We’re going to hear a lot about the psychological state of Robert Bates, the Ohio boy-cum-butcher of Afghanistan, but it won’t include much analysis of Obama’s failing counter-insurgency strategy and certainly nothing that would suggest an organic error of strategy and judgment, much less motives. Since we’re the good guys by definition, whatever happens is just bad luck or another narrative of ‘rogue’ elements or individuals suddenly ‘snapping’.
Robert Fisk in The Independent takes notes of a curious statement made by the U.S. Army’s top Afghanistan commander, General John Allen, last month after two American officers were gunned down inside the country’s interior minister (assassinations that have not, incidentally, resulted in any arrests). ‘Now is not the time for revenge’, said Allen. ‘There will be moments like this when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back’.
How amazing that a military commander has to tell his troops in the field to ‘resist whatever urge to strike back’. Sounds as though General Allen was worried in advance that a nocturnal slaughter mission might be on the minds of some of his worthy soldiers. What does it say about a strategy of protecting the locals and winning their hearts and minds from the evil Taliban when you have to ask your grunts to please not go out and murder them in vengeance? Which they then proceed to do anyway.
Little by little, the façade is crumbling, and the nasty truth is harder and harder to stuff back in the closet. Despite all our armaments and vast expenditures, the decade-long war in Afghanistan is lost, and the sooner someone dares to recognize that sorry fact, the better. (And the cheaper—it’s now costing us $2 billion a week).
Military defeat is never popular, and within my living memory the utter horror of looking like a loser impelled Nixon and Kissinger to war crimes. They doubled down on the lost cause in Indochina so as not to preside over the inevitable U.S. retreat, probably out of macho pride. (Kissinger has never suffered for this hubris and has done quite well for himself ever since.) Nixon managed to escape the thankless role by being impeached, then Gerald Ford was saddled with it and was promptly ousted at the first opportunity.
Obama also went along with the idea that his generals could win the Afghan war—have military leaders ever argued that they can’t?—and thereby made it his own. His new campaign video doesn’t even mention it, and if the situation further deteriorates, Obama’s re-election chances could well suffer, as they should.
Glenn Greenwald cheers sarcasticallyat the inevitable self-congratulations being heard here at home over the very proper outrage we humanitarian Americans feel over this shameful episode. He cites those two overflowing fonts of conventional wisdom—NPR and the Washington Post—thus (WP writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran on Morning Edition): ‘Obviously, over at home here in the United States I think people’s sense of revulsion at this act, the shooting, has been far greater.’
Get that? Even when slaughtering the locals, it’s we in the United States who are more upset by it, not local people burying their dead children. Just wait until Sergeant Bates goes on trial for this modern My Lai massacre: the blogs and newspapers will be jammed with indignant letters from veterans and military worshippers demanding that the poor guy be sent to a restful mental hospital and be given anti-depressants.
Or as NPR’s Steve Inskeep said to sum it all up: In Afghanistan, ‘human life is already cheap’.