“All of us here today understand this: We do not fight Islam, we fight against evil.” ~George W. Bush
“We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam,” ~Barack Obama
Surely we are not at war with Islam. If we were, we’d kill everyone who professed the Muslim faith. The problem with Obama’s and Bush’s statements is that they lead many to underestimate the level to which Muslims in the Middle East and Asia support the jihadists. Throwing out statistics that show only a small percentage of Muslims are responsible for the destruction wrought is a bit like saying that because less than 1% of Americans serve in the US Army, only 1% of Americans support the US military. People fail to realize the power of both the “our team” mentality and religion, especially in parts of the world where the people have little hope in this world and nation states have been shamed in war by America and Israel.
Many people throughout the Muslim world gain satisfaction when the US suffers a setback at the hands of extreme Islam. Otherwise, the extremists could not exist to the extant that they do. Polls throughout the Muslim world show that Muslims in the Middle East support the actions of the jihadists. Most Muslims, even those living is Western countries, support Sharia Law, which is fundamentally at odds with Western values. In a poll of 9 countries, Turkey was the only nation in which a majority of the people said that Sharia should not comprise the law in entirety, or be a “source of legislation.” Pakistanis, despite the billions of military and domestic aid poured into their country by the US, continue to despise Americans. Most Pakistanis also wish that bin Laden was not dead.
People shocked at the recent Egyptian election results should study some history. I’ve long said that Egypt was the spiritual center of jihadism, not Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia made good fodder for the Left because of oil. Egypt, in the poll cited above, had the highest percentage of people that believed Sharia should be the sole root of law.
The Muslim countries that have in recent years received the most American aid are Pakistan and Egypt. Approximately 25% of the money used to fund the Pakistani army comes from American aid. The top recipients of US foreign aid in 2011 are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Egypt in that order. Egypt has routinely ranked among the top nations in the world in the number of dollars given to it by the American government.
There appears to be an inverse correlation between the positive views in a country when measured against the amount of US aid provided to it. The argument of course is that America is trying to show these countries that the US is not the enemy. This method of appeasement is failing. In a poll published by the Washington Post shortly after Mubarak stepped down, 79 percent of Egyptians viewed the US negatively, with 20% saying they have a positive view of the US. This is a sharp decline from the Bush years when 30 percent of Egyptians viewed the US positively.
The problems in giving countries like Pakistan and Egypt lots of money are macrocosmic of what I saw happening in local projects in Afghanistan. The money will always find its way into the hands of America’s enemies because they are the most ruthless, devious and aggressive portions of those societies. They also in many cases have a monopoly on violence, something the state usually lays claim to–if it is not a failed state. In Afghanistan the people were not “all in” for the Americans. They really didn’t care that much, at least in areas far from Kabul, if the insurgents blew up a few American Imperialists. They’d take five bucks to plants a bombs and be on their way. In one fell swoop they’d made a month’s wage, killed some infidels, impressed the locals with their “bravery”, and maintained a semblance of national pride.
Egypt’s Mubarak held the forces of Islamic jihad at bay with the only weapon that works against it: Decisive brutality. As with Saudi Arabia, Egypt was a police state, as much because of the extremists as Mubarak. Only with extreme vigilance could the Egyptian government survive. Frankly, Mubarak may have been the West’s only hope in Egypt, but starry-eyed Westerners with a Democracy fetish ran him off, unleashing a hoard of militants, radicals and young men electrified with a rage whose dynamo was built in 1967 and 1973 during the humiliating defeats of the Egyptian Army at the hands of the Israelis. The effect of these defeats upon the Arab psyche cannot be overstated.
The Arab Spring has generated nothing resembling Western democracy and displays brilliantly the weakness of Democracy itself: People can vote for any horrific idea they choose. Hitler was democratically elected. Muslims have voted and acted exactly how we should have expected them to. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists now hold power. The Salafists in Egypt hold the same views as al-Qaeda and Hamas. Christians are trying to leave the country, fearing for their safety.
The revolutions in Egypt and Libya were hardly induced by only few extremists. In fact,it seems the revolutions enjoyed the backing of millions upon millions of extremists. It is the same sort of thing we saw in Nazi Germany. Many Germans were not Nazis or did not take part in the actual fighting. But most of them wanted to see the Nazis win. And so it is with Muslims in Libya, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. The Muslims there overwhelmingly want to thrash Israel and the United States in any manner they can. If the terror proxies can trounced by the hyperpower or the Jewish state, we can of course expect the “innocent” population of “moderate” muslims to melt back into the woodwork.
Islam unifies people against Israel and the West. As Mark Steyn writes in his book, America Alone, the draw of Western “McWorld” to the average Arab male is vastly overstated. Secularism is about as un-motivational as a Rosie O’donnell workout video. It is meaninglessness and provides no promise of power or life after death, no cloak of righteousness; something that means far more to a poor 23 year old man in Cairo than does the promise of flipping burgers.
Now Israel has a monstrous number of problems on its hand, all coming to bear at once. Iran wants the bomb and is not far off from getting it. Egyptians are muttering that they want the Camp David Peace Accord “adjusted.” 20,000 surface-to-air missiles are missing from Qaddafi’s stockpiles. The current American president’s negative comments about Netanyahu were caught on an open mic.
The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East are not jihadists or terrorists. But most of them support the actions of extremist Islam when those actions are directed against Westerners or Israelis. Our money and McDonald’s cannot possibly fill the same void that is filled by Islam. And Democracy, as with any form of government, is only as good as the people that comprise it.
So what is the answer? Does America have to kill every last Muslim? Not any more than it had to kill every last German or Japanese. America has only to decisively defeat the front-line troops of Jihad. But decisive victory may no longer be something the West is capable of, despite its overwhelming superiority in almost every facet of military and economic might.
The Arab Spring has not created Arab states that are more stable or less violent. It has provided kindling for another 100 years of Jihadist immolation. Our children’s children will see The Long War continue.
While redeploying from Afghanistan back to Germany, I passed through Kabul International Airport. Inside the recreation center, several Pakistani military officers played table tennis. They were part of the military partnership between America and Pakistan.
As I sat watching the game, a Pak officer approached and sat down next to me. He inquired about my 101st Airborne combat patch. He told me that the 101st recently left Afghanistan, so he wondered why I was still there. I told him that I’d deployed as an individually attached soldier. In other words, though I was in a combat zone with the 101st, I was on loan from another unit and my deployment cycle didn’t quite sync with the 101st.
The officer was extremely charismatic and smooth. He combined the attributes of Pakistan’s old English military masters with Eastern guile. I’ve read of some other accounts similar to mine. People who meet Pakistani military officers are somewhat beguiled. I was immediately put on the defensive by this officer, but I believe that if it wasn’t for my current job and my experience as a cop, I would have come away thinking: “Maybe we’re just misunderstanding Pakistan.”
We know what Pakistan is up to politically and militarily. Yet Pakistan’s ability to say one thing and do another is unparalleled. I believe Americans, who’ve grown up in a country where trust is common, despite media cynicism, are easily led by such well-honed deceptive skills. This is why our policy regarding Pakistan remains unchanged despite evidence that we should probably take a harder stance.
Admiral Mullen’s recent comments on Pak duplicity ring true to me. But I believe the snake charmers in Pakistan will continue to lead many astray.
Recently, the United States government stated it was withholding $800 million of a $ 4 billion package to Pakistan. In response, Pakistani government officials hinted that Pak military units may be removed from western Pakistani regions, citing the cost of keeping troops in those areas without the money that the US threatens to hold back.
The diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and the United States has all but collapsed; the two countries’ military forces, however, are still cooperating and coordinating operations along the Af/Pak border, though even in that, hostilities have arisen. Pakistani troops have fired on US helicopters and US helicopters have fired on Pak troops said to be helping insurgents cross the border, and US troops die from mortar and rocket fire emitted from areas just inside Pakistan.
CIA contractor Raymond Davis’ detention by the Pakistani government severely eroded what little trust remained between the US and Pakistan, and after weeks of intense interrogation by Pak intelligence, it seemed the Pak government didn’t like the answers it was getting. The Pakistanis demanded that the US cease all covert activities inside Pakistan; the US balked.
Then, the stake through the vampire’s heart: Bin Laden is found camping safely inside a Pak military garrison city, running al-Qaeda while watching a television with a coat hanger for an antennae.
The question now, is, will Pakistan fall to the rabid assaults of Islamic terrorists it berthed and bred?
The answer is not found by looking at the situation purely from a military, logistics, or correlation of forces standpoint. Pakistan’s military is strong enough to hold off insurgents attempting to seize control of Islamabad. That is, if we are to believe that the military is not already in the clutches of insurgent elements.
The Pak military and notorious intelligence service, the ISI, are sometimes called states within a state. They seem to act with complete autonomy and without regard to civilian masters in Islamabad. Such is the inheritance of the Pak mindset where the country has vacillated between military and civilian control for decades. Despite the problems the country faced when run by the generals, it did even worse under civilian leadership. And so the military still holds a significant amount of prestige and power.
Woven into the ISI and Pakmil quilt, are Islamic extremists. These extremists use Islamic zeal and jihad in order to fortify its position against arch enemy, India. The extremists have created proxy armies consisting of radical Islamic militants in order to maintain strategic depth in Afghanistan and to wage a punitive terror war in the Kashmir region on the Indian border. However, the dog got off the leash. In classic Asian style, Pakistan has tried to play both ends, or at least appear to do so. But Islamic radicals are notoriously bad at compromise. Viewing the civilian government in Islamabad as a US puppet, terrorists began waging war against these “heretics and traitors”. Some of the insurgent groups, such as Tehriki-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), even attacked an ISI headquarters building.
So the question that must be answered, is how many Islamic radicals exist within the ISI and the Pak military’s general staff. To what extent do these radicals have access to the deepest secrets of the Pak military, such as the location and activation codes of Pakistan’s 150 some odd nuclear warheads?
The real danger to Pakistan and indeed the world, is not from Pakistan’s Islamic militants per se, but from a potential military coup in which the extremists inside the military attempt to gain control, possibly recruiting hoards of Islamic guerrillas for its fight.
There is also an outside chance that a small group of extremists within Pakmil provides a singular nuclear weapon to a radical group, which then explodes the weapon in India or in a Western nation. There is only a small chance of this happening as only a truly suicidal group would consider such a thing. While suicide is certainly not out of the minds of jihadists, it tends to be used by individuals, particularly uneducated young men with no stake in a future. It is a strategic and operational weapon employed by al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and TTP, but the ideological leadership within these organizations never themselves employ it. The use of a singular nuclear weapon would almost certainly guarantee a massive response–possibly nuclear– by the victim nation. The terrorists’ government handlers are likely loath to risk their own nuclear immolation.
The most likely scenario involves what can be termed a “Lamprey Insurgency”. That is, a state becomes the puppet of a terrorist organization. In this case the insurgency’s goal is not to become the government; that involves far too much responsibility and accountability and also makes the organization an easier target for attack by Western militaries. Instead, the terrorist organizations maintain a certain level of control of the government through threats of assassination and other terrorist actions. The government attempts to maintain peace by passing and enforcing laws that reinforce terrorist world views ie sharia. The host government may also provide funding, training and military equipment to the Lamprey Insurgency. This is notably different from organizations such as Hezbollah because the Lamprey Insurgency essentially holds the host government hostage, whereas proxy terror organizations like Hezbollah are fully, though surreptitiously, under the full control of state governments.
In actuality the Lamprey Insurgency possibility has already taken place in Pakistan. But there are still conflicting interests between the extremists and the moderate civilian politicians. The insurgents want to expel the Infidel from Afghanistan whereas the Pakistani civilian government finds that the war eases tensions in the country. The trucking industry constitutes a huge portion of a struggling Pakistani economy. Eighty percent of all nonlethal US supplies moves through Pakistan via the Pakistan trucking industry. The US government also buys some items produced in Pakistan for use on its Forward Operating Bases. Some of this equipment is sold at massively inflated prices, such as $200,000 golf carts used by troops to move around large US bases. Additionally, the Pakistani government is able to export underemployed, violent extremists into a warzone, minimizing the chaos such men can create within Pakistan.
Perhaps the greatest threat arising from Pakistan is its enmity with India. Some say that Pakistan is obsessed with India. The two countries have fought four wars since 1947 and continu a quasi war, so it’s quite understandable that Pakistanis hate Indians and vice versa. At some point India will find it necessary to maintain its legitimacy as a state by retaliating for the terror attacks in Kashmir, and another large military confrontation between the two countries may ensue. Considering the level of hatred and the Islamic extremist factor, a nuclear war between the two countries is not out of the question.
One factor that is rarely spoken of is Pakistan’s Asian culture. Instinctively, people think of Pakistan and Afghanistan as Middle Eastern countries, but they are Asian and carry with them the propensity for war by deception. Sun Tzu did not form their cultures but was formed of them. The acme of Sun Tzu’s warfare may have been winning without fighting, but this does not mean winning without killing. Terrorism works and it always will.
And so it is unlikely that Pakistan will collapse in a classic sense. But the possibility of a coup by extremist factions within the military is quite high. Coups are a national past time in Pakistan. Pakistan is likely to remain the heart of international terrorism for decades to come because its nuclear arsenal prohibits Western nations from taking decisive action.
America no longer has the will to fight and win wars. If our enemies are able to weather our airstrikes, we are wholly unprepared at nearly every level to place sufficient pressure on fanatical guerrillas whom find war a preferable state to peace. Never in history has an army enjoyed such a monopoly on firepower and mobility as does America, and yet been so unwilling to use it.
We are blessed by the geographical bulwarks of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and cursed with partisan demagogues in Washington who know little of military history or the culture of war. Perfectly willing to start a war, the politicians don’t want to hear what it takes to win it. No matter how much data multi-million dollar computer networks feed those in the Pentagon and Congress, few of the recipients of that data can feel our wars; the data crunchers and politicos can know the wars, but the visceral sensations of ground commanders and grunts will always be beyond them, as thus we can assume that almost all of their decisions will prove inadequate. When war does not fit into comfort zones or proffered theories, many believe we just need to try harder to make the theories work. Few would question the theories themselves lest horrible answers become truths.
Washington’s elites are safe when we lose. The 25 year old squad leader in Afghanistan is not.
The quaint mythologies of counterinsurgency theorems have us following a Yellow Brick Road paved by Non-Governmental Agencies and State Department aid money. We hoped that Oz was a place where suicidal zealots laid down their rifles and stopped making bombs in exchange for a school house and a new pair of shoes. When the curtain was thrown aside to reveal the Wizard, we saw his bloody hand raised skyward, grasping the severed head of the school teacher. And even when the sheer brutality and power of the Taliban terrorist revealed itself, we refused to believe what we saw. We prefer to think that all men want peace, that brutality doesn’t work, and that killing cannot be the answer. Convenient dreams for those in Washington whose greatest daily danger is a Tweeted revelation of sexual misconduct. We question ourselves whereas the men of old, seeing the world more clearly than do we, quickly identified the problem and dealt with it. Swimming is oceans of information, we find it more difficult to choose proper paths, but the ancient warriors of yore, though lacking technological aids—perhaps because he lacked those aids—instinctively discerned human psychology.
Enter Alexander The Great. Imagine for a moment that future technologies could spring the Macedonian king back to life and the modern social and political delusions that prevent decisive victories in war have vanished by the wayside. Now place Alexander in command of history’s most powerful military and charge him with defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan. First, we’ll have to listen to Alexander give us a history lesson. Contrary to revisionists whom extol the invincibility of Afghans fighters, Alexander was never defeated by the people inhabiting the land we now call Afghanistan. And then he would tell us that his tutor, Aristotle, wasn’t about giving peace a chance; the father of Western philosophy implored young Alexander to force Hellenistic ethnic supremacy upon the world of the barbarians.
To the Neo-Alexander, defeating the Taliban begins with an offer to meet insurgent leadership at the bargaining table. And here’s the offer: Submit or die. This language resonates with the Taliban at a far deeper level than does the current Coalition Force offers of reintegration and power sharing. A reasonable man, Alexander offers the Taliban their religion and way of life in exchange for their weapons. The sovereign lines of the Pakistani border mean nothing. They are semi-porous membranes that hold back American power and allow insurgents to move freely to and from their safe havens in Pakistan. In response to each suicide bomber making his way from Western Pakistan, Alexander orders biometric identification through DNA testing, and using covert CIA intelligence cells seeded throughout Pakistan, identifies the village from which the suicide bomber originated. The Macedonian orders B-2 bomber and Reaper drone strikes on all known Madrassas in the village. No apologies are offered for civilian casualties. The retributive strikes are timely and painful. The suicide bombers quickly transform from heroes to sources of great pain in the villages. Soon, being a suicide bomber is disgraceful, not honorable.
The terrorists resort to using their greatest weapon: The media. In response, all media embeds are ordered to leave Afghanistan. Journalists stream into North and South Waziristan, hoping to document American atrocities. Members of the Haqqani Network set up ad hoc repeater stations, hoping to broadcast propaganda from small, handheld Motorola VHF radios. America counters by dropping electromagnetic pulse bombs at random intervals into the tribal areas. These weapons destroy any modern electronic equipment, leaving journalists to their pens and notebooks and Haqqani insurgents to courier communications.
As for terrorist infiltration along the Pakistan border, Alexander knows that not every infiltrator can be stopped. However, it is possible to make crossing into Afghanistan too painful a gamble. Areas along the border are declared free-fire zones. Approximately 5 kilometers on each side of the border are free-fire; that is, since the areas are assumed cleared, anyone in those areas can be fired on. The 5 kilometer range allows for ranges of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Haqqani Network rocket fire, such as which killed two American Soldiers at FOB Salerno in May of 2011 (with no punitive action taken by the US military out of respect to our Pakistani “friends”).
Entire villages will be held accountable for the actions of individuals that live within them. Villagers in Afghanistan always know what goes on within the village. Villages where US forces are attacked will be subject to curfews and those found to be involved in insurgent activity shall be given a field trial by US military officers and if found guilty, executed. Special Operations night raids and air assaults will be constant in areas infested with Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani fighters. Protests by villagers about the night raids will be ignored, as most of these protests are spawned by agitated insurgents. The cooperation of local villagers is the goal, but America under Alexander will place the safety of her troops and the destruction of the insurgency above the safety of villagers. Civilian casualties will be avoided when possible, but local Afghans will need to provide intelligence and information to American forces in order to ensure that America kills the right people. Otherwise, the insurgents will merely use civilains as living shields. Cooperation will help both the Afghans and America. The “sanctity” of the people will no longer be assumed; entire populations can be just as evil as individuals. The terrorists will be held to the same standards that the US military is held. All war crimes will be prosecuted in the field if possible.
The shrines of dead al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters will be closely monitored by payed CIA informants. Sympathizers who come to venerate terrorist grave sites will be followed, and at a convenient time, interviewed and their biometric data entered into a huge data base known as BATS–Biometrically Automated Toolset. These people will be placed on watch lists, denied entry to US bases, and denied the possibility of serving within Afghan government security forces for 5 years. Individuals assessed to be of a higher threat level shall be denied access and government work on a permanent basis.
Alexander will reward the friends of America. India, the largest democracy on Earth, will be provided special trade rights. She has earned it. A full embargo of Pakistan will commence. We have treated our enemies better than our friends in hopes that our goodwill would bring them to our side. But they mistook our goodwill for weakness. Those who fought bravely beside us, such as Britain, did not get 4 billion dollar rewards, such as did Pakistan.
Every chance will be given to those in the Federally Administered tribal Region of Pakistan to formally surrender Siraj and Jallaludin Haqqani, the familial leaders of the Haqqani Network. America will make war for a better peace denied her by maniacs. Letters will dropped in each village in North and South Waziristan, telling the inhabitants to give up their weapons and submit to searches of their residences. Aggressive actions taken by Pak military units will result in 5,000 lb GBU-28 Penetrator Bombs being dropped on all Pakistani nuclear missile sites, which have been carefully tracked by the National Ground Intelligence Center and the National Geospatial Agency for years. Alexander–a genius at war–knows that this war will escalate. All wars escalate. But no one can out-escalate the United States Military.
Villages not wishing to submit to search will be given 24 hours notice to evacuate. Then the village will be razed by Fire Support Teams (FIST) utilizing 155 mm Howitzer fire and B-52 Arc Light strikes and tactical airstrikes under the guidance of Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) teams. Not only will there be no apologies for these actions, Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) units will broadcast images of the destruction to other villages, warning them of the implications of resistance.
Anything less than the above guarantees an American defeat in Afghanistan. If our leaders cannot do what Alexander would do, they should save the blood of our Soldiers and Marines and bring them home. And they should never again begin or escalate a war for political gain if they don’t intend to win it.
I’ll be writing several entries on my blog about my experiences in Afghanistan. Look for it soon. It’ll include photos and several vignettes. Not everyone will like what they read; we screwed the pooch on this one.
We loved what Greg Mortenson had to say in his book, Three Cups of Tea. His message had many saying to Islamic extremists, “Schools? Well why didn’t you just say so?”
Eugene Burdick had it wrong. In his classic political novel, The Ugly American, Burdick portrays Americans fighting in a fictional nation against Communism as refusing to acknowledge the beliefs and needs of the local population. In fact, Americans will now believe almost anything the local population of Afghanistan tells them and they search for literature to reinforce what they hear.
We are as gullible as the girl on prom night whose date tells her he’ll love her forever. Honest.
For decades we’ve been sucking up whatever tripe Pakistan hands us. Meanwhile thousands of Haqqani terrorists rest comfortably in the Tribal Areas, awaiting the call to Paradise. The Pakistani intelligence services take our money with one hand and slip a knife between our shoulder blades with the other.
Americans are so gullible we actually believe we’re Ugly Americans. And our enemies love it. While the Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda conduct campaigns of assassination and terror, we worry that we’re not culturally sensitive enough. We trip over ourselves learning which hand to shake with and carefully study culturally acceptable verbiage and customs in Afghanistan.
Some want to portray Americans as thuggish jerks, and that the real message of Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea is that we should be the opposite of The Ugly American. In reality we are like children in the hands of local Afghan warlords and insurgent masterminds who’ve played Realpolitik for decades and who laugh at the narratives presented by Mortenson.
Common decency is a must in counter-insurgency, but so isn’t wisdom and the willingness to pull a trigger when necessary. Schools can go a long way in bringing Afghanistan from the dark ages, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that dealing with zealots who have no stake in peace takes the cynicism and cunning of a gothic king.
When I first arrived at Bagram Airfield in 2010 to begin my year-long tour in Afghanistan, Army leadership immediately implored me to Read Three Cups of Tea by Craig Mortenson. It was the way forward, some said. But a fellow intelligence analyst whom I trusted had little good to say about the book. He’d been to Afghanistan and Iraq for several combat tours and he told me the book gave the wrong picture of what was really happening on the ground.
People kept talking about the book, so I took it upon myself to at least learn the author’s thesis. I did some digging and didn’t like what I found. I admit to never reading the book, primarily because much of what I read about Mortenson gave me the impression that he is a huckster with a genius for identifying useful idiots. And indeed, I believe his book created a whole host of acolytes in the military, bulwarked by starry-eyed 23 year old State Department employees who truly believe that if only we throw billions of dollars in the general direction of Islamist fanatics, the insurgency will melt away.
Instead, many of those billions have been wasted, and in many cases provided the Taliban with bullets and bombs. And we kept on making the same mistakes for years. Only now are we beginning to come around and remember that not all men want peace; as Vladimir Lenin stated:
“One man with a gun can control 100 without one.”
In many cases, while our military should have been concentrating on the basics of counterinsurgency in underdeveloped nations (building social structures and trust) we were building redundant structures of concrete and stone that often fell into disuse. When we should have been providing the friendly tribes with the ability to fight the insurgents, in many cases we fawningly erected near useless buildings that could not be maintained, hoping that these would act as scarecrows to the Taliban. Instead the development projects acted as a light to a swarm of hornets. The insurgents moved into many areas where development took place without first clearing the land of guerrillas and began a campaign of punishment and retribution amongst local villagers. Because of this, we lost the trust of some tribesmen. We built inanimate objects and ran away, forgetting that in warrior, tribal societies, it is not material goods that are most important, but the display of bravery, loyalty and honor. It was immoral to ask these villagers to reject the insurgency without providing them with the means to fight it because a well will not protect anyone from a Kalashnikov.
If the recent allegations about Mortenson are true, he lied about what he did in the mountains of Pakistan. But that is not where the damage to our efforts was done. The damage is in the implied effects of Mortenson’s possible fictions; that we can fight terrorism merely by engaging local populations and giving them things, that we don’t really need America’s warrior class in Afghanistan. I saw this attitude with my own eyes even amongst our military, where COIN became a euphemism for never firing a rifle.
Mortenson’s good intentions, if he had any, were not enough and they have cost lives. Apologists for Mortenson (and they are legion), say that even if there are some parts of Three Cups of Tea that are not factual, the thesis of the book is true. That thesis, they say, is that we should be respectful of other cultures and treat people decently even while we fight our wars. Is this new American doctrine? Is it not common sense that we should not create any more enemies than is necessary to defeat the insurgency? This way of thinking was expounded by a much more qualified man than Mortenson in David Kilcullen’s, The Accidental Guerrilla. The effects that Three Cups of Tea has had in our war may be quantifiable by looking at the number of reviews written on Amazon—almost 3000. The Accidental Guerrilla is only worthy of approximately 70 reviews, and yet Kilcullen was the personal advisor to David Petraeus in Iraq. And I don’t suspect that many USAID people have read Kilcullen’s seminal work.
I cannot help but make the comparison between A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey and Three Cups of Tea. The writers of both books targeted a very specific audience and told them everything they wanted to hear about humanity. Mortenson has now admitted that parts of his book are “compressed versions” of what really took place. People who wanted pleasing answers were drawn to Frey’s and Mortenson’s stories and in both cases people in very high places were made to eat their share of crow. Fortunately we have moved forward from easy answers in Afghanistan. Since General David Petraeus took over, he has repeatedly communicated that there is a counter-terror aspect to all counterinsurgencies. Money, though still a weapon system, is a precision weapon, not a Rolling Thunder bombing campaign that makes things worse. In the south, the Taliban is on the run not because of tea time so much as the tough fighting of our troopers who treat locals with respect and decency, discover their underlying needs, and yet hunt America’s and Afghanistan’s enemies relentlessly, killing or capturing thousands of hardcore Taliban fighters.
Not exactly the stuff of Oprah’s Book Club.
After having spent four months in Afghanistan and seeing much of the war from the inside, some may wonder if my opinions of the efficacy of fighting there have changed. In short, they haven’t changed much.
While I do see the benefit of having some foot print in the country, I also see that the country’s leaders and outside influencers in Pakistan are playing both sides in hopes that when the US leaves, the Taliban won’t have any grudges. Their actions form a self-fulfilling prophecy and enable the Taliban to continue maintaining some legitimacy.
I want to dismiss the myth that Afghan fighters are incredible guerrilla warriors, able to defeat our troops because of their years’ experience in this kind of fighting. In fact, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters get severely smashed every time they confront US troops. Obliterated. I’m talking 40 bad guys dead, and 0 US dead on several occasions since I’ve been in the country. The way they kill our troops is by paying some dupe with no job to plant a bomb on a road and then detonating it as we ride by.
So why can’t we win? I have several opinions on this. First, we must define what winning is. I think in some ways, we have won. Al-Qaeda is almost non-existent in Afghanistan. The Taliban in many areas is reduced to a loose crime syndicate. And America is still a great place to live. If we read the memo that directed then-General Stanley McChrystal on the objectives of this war, the goal was to “degrade” the Taliban. We’ve done that.
But the one conclusion that I’ve come to that means the most to me is this: Democracy is a reward. Democracy is not a cause, it is the result of doing the right things. The people of Afghanistan have not earned Democracy because they refuse to change the way they do business. And they must suffer the consequences. The people of Iraq have earned the right to reap the benefits of Democracy (much to the chagrin of the Left) , as they demonstrated in the Anbar Awakening. To ask that Democracy be the cause that brings success to Afghanistan is like buying a teenager a new BMW in hopes it brings him a sense of responsibility.
I must point out that General Patraeus has made it clear we only need to make Afghanistan “good enough”. We don’t need to make it Switzerland, as he quipped. He is absolutely correct, and I do think that a good enough Afghanistan is in reach. But until the problems in Pakistan are dealt with, good enough is not possible. Our military leaders know this.
This is not a military failure. The military has defeated the Taliban on every battle front, though I don’t think we’ve been nearly aggressive enough. There’s also the problem of defining the enemy himself. Any guy can pick up a Kalashnikov and call himself Taliban, just as any person could now call himself a Nazi. So when do we know the Taliban has been defeated? The problem at this point, does not have a military solution. It is a Rule of Law problem and the result of cultural failure. The military part of the problem had been solved. The puzzle that remains is the endemic collapse of stabilizing social structures within Afghanistan. Chaos begets chaos. Corruption fathers corruption.
The War on Terror has not been a failure. Al-Qaeda suffered a massive strategic defeat. It’s plans are consistently disrupted, its fighters arrested or eliminated, many of it’s leaders killed or facing trial. The Taliban barely has a corporeal existence in Afghanistan, but its ghost remains in the form of criminal gangs and warlords. There are very real and positive results that’ve been gained from ignoring the defeatists. And we should continue to fight Islamic extremist. It is a fight that will continue in some form for the rest of our lives. That does not mean it’s not worth fighting. And the whining of the Left over this fight will also continue. We should throw them a couple of bones, like allowing gays in the military or legalizing pot. And then we should ignore them.
Our lesson should be that nation building while under fire is a bad idea. You don’t fix social structures while the enemy shoots at you. You smash the enemy, grab as much power as you can, than build. In most places you have to let everything burn out before you move in, and that can take generations.
The fact is, we’ve reduced the threat to America by fighting in Afghanistan. We just shouldn’t be giving the teenager a new car.