project (the future) under his command. Of course, he threw the opportunity away in the end.

        • Actually, that’s not fair. I don’t agree very much with the ideological orientation of Foreign Policy, but lumping them in with LWJ or JFQ isn’t right.

  3. Lose another ‘fruitless’ war ? Wars are not engaged in to be ‘won’ anymore don’t you know ? There need be no ‘final victory’ or the population behind you 100% as in ‘traditional’ wars. Now it’s just military-business-as-usual. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about keeping the engine of the military-corporate-industrial complex operating at full capacity and the profits and promotions coming in without end. The destruction of the people in Afghanistan (Iraq, Mali, Yemen, Iran etc.) doesn’t matter. Even the bankruptcy of the American people doesn’t matter. What matters is the ‘military economy’. The US may ‘lose’ the war, but the military will always win. They’ve always regretted leaving Vietnam. They won’t leave this time. It will go on and on forever.

    • You must be right, because if the American people had really believed the bullshit they were told that any of the wars since 1945 were as important as the war against the Nazi and Japanese empires, they would have immediately demanded a debate on how the necessary sacrifices in comfort and wealth would be distributed. In 2001 did the government immediately open war factories to get the unemployed off the streets? Did it sell war bonds in every movie theater? Did taxes even go up? No, they were immediately cut. The president even told everyone to go out and buy stuff so the terrorists could not claim the victory of having started a US depression.

      In other words, the masses are in on this scam as much as the elites. It’s just that the masses comply because they can’t bear to sacrifice anything but their liberties due to their rapacious, dope-addict-like appetites.

  4. Here’s some good solutions to corruption in America: Stop the money profiteering of phony wars, elections, politics and of corporations that manufacture offshore. Stop the stealing of Americans’ taxes to support the endless wars of the corrupt Military Industrial Complex which make filthy rich the corrupt Billionaires ruling Congress which is half corrupt millionaires, the other half becoming millionaires; ruling the phony mass news media; ruling the illegal Federal Reserve which is a private corporation; ruling the FDA with its conflict of interests; etc.

  5. I cant help but suspect if they had been left to their own devices before being tooled up to the eyeballs they might have learnt to live with each other by now.

  6. Operation Cyclone to defeat the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul was the most expensive covert operation carried out in the history of the CIA. Also known as Charlie Wilson’s War after the charismatic U.S. Congressman who was its primary backer in Congress.

    What is so bizarre is that the Cold War was so effectively won by the CIA and Defense Department that Islamic fundamentalism has replaced Communism as the key foe of American and pro-Western interests.

    No more Marxists fighting in Afghanistan – the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are now the major threat.

    Saddam Hussein, an ally of Russia, is gone and so is the internal stability his Baathists brought to Iraq.

    There are recent reports that operatives the MEK, a Marxist group in Iran opposing the government, is receiving technical communications training by the Defense Department in the U.S.

    America has come full circle from McCarthyism, Operation Cyclone and the anathema to Marxist adherents to actually abandon the “Better dead than red” slogan and recognize Marxist movements as a posible ally against the spread of jihadists and fundamental Islam in politics. Will “Better dead than green” be the new motto of American patriots?

  7. “Defeat” is much too strong a word.

    US losses in personnel and equipment have been small. The overwhelming majority of people killed or maimed in Afghanistan have been Afghani.

    The financial expense has also been small. People might find such a statement surprising, but it’s true. The US gov’t has been able to finance the entire cost of all of its 21st century warmaking at almost zero per cent interest and with a very long amortization. The US central bank has been able to rapidly and massively expand the money supply in order to accomodate the scale of borrowing involved. Contrary to economic theory, this massive credit expansion has neither created much inflation in the USA, nor has it significantly damaged the creditworthiness of the US gov’t.

    In other words, the USA has been unsuccessful in its Afghan war, but the failure has come at negligable military or economic expense.

    Therefore, we should not be surprised to see a continuing series of similar ventures undertaken by the USA or other Western countries. Experimenting with warfare has seldom been so cheap, easy, or safe as it for the peoples of today’s West.

    • The overwhelming majority of people killed or maimed in Afghanistan have been Afghan civilians.

    • “War is cheap! at these prices…” Of course that facile argument may be tongue in cheek, one would hope. Completely begs the question of what ought to be done with a trillion or two a year that could be “borrowed” at your zero cost to fund shit like transition to a national health care system, repairing or replacing all the bridges that are on the point of falling down, putting back the money (whatever that is, any more) “borrowed” from the Social Security HaHa Trust Fund, encouraging post-combustion energy provisions, securing our food supplies (short of subsidies to the Soylent Corporation), stuff like that.

      And of course from my little stack of 3 x 5s, augmented by a zillion examples of corruption and inefficiency and clumsy idiot Bigness, we should remember the fundamental truth, however obscured by apologists and the intense lovers of all things uniform and deadly and expensive, “War is nothing but a racket. Any more, “War,” as you indicate, is not about national goals achieved after honest debate — it’s about wealth transfer of Created Money (that for the players, spends just like the dollars in my bi-weekly paycheck) to be-medaled, over-acronymed, overgrown children who want what they want when they want it: “Experimenting with warfare has seldom been so cheap, easy or safe as it is for the peoples of today’s West.” Which kind of establishes that it is not “war” as Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and the Marine Hymn apprehend it.

      And I bet Yves Smith, over there at nakedcapitalism, may have a very different notion of the accounting when it comes to toting up the actual costs, internal and external, of the cancerous, metastatic growth of the War Culture. Dare one ask what the endpoint is? Species death, enhanced by encouragement of the behaviors that heat up the planet? And solar panels on the Humvee’s roof don’t begin to be green enough to do more than give the PR liars a talking point.

  8. The reason why every conqueror fails in Afghanistan is that every conqueror wants the same thing – for the place to be kept quiet so it can’t disrupt more important places.

    So you go in to install a strongman and the Afghans pull out their ultimate weapon: disintegration. They have evolved the perfect defense for their situation, institutions that collapse before a conqueror can employ them. Since Afghans, unlike most people, don’t need functioning institutions to organize themselves for violence, are in fact better at do-it-yourself, the conqueror can never stabilize the country.

    Too bad that this evolutionary strategy leaves them with no legal means of survival, but that’s where the narcotics rackets kick in.

    The bigger problem, we see, is that there’s always another conquerer who thinks he will do better.

  9. Congrats, Jones, on a solid piece.
    No deep analysis so as to provoke the low information voter into action, but tasty treats to entertain us self-identified FP junkies.

    My fave:

    “So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal ‘development’ projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong ‘leaders.'”

    Leviathan, thy name is “Interagency.”


    And cute to a fault:

    “In the U.S., such details [installing a puppet government of criminal warlords] of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten …”

    The one most significant fact of the whole Afghan War is that it is an ethnic-based civil war, with the US backing the Hazaras, Tadjiks and Uzbeks, to help them subjugate the Pashtuns. The US military is fighting a racist battle AGAINST the principles in our Declaration of Independence.
    But that fact has been classified a military secret. Shhhh!

    Most Pashtuns don’t like being represented by, governed by, or defended by Taliban knuckle draggers. But that appears to be the only effective means of protecting their families from the invading foreigners (Hazaras, Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Yanks, &tc.)
    But you only find that out if you listen to Pashtuns, agruably (if the Durand Line is not sacrosanct) the majority of the population.

    • The one most significant fact of the whole Afghan War is that it is an ethnic-based civil war, with the US backing the Hazaras, Tadjiks and Uzbeks, to help them subjugate the Pashtuns. The US military is fighting a racist battle AGAINST the principles in our Declaration of Independence.
      But that fact has been classified a military secret. Shhhh!

      Odd, then, that we’re backing a government run by a Pashtun.

      I assume that the Popalzai, who are strongly behind the government, are not “real Pashtuns.”

      • Got anything more than bits of serial drive-by italicized impeachment?

        Or is it worth the time to write out what the real situation is, in your estimation, and what the etiology was, and what the end-game and flux and flow of the policies and behaviors you apologize for is supposed to be? My guess, if you haven’t done so elsewhere, is that Prof. Cole would consider giving you a guest podium gig.

        Or would that just open up a can of worms, or expose stuff that is currently hidden or ignored or misdirected away from, as part of keeping the same old ball in the same old play? Not to mention retaliatory serial drive-by impeachment, of course, which once again obscures the big picture behind little frames of sarcasm and “Incorrects.”

      • When division is not enough, subdivide. It’s not like the Pashtuns voted in Karzai as head Pashtun. He was a “resistance figure” who, along with Zalmay Khalizad, lobbied the Taliban on behalf of Unocal Oil getting the pipeline deal over a rival Pakistani bid. The Taliban, a creature of the Pakistani ISI, chose Pakistan. When the Taliban were defeated and we had no way to make our Northern Alliance partners palatable to the Pashtuns, we rewarded these two men.

        I think grudges are held pretty long in that part of the world.

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