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08 March 2012

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VietnamVet

America has been at war for too long: the pictures of APCs in column in Afghanistan flying the Jolly Rogers, burning Korans, the wounded in VA Hospitals, threats to use MOPs (Massive Ordnance Penetrators) on Iran.

This is an endless war fought on credit. Anything and everything is gamed to keep it going. The goal is not to win or to contain violence and intolerance but to spend more money on the military.

Today, a young lady outside of Safeway asked me for any loose change I had. I gave her some; a first for me in suburbia. This is unsustainable.

Lars

The warnings issued by President Eisenhower about what drives this are still being ignored. No doubt the permanent war is bankrupting the nation and as was pointed out, the true cost has yet to come.

When Pat Buchanan is right about something, we are all in trouble. On the GOP side, only Ron Paul sees the light. Now too many want to start another war in another place, far, far away. What happened to the learning curve?

Bill H.

Having been following this debacle for some years, what with having two family members serving multiple tours there, nothing in Ms. Jones article came as any surprise. She is a concise and clear writer and summed it up nicely.

William R. Cumming

The Truth Shall Make You FREE! Thanks General Ali!

David Habakkuk

F.B. Ali,

Thanks for the reference to this fascinating article.

I do however have one quibble – relating not to what Ann Jones says about Afghanistan, about which I know little, but to the implicit image of how Americans behave.

She writes:

In short, for their own safety and advancement, Afghans back a winner, and if he goes into decline, they ditch him for a rising star. To spot that winner is the mark of the intelligent survivor. To stick loyally to a losing cause, as any patriotic American would do, seems to an Afghan downright stupid.

Given the historical and anthropological background she has sketched out, what Ann Jones is actually saying is that, in the contemporary Afghan context, precisely the kind of profit- and power-maximising behaviour which is supposed to characterise 'rational' Westerners requires, first and foremost, adroitness in the choice of patron.

My strong suspicion is that if the calculus of risk and reward involved in picking the right patron was weighted in the United States in anything like the way Ann Jones suggests it is in Afghanistan, one might not actually find that 'patriotic' Americans were all that inclined to 'stick loyally to a losing cause.' Certainly, I would not expect to find so many 'patriotic' Brits doing so.

And indeed, if one reads The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett, a classic thriller about 'boss politics' in the Prohibition-era United States, a great deal hangs quite precisely around the fact that the clients of the political boss are threatening to defect wholesale to his rival, precisely because they think he can no longer look after his people. Self-interested calculation about what a patron can do rules – precisely as Ann Jones suggests it does in Afghanistan.

Certainly, there are cross-currents. The infatuation with the girl from the posh family which puts the boss in danger, and the personal loyalty and friendship which makes one of his clients stick by him and destroy his rival (before going off with the girl), both override self-interested calculation. But doubtless there are cross-currents in Afghanistan also.

FB Ali

David Habakkuk,

I would agree, in principle, with the point you make.

However, these days in America (and, for that matter, in Britain, too) persons who could be called ‘patriotic’ in the classical sense are becoming increasingly rare. For the bulk of the population ‘patriotism’ is now manufactured by the media, manipulated by powerful special interests. If it suits these interests, they can brainwash and browbeat these ‘patriotic’ citizens into supporting a lost cause far beyond the point that any real patriot would deem prudent.

Basilisk

How adroit the use of quotation marks around "patriot." I fear the real meaning of the word is all but lost.

Walrus

Thank you for an excellent find Gen. Ali!

What has exercised my mind all along is the possibility of an Afghan rising against Karzai and, more importantly, ourselves. It seems Anne Jones might share this concern.

An Afghan Army and police Four times the size of coalition forces ?

We have rocks in our heads!

Sidney O. Smith III

I recently read that the US spends 20 billion dollars a year on air conditioning in Afghanistan.

20 billion dollars a year? On air conditioning? In Afghanistan? And paid for by US taxpayers, their children and grandchildren and on down the line.

At first I simply could not believe the figure. But after reading a report by Ann Jones titled, “Here be dragons”, I am more inclined to accept it as fact. Jones was embedded briefly with the USM and visited a forward operating base.

http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175280/ann_jones_here_be_dragons

I don’t know the truth about which she writes. I don’t know how much she exaggerates, if at all. But her article makes for fascinating reading and in some ways, makes for an interesting juxtaposition to the documentary “Restrepo”.

Didn’t Colonel Hackworth make similar criticisms about the “Disneylands” in VN vs. the life of those who were out front, fought the war and knew how to win? (Worded differently, those who wore the uniform as a vocational calling.)

20 billion dollars a year for air conditioning?

jonst

Thank you for posting this FB....for anyone wanting further reading material on this subject, I would strongly recommend a book by Michael Hastings, titled The Operators.

Of course much of what Ms Jones and Mr Hastings imply in their work is well known to the people making the decisions to stay the (our) course in the region. So...either they--our people making the decisions to stay--are insane and delusional, or they are simply corrupt. Take your pick. Or, maybe both.

ked

"What happened to the learning curve?"

Friedman Flattened it, just like he created the 6 month (max! promise!) time-horizon.

Medicine Man

heh, one Friedman-unit = 6 months

He certainly deserves recognition for his incessant kicking of the can down the road.

mbrenner

I guess that this situation falls under the heading of "catastrophe fatigue." What most fascinates me from an historical, and political psychological, perspective is the capacity of our society to sublimate awareness of what is happening and of its implications. Off the top of my head, I can suggest three factors that, in our case, facilitate sublimation: cultivated ignorance as to the particulars - as encouraged by the media and our political class; the absence of measures by which to measure failure, establish accountability and chastize our leaders, i.e. our standards have dropped so low as to accept as tolerable even highly egregious behavior - of all kinds; and an all enveloping self-absorption that resists the intrusion of any uncomfortable truths. The last is a hallmark of our times at both the individual level and at the national level where our inability to acknowledge failure is reinforced by the myths of America as Destiny's child.

The illness is spreading across the Atlantic as well (minus the last factor) - as even a perusal of the British and Continental news makes clear.
G

FB Ali

Sidney O Smith has indirectly raised an interesting issue. It seems the US these days fights two types of wars. There is the 'Wag the Dog' type with air conditioning, MacDonalds, Pizza Huts etc. This is for public and media consumption, so that the country keeps funding the salaries of the generals, the profits of the military industry, plus all the gravy that numerous other leeches suck out of the system. There is no serious expectation that this type of war will achieve anything more than token effect against the enemy.

The other type of war is the serious one, the one meant to hurt the enemy. This is fought by Special Forces, airpower, drones etc. Since much of this kind of war has to be waged in secret, while the rest doesn't create quite the splash required to keep the attention of a media-sodden public, it becomes necessary to stage the other type of show. To keep the soldier-actors involved in this charade, they must be provided with all the necessary creature comforts they are used to back home (or they may soon tire and quit).

Matthew

Basilisk: "How adroit the use of quotation marks around "patriot." I fear the real meaning of the word is all but lost."

Exhibit A: http://peacenow.org/Ltr_POTUS_Support_Israel_03092012.pdf

Yes, our foreign policy is to do exactly what a foreign country demands.

William R. Cumming

General Ali! the first type of war you describe is designed to create a consumer economy in the area of interest whatever the outcome. Best recent examples, Germany, Japan and Viet Nam. Yes losing to the USA used to be and perhaps an excellent development strategy short or long term. Movie: THE MOUSE THAT ROARED! And those awful land mines seem to have diminished in deployment so although some estimate still 10 million left in Afghanistan from the Soviets that gift will not be the reality for the rest of the century.

And the cargo container is more dual use capable than the former Quonset huts.

turcopolier

WRC

"Germany, Japan and Viet Nam" Really, really? How did that work? pl

elkern

MM - isn't it:

1 Friedman Unit = 6 More Months

Gregor Diepenbroek


“Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill and calling for larger spurs and brighter beaks. I fear that nationalism is one of England's many spurious gifts to the world.”

Richard Aldington

CTuttle

*heh* You'd be surprised how 'dual use' those containers really are...! Btw, what about that fancy Persian concrete, and I'm sure a nice Persian rug would be a lovely accent...! ;-)

Ingolf


It took me awhile to get to it but great article, Furrukh. Thanks. I particularly loved her riff near the end contrasting the American vision of "national security" and that of "the normal world".

What a sad tale this whole business has been.

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