This is a war that can't be won. Indeed, no one can even define what winning would look like. (Except perhaps turning Afghanistan into a US colony.)
Last week, when General Stanley McChrystal's assessment on the situation in Afghanistan was leaked to The Washington Post, there were no great surprises, just some very telling conclusions.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
. . .
But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.
This calls to mind the definition of insanity that's often (although perhaps falsely) attributed to Albert Einstein: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. War's not working? Then we need more war!
Another telling admission appears a bit later in the WaPo story.
The assessment offers an unsparing critique of the failings of the Afghan government, contending that official corruption is as much of a threat as the insurgency to the mission of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition is widely known.
"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal says.
. . . .
McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."
McChrystal continues: "Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population."
Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood.
This speaks volumes - huge, doorstop tomes - about US foreign policy. The people the US has designated as enemies are actually not two-dimensional cartoons called Terrorists (or Communists, depending on the era). Go figure. They have their own history, their own culture, their own multiplicities of perspectives. And the US doesn't understand them. But the US must control them, because it's in their interest to do so.
Even the passive-voice phrasing - "are complex and poorly understood" - is illuminating. It's not "ISAF forces do not understand..." or "our command does not understand". No admission, no agency. Simply "...are poorly understood".
Unfortunately for the US, these "complex and poorly understood" cultures - be they Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan - are no more keen on being invaded and occupied than the US would be.
The solution, for McChrystal, is clear: more of the same.
But war is what McChrystal does. Without war, there is no commanding general. Is it surprising that he wants more war?
The US is deeply invested in its war machine, economically and psychologically. The country's identity is largely bound up in war. And as the empire continues to spiral downward, that cannot and will not change.
Canada, however, does not have to follow suit.
On October 7, peace activists across Canada will be organizing, calling for an end to this country's involvement. Calling for peace.
In Toronto, the Toronto Coaltion to Stop the War will be gathering for a candlelight vigil in front of the US Embassy. We'll be handing out leaflets to focus public attention on this seemingly endless war that cannot be won. Join us!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
At 5pm, join us for mass leafleting at the intersection of University Avenue and Queen Street West, where we'll distribute postcards and fact sheets about Afghanistan, produced by the Canadian Peace Alliance.
Then at 7pm, join us for a candlelight vigil just up the street, on the east side of University Avenue, opposite the US Consulate. Join us to remember all those who have died in the war, Afghans and soldiers alike, and to renew our call to end the war and bring the troops home now.
5pm to 7pm (join us whenever you have time)
Meet at northwest corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West
* All materials provided. *
7pm to 8pm
United States Consulate
360 University Avenue
East side of University, south of Armoury
* Please bring banners and placards. Candles and candle-holders will be provided.*
For more information, and to download materials for any Canadian organizing, see: Canadian Peace Alliance, October 7.