One of the oddest things about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is how little attention the American public has paid to them for the duration. Through the rose colored glasses of history, we generally accept that the public was involved in the Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam to an extent that seems strange and foreign to us today. The news that trickles out of the Middle East has been and remains infrequent, bad, and received with little interest.

Focusing on bad news is neither exclusive to the American media nor to these wars. Still, part of me wonders if the situation in Afghanistan is not somewhat more positive than we might think because only the bad news gets reported. Then the other parts of me remind Part 1 that bad news is getting reported because the news is almost exclusively bad.

Last fall there was an astounding piece of public opinion research done in Afghanistan, showing that 92% of the 1000 Afghan males surveyed have never heard of 9/11. Think about that. They have no idea whatsoever why the US military is in their country beyond perhaps a vague notion that we do not like the Taliban. Conducting a scientific poll in a primitive, war-torn country with an illiteracy epidemic presents major challenges, and I have no doubt that the polling agency would allow that the data and sample are imperfect. Regardless, even if 92% is an overestimate the data still underscore the reason that we are not winning and never will win the war there. It is impossible to win the hearts and minds of a population with no understanding of the geopolitical events that started the war. It's also impossible to win hearts and minds by blowing stuff (and people) up, but that goes without saying.

So bearing in mind that the Afghan population does not know why we are there – Does the American public even know? Do our leaders? – consider this kind of news in rapid succession:

– The US military is caught burning Korans. I believe the official explanation that this was accidental only because I cannot conceive of anyone being stupid enough to do it intentionally. Regardless, Afghans are understandably displeased.

– With that fiasco fresh in everyone's mind a US soldier goes on a one-man killing spree, killing sixteen. Most were women and children. While the US military will argue that it can't be judged by the deranged choice made by a single soldier, the Afghan public is unlikely to appreciate that fine point of distinction. As a scholar quoted in the article notes, "This is a fatal hammer blow on the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Whatever sliver of trust and credibility we might have had following the burnings of the Koran is now gone."

That is starting to look like a fair assessment. It's hard to spot the end of a war that had no coherent mission and no measurable progress from the beginning, but I'd say this is looking quite a bit like the endpoint. There appears to be little left for the US military to do but turn everything over to the sparse, corrupt, and weak Afghan government and then pull up stakes in the middle of the night and disappear. It's eerie how we were just talking about the Fall of Saigon a week ago; we may be re-enacting something similar in the near future.

Will anyone even notice? Have the GOP candidates – or any candidate for Congress, for that matter – devoted anything but token attention and interest to Afghanistan? No, they're all breathlessly laying out plans to start a war with Iran, taking care to stand behind the podium to hide their erections. The war nobody paid attention to, fought for reasons Afghans didn't understand and toward ends that Americans couldn't define, will finally get the full attention of the political system…when the candidates decide that it will be a convenient excuse to call Obama a quitter, pansy, cheese-eating surrender monkey, and betrayer of the American way.

And ten or fifteen or thirty years from now, we still won't have learned our lesson about saving countries by blowing them up and trying to teach their people to thank us for it.


  • Middle Seaman says:

    We got used to a huge military we do not need and wars that do not make sense. Korea, Vietnam, Granda, Panama, Somalia, etc.

    There is no significant core of protest to this warmongering. Bush I, II and III all are stupid jobbers. To fix it we need to the military to about a quarter of its current size.

  • @A Says: 2003 was the last time Congress authorized the president to use military force against another nation.

  • The mind-blowing dumbness of the Bush Administration will continue to affect American interests for another decade at least–assuming the Right doesn't fully regain power this fall, and that terrifying prospect is actually not particularly unlikely given the racism of the American electorate, and its stupidity, which all Republican candidates are happy to pander to. Gingrich is saying, as only he can, that Bush left office with gas at a mere $2.83 per gallon. For this remarkable distortion of remembered history he gets "yeah rights" from the millions of morons who think Obama is a muslim foreigner who should be impeached for being stuck with an absurd pair of wars that the Bush administration started. And we still pipe Limbaugh to the troops every fucking day.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    If there was ever a sliver of a chance at bringing Afghanistan into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st, it was right after we went in after 9/11.
    There should have been a "Marshall Plan," to be put in place, right after the fighting was done – which everyone knew wouldn't take long at all.

    But "Baby Doc" Bush, Cheney, and Rummy had no such thing in mind. Invading Afghanistan was for revenge for 9/11 only – and a warm-up before the bigger game.
    Their eyes were on the larger prize – Iraq – which had, to the detriment of the Iraqi's, both Saddam and oil. And "Baby Doc" wanted to show that his pecker was larger than "Papa Doc" Bush's by defeating Saddam. And was convinced that the oil would pay for the invasion.

    We might have had a chance of 'winning hearts and minds' in the Middle East, if we had gone in and put economic resources into rebuilding Afghanistan, like we did Germany and Japan, after we defeated them.
    It might have been a shining example, like Germany and Japan were, of American ingenuity and generosity.
    But we'll never know for sure, now will we?

    Instead, "Baby Doc" and company, wanted to win wars on the cheap, while lowering taxes for the wealthy, and sticking the tabs for the two wars and occupations, and their gift to the pharmaceutical industry, on credit cards, to leave the next administration(s) to pay the tab.

    And now, not only do we not have the resources to even try a "Too-late, Marshall Plan" to bring Afghanistan into the 20th-21st Centuries. we are fighting not to backslide into the early 20th Century ourselves.

    America will never recover from the "Baby Doc" Bush Presidency.
    And I wonder if that wasn't the plan all along…

  • anotherbozo says:

    I find it depressingly predictable that media refuse to use the i-word or even "temporary" i-word in their speculations on the Afghanistan rampage murderer. They refer to a "head injury" sustained during one of his four tours of duty, and Leon Panetta invokes a possible death penalty, perhaps trying to placate the many literate Afghanis who subscribe to the Washington Post.

    I'm reminded of the "Long Island Railroad shooter" who mowed down several passengers at random several years ago, then fired his court-appointed lawyer and rambled incoherently in his defense at the trial. The i-word wasn't mentioned then, either. He got the guilty verdict and sat while relatives of the victims ranted at him. Brilliant.

    The very act of mowing down women and children in their sleep should argue eloquently for derangement (though what is a "deranged choice?"), as Ed mentions, or legal insanity, temporary or otherwise. Yet our primitive instincts–in which we aren't so much different from uneducated Afghanis–seek revenge rather than acknowledge that yet another human has gone totally bonkers.

  • To be honest, I'm not sure *I* understand why we went into Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I was told that both had to do with:
    -protecting America (from what threat?)
    -avenging 9/11 (in what way?)
    -discouraging terrorism (are you kidding?)
    -eliminating WMD (oh, come on)

    If military action had been accompanied by a great PR campaign (over there, not here), maybe I'd go with points 1 and 3.

    But the surface reasons given are so tenuously defensible that I have to think there were other agendas. Unfortunately, in the absence of explanation, I can only theorize…

  • @anotherbozo:
    To use the i-word is to admit that the military's screening and training might not be as efficient and awesome as we are led to believe. To use the i-word makes the military and it's entire recruitment process culpable, whereas calling it a "head injury" not only absolves the military of recruiting the unstable, but also makes him a tragic hero, a man forever altered by the brutality of fighting a battle in a primitive and brutal country. He may get the death penalty, but we'll here about his glowing service record and about how he was a true American who was knocked sideways by trauma.

    Seriously, some of the young men I've encountered recently who go into or want to go into the military are not men who want to defend their country as much as their boys who want to make their Halo experience a reality. They are looking "to kill someone" and to "be the bad ass man" (actual quotes from a group I spoke to recently). The military, to some extent, has always been the place where men (mostly) who have no other options left go to get a career (or to avoid prison) or some sort of job. Now however, it's a last resort for those who aren't college material, can't hold a job, and exhibit some scary homicidal tendencies. And because the recruits are less than desirable Grade A military modeling clay, the boot camps are even more aggressive (or so my lifer military uncles tell me).

  • Crap, typing before coffee sucks. That should be "its entire" and "we'll hear." PhD in English for the effing win!

  • It's quite fascinating, the way that the neocons and now Obama's happy crew have managed to salvage the very worst and most useless policy choices from the Roman Empire via the British Empire. Nothing that would actually work; nothing that would even be relatively neutral. Instead, it has been all about doing things the worst and most self-destructive way possible. Well, I suppose in a nutshell, that _is_ the legacy of Reagan, but I wonder why it has to be.

  • @CU:
    "We might have had a chance of 'winning hearts and minds' in the Middle East, if we had gone in and put economic resources into rebuilding Afghanistan, like we did Germany and Japan, after we defeated them.
    It might have been a shining example, like Germany and Japan were, of American ingenuity and generosity.
    But we'll never know for sure, now will we?"

    Dove tails nicely with yesterday's post.
    The Marshall Plan came from a place of a vibrant "can do" nation.
    Probably inspired by the old America as the World's Policeman policies. It was by a fresh faced, idealist, young cop who really wanted to make a difference on his beat.
    Now we're that fat lazy cop, who'd rather harass teenagers hanging out at the Gas-n-Sip, because they've eaten all the fancy doughnuts and is just hanging on until retirement.

  • Darby Witherspoon says:

    So, I've been living under a rock this election season. Invading Iran? The Fuck… They have about the population of Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The population is better educated. Iran has a larger economy and more allies. We barely managed the last two wars at all, how but by the grace of God do they.. expect… OH SHIT…

  • This brings to mind a line from an old "Not the Nine O'clock News" episode. To periphrase from memory:

    The United States is trying to make up for being late for the first two World Wars by being REALLY prompt for every other war.

  • @Major Kong
    WWI and WWII were both unpopular wars for the US too, so much so that they let everyone else doing the fighting for years.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I like the analogy.
    And there's also a large part of "we" who are the old cops starting to accuse every woman walking a street alone, with being a street-walking prostitute.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Darby Witherspoon,
    To about 27% of the people in this country, the best way to take away the bad taste of defeat, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to attack someone else – like Iran.

    That of course, is the opinion of the Neocon cowards, and their supporters, who've never fought in a war themselves – but remember how badly they felt in their College dorm-room when they lost on one front in the game of "Risk," and how much better they felt when they attacked on another one!

    Even if they eventually lost on THAT front, too.
    Hey, it's only a game!

  • I'm starting to realize I'll be dead in the ground before America elects a president willing to fully relinquish the PNAC narrative.

    @Hazy Davy:
    I accept that there was no satisfactory response to 9/11 that didn't involve wiping out OBL and al Qaeda. A few years in, Little Boots had already admitted that he didn't really give a fuck about that anymore.

  • "We might have had a chance of 'winning hearts and minds' in the Middle East, if we had gone in and put economic resources into rebuilding Afghanistan, like we did Germany and Japan, after we defeated them.
    It might have been a shining example, like Germany and Japan were, of American ingenuity and generosity.
    But we'll never know for sure, now will we?"

    You know, Germany and Japan were modern countries with infrastructure, industry, and educated population, etc. Afghanistan is NOTHING like them. Nobody has been able to modernize it yet, and I seriously doubt we could have.

    I read this book (name escapes me) about a guy who walked across Afghanistan. What he found were tribes that had little or no idea they were a citizen of something called "Afghanistan" and had a government in Kabul. They knew they hated the tribe over in the next valley like poison, and had for a hundred years, though.

    It's going to take more than a Marshall plan for a place like that.

  • Re Afghanistan: having lived through the Vietnam War, and watching us make the very same mistakes all over again–with the same likely end to it all–I can't decide which is more applicable to us:

    "Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it"–Santayana

    "They forgot nothing, they learned nothing"–Talleyrand, speaking of the Bourbon kings.

  • anotherbozo says:

    (belatedly) @ jeneria:

    All of what you say is totally convincing (and interesting and depressing as hell), but my assumption (born out by so many civilian cases of shooting sprees) was that where the public wants vengeance, the possibilities of insanity or temporary insanity are systematically ignored and even the legal description of "understanding right from wrong" not even subject to testing. The public needs its satisfaction.

    As to vulnerability to flipping out, I think we all have potential, whether by virtue of genetics or impossibly stressful environment or just crossing the tenuous line from fantasy to reality. Arguably our sanity teeters on a hairtrigger. Now pardon me while I go play Grand Theft Auto.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Of course, you're 100% right about the differences.

    But, at least, 10+ years ago, coming in and looking to help create order out of chaos, and even with the 'nothing to work or start from' that was there, we could at least have given it "the old college try!", and made the world feel better about us.

    But now, after a decade of war and occupation, it's kind of tough to try to sell/rebrand ourselves as "The Good Guys," to the friends and relatives of the people we've already killed and maimed there.

    We need to get out ASAP!
    Sooner, if possible.

  • "wetcasements Says:
    March 13th, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Not hyperbole: America's finished. Make way for China, India, and possibly Brazil. It's there century now."

    I really have a problem with this mentality. Primarily because its demonstratively absurd. The United States is, and will be for a good while, the global unipole. There is no state nor combination of states that could pose a credible military challenge to our utter, global, domination of both the sea and communications technologies. Stephen Walt points this out in this post:

    However, before I am labeled a neocon jingo, I will say two things. First, there is a difference between engaging another power in a formal war, and occupying a state, as we've found out in our Middle Eastern ventures. Second, America is in decline, just not as precipitously as many claim, and so we are not immune from overreach, such as the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq.

    American neoconservative ideology is intended to preserve American hegemony by aggressively spreading neoliberal, agruably neoimperialist, economic policies and institutions that keep the U.S. as the center of the global economy. Re-purposing Bretton Woods recovery institutions is not new, but forcing them, militarily, on unwilling states is. Rather than preserve the U.S. from decline, our aggression has hastened it.

  • @nate: true. However, historically the Afghanis have an underlying sense of "this is us, you are not". They seem to fight each other more for sport and fun, than any profitable gain (at least gain from our perspective). They are constantly shifting allegiances and "normal family hierarchies" found in other tribal groups ie get to the elders and everyone falls in behind them. Here, nephews will side with uncles, but sons will oppose fathers. At least for today, next week could be a different story.

    One thing they can decide on is, we may not like those in the next valley, but we hate the interloper more. Ask the Persians, Greeks, English, Soviets just to name the more famous examples. And will certainly unify to shove them out.

    Afghanistan probably epitomises Thatcher's "There is no society, there are only individuals." philosophy.

  • I dunno'…I'm heading over there very shortly…
    I feel the vast majority of the American public, in some cases present company excluded, utterly and totally misunderstand one (POV of the Americans and other foreign nationals on the ground there), two (POV of history/future history), three (POV of the fraction of Afghan people in any kind of position to keep if from descending back into Thunderdome), or more different perspectives necessary to something approaching a full-ish understanding of the past, present, and future of the situation.
    Also, just for the record, "Will anyone even notice?" seems to me a flip piece of snark and a cheap shot at the large numbers of people around the globe and in Southwest Asia who most certainly notice what happens there; also, there will definitely not be a "fall of Saigon" moment. I feel it is absurd for you to even pretend that it is a legitimate potential outcome. There aren't any fucking NVA regulars or Chinese surrogates; there isn't even a substantial uber-/supra-tribal oranizational infrastructure to make something like that happen.

  • The real problem is, we're all ants on a sidewalk who imagine we bestride the universe and are its crowning glory.

    O our noble arguings! Our brilliance! The worthiness without end of this project! Who indeed shall finally possess the treasured popsicle leavings, before death and oblivion?

  • acer – it wasn't a few years in. It was a few months.

    There is something that Iraq and Afghanistan have in common that is not appreciated, or even thought about much in the U.S. And I ain't talkng about Islam.

    Outside of some possible small groups in large metro areas, nobody in Iraq is an Iraqi. Nobody in Afghanistan is an Afghani. They are members of tribes, and either Sunni or Shia.

    That's it. We are Americans. Brits are Brits. So we think of the world in those kinds of nationalistic terms. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are make-believe countries with artificial borders, and few other unifying factors. That might be part of why they had brutal central governments – before we destroyed them.

    Nation building in a place like that is futile.

    Don't we still have troops in Korea? That war was 60 years ago.

    And I have no idea why we were in that one, either.


  • Project for the New American Century = Thousand Year Reich 2.0;
    American Exceptionalism = Master Race 2.0.
    Who says we haven't evolved?

  • The American public's lack of outrage can be attributed to the lack of a "citizens army" -a general levy (like the draft) of the male population for national defense.

    Having a mercenary military at the beck and call of the executive branchmakes it far easier to engage in reckless and ill-considered foriegn adventures.

    It's one thing when your paid Army is sent to Ugga-Bugga for an extensive period of conquest and occupation, another when little Johnny is drafted from his middle and/or upper class digs for an extended tour. Suddenly, people pay attention.

  • @Dick:
    On 9/11/01, after my shock subsided, I could have sworn I was about to get drafted and maybe even spend a year or two in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    Thank god for all those contractors, eh?

  • My fear is that part of the reason we are planning to send our already depleted, overworked soldiers to Iran is to keep them from coming home.

    They are trained to be dangerous, and extended tours and hard duty are making them unstable. Consider the high-and-climbing number of military suicides, at home and abroad, as well as drug addiction and domestic violence among veterans — and ask yourselves if bringing them all home at once, to a land of no jobs and no hope, would result in a seamless reintegration into society. I want to do it anyway, mind you, but some things would have to change if it's to be done properly.

    We currently have no program to demilitarize returning soldiers. All they get is a one-way ticket back to a different world, one that lacks structure, opportunities, and leadership. It's not fair to them or to us. Being rudderless and coping with the aftereffects of war is not a recipe for success. If we could put them through a period of training for civilian life, like a halfway house, or adding new fish to the aquarium, it could smooth the transition and prevent a lot of problems — both for the returning vets and for the established group.

  • @ladiesbane — this is exactly the the problem, exactly. The Afghantsi who came home, disillusioned and distrustful, formed the backbone of the new Soviet organized crime (a.k.a. ethnic Russians, a.k.a. stupid Russians, i.e. Russian-speaking non-Jews — guess how the FBI referred to them & win valuable prizes). They didn't pay attention to what uniform anyone was wearing, only trusted each other, and killed anyone who posed even a temporary or hypothetical threat.

    In the USSR they mostly confined themselves to selling weapons and heroin. In America, demonstrably betrayed, with a long history of re-integrating very badly into civilian society — who knows?

    Obama lacks the stones to bring our guys home. I believe that. Someone will have to, preferably someone stupid or without a choice, but I don't see Hopey stepping up to the plate. Because he's not only spineless, he's intelligent and well-informed.

  • "I believe the official explanation that this was accidental only because I cannot conceive of anyone being stupid enough to do it intentionally."

    Really? Because between that nutbar down in FL and the testimony constantly received by the MRFF, I can TOTALLY envision some "real 'MERICAN" warriors-for-Jeebus deciding to do this.

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