Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is There Really A War?

The one thing that strikes you when reading this is that there is no war, really. There is mass folly encountered, deadly chaos engaged and a kind of medieval criminality suffered, but no actual war, to which President Obama just committed thousands more troops and trainers -- a human admixture of warriors and therapists, if you will, to battle ghosts and advise an amorphous foreign temperament.

The NY Times piece, the "this" -- "Corruption Undercuts Hopes for Afghan Police," by Richard Oppel Jr. -- is a terrifying 1,500-word descent into another world and another time, which Western modernism has no more hope of organically changing than its subject could change the West.

It's a portrayal, variously and by aggregating bits and pieces, of "extortion by police officers," of "fraud and swindling up the chain of command," of kidnappings and smuggling and protection rackets, of "high-ranking officials [with] immunity from the law," of "provincial officials [likened] to a criminal mafia," and, as if this needed to be added, an utter "lack of competent civilian authority."

You won't read of enemy troops amassed or bases of operations supplied or communications lines established or military tactics determined because, as mentioned, this really isn't a war. What it is -- with advance apologies to my postmodernist friends -- is a cultural cesspool.

Yet we send troops and military advisers to better train and equip the guardians of perpetual chaos.

Tactics? There can be no effective tactics, it seems to me, since effective tactics stem from a comprehensible strategy and a higher, achievable objective -- two little items we don't exactly lack in our own minds, it's just that they're at war with each other. We shall rid Afghanistan of Qaeda elements and the unpacifiable Taliban, we declare, while simultaneously declaring we shall not engage in nation building, which, while admittedly impossible, is absolutely essential.

To be tactically effective we must be engaged in that which we can't. Here, for instance, from the NY Times piece, is just one small example of effectiveness denied: "Referring to one corrupt and high-ranking government official he sees routinely, Maj. Randy Schmeling, a 43-year-old Army National Guardsman who commands the American police mentoring teams in Ghazni [province], said, 'I’d like to break down his door, stomp on his chest, point my 9-millimeter at his head and say, Stop what you are doing!' " -- that being extortion, fraud, smuggling, etc.

Yes, well, that's one way of doing it; next time followed by an unholstered crack splintering the air. The problem, of course, is that the day after that the corrupt official's nephew or brother-in-law would return the dispensation, since human corruption is the one thing Afghanistan possesses an inexhaustible supply of. Hence even effective tactics would be, alas, momentary at best, not to mention ineffective.

As is customarily true in modern war, or police actions, or non-nation-building efforts of curious nation-building personalities, the embattled occupiers on the ground are closest to the reality and see best its immense contradictions. As does First Sgt. John Strain, a philosophical observer involved in training the Afghan police, who told the Times: "The corruption here is a bigger threat to a stable government than the Taliban. If we stay here another year, or another 50 years, I think it’ll probably only take two to three years after we are gone until it reverts to the way it was right before we got here....

"[I]t really breaks your heart, to think that what you are doing is probably not going to turn out to be a hill of beans."

In early December of last year, as President-elect Obama was assembling his domestic and foreign policy teams, the Times' Frank Rich dolorously pondered the "sardonic" term, "the best and the brightest." "The stewards of the Vietnam fiasco," he wrote -- referencing McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, Robert McNamara -- "had pedigrees uncannily reminiscent of some major Obama appointees.... The rest is history that would destroy the presidency of Lyndon Johnson."

But, continued Rich, "that’s not what gives me pause.... No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past": Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner.

Rich was right to worry, as much as anyone is about any presidential appointments that harbor checkered pasts of questionable judgments. But on balance, I was convinced then, as I remain convinced now, that those with the much greater and predictable potential to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama are those advising his Afghanistan policy.

For that policy is, in previously stated words, one of immense contradictions mired in assured futility.

The one upside? I also believe Barack Obama himself is among the more authentic best and brightest. And from his reading of history, much like the exceedingly wary Jack Kennedy's, he'll someday declare victory in Afghanistan as a fulfillment of his campaign promise, and then promptly skedaddle -- leaving that cesspool to diplomats and drones.


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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

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