By Fred Reed
Oh lordy, lordy, how I love the Afghan war: It just goes on and on, without end. By comparison death and taxes seem long shots.
In the latest episode of this long-running sitcom, the Afghan army is killing GIs. Yes. Blowing them away right and left. In Washington, the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel is in shock and maybe awe. It has stopped training Afghan troops because it is scared of them. It has ordered our soldiers to stay armed to protect themselves against our devoted allies, to whom we are bringing democracy, because they want to kill us.
How can this be, you ask? The brass are puzzled too. The reason can’t be that Afghans don’t like night raids, torture, GIs going house to house and shooting women and kids, drone strikes blowing up weddings, and other routine mechanisms of democratization. Instead, it must be…Taliban infiltrators. Yes. This being decided, all is now well. Just as the military calls routine atrocities “isolated incidents,” it attributes Afghani hostility to Taliban infiltrators. Problem solved. In the modern marketing military, you don’t need a solution, just a saleable explanation.
OK. In the Guardian, I learn that actual Pentagonal military psycho-wonks have done a study on what Afghans and gringos think of each other. (report) Saith the Guardian:
“One group sees the other as a bunch of violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant, self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology; and the other group [the US soldiers] generally view the former as a bunch of cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent, lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous, and murderous radicals. Such is the state of progress in the current partnering programme. Over a decade of fighting shoulder-to-shoulder had created mutual loathing that was impossible to camouflage.”
Who would have thought it?
Anybody with the slighytest acquaintance with reality. Tell you what, brothels and cisterns, I could have written every word of it, and I’ve never been to Afghanistan. It’s Viet Nam all over again. Which means that it’s all over, again. GIs and Afghans hate each other.
What do you expect when you put combative, not too bright, half-educated, unsophisticated lower-middle-class guys into an illiterate thirteenth-century culture with a history of detesting invaders? I know, I know: you figured it would spark a love-in, koom-bah-yah, Oprah as featured speaker.
This comedy occurs because the military inhabits a parallel reality. In its experience, you tell a thing to happen, and it does. If the base commander decides that all dumpsters should be painted Day-Glo chartreuse, he issues orders, paint crews go out, and three days later the dumpsters glow sort of greenly. The military also believes that things work. Put 6000 sailors and a hundred airplanes on an aircraft carrier, obviously an unworkable idea—and it works. It works because everyone wants it to work and does what he is told.
Afghanistan isn’t an aircraft carrier. It has a different shape, it isn’t as flat, and it is full of Afghans. These are important distinctions.
Further, the military thinks that policy determines existence. American policy is that Afghanistan is an allied country like Germany, which it isn’t, that Karzai is chief of state like Angela Merkel, which he isn’t, that the Afghan population are our allies, which they are not, and that if you train Afghans who hate us to say Ooo-rah!, they will want to kill other Afghans that we don’t like—which, obviously they don’t.
Add to the military’s eternal misunderstanding of the enemy’s motivation a matching underestimation of his capacity to fight, plus hypertrophied self-confidence, and you get an over-armed, under-brained, excessively ooo-rahed pack of losers. Don’t think so? How is it that a trillion-dollar military with fighter-bombers, helicopters, armor, electronics, drones, and such can’t beat pissed-off goat-herders with rifles? What do you think would happen if GIs had to fight on equal terms—sandals and a smoke pole, no PX?
Please don’t send me growly mail about Our Boys and their courage, training, sacrifice, honor, and the rest of that string of beads. For one thing, there is no honor in going to someone else’s country and butchering people you don’t know because some political general, which is to say some general, told you to; A hit man for the Mafia is exactly as honorable. For another thing, an army’s job is not to be brave, selfless, yada yada, but to win wars. Look at the record:
Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos: Dead losses. Underestimated the Vietnamese, the AK, the RPG, the IED. By policy the Pentagon said the war was about communism, while the Viets thought it was about getting invaders out of their country, which they did. The GIs hated the Viets as they always hate their allies. The Pentagon left with its tail between legs.
Beirut, 1983: Dead loss, 241 Marines killed versus one Arab. Underestimated the enemy and the truck bomb, had amateurish security, and misunderstood local motivations. Left with tail between legs.