Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Afghanistan, an unwinnable war … ? [update 2]

“AFGHANISTAN IS AN UNWINNABLE  war, and our leaders know it,” says the UK Telegraph.  Well, yes, it’s unwinnable as long as you have no idea what winning would mean—which is the situation  in which the war’s leaders have left the soldiers prosecuting the war.

Four years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack that killed 2,403 souls, Japan lay in rubble, the  military leaders responsible for the attack were dead, and Japan was already on its way to becoming the peace-loving producer it still is.

A Refresher Course ... For Those in Denial Nearly nine years after Al Qaeda killed 2,996 souls in a surprise attacks in Manhattan and Washington, and numerous attacks since from Bali to London to Madrid, the leader of Al Qaeda is still alive, the Taleban who supported him and his group are on the rise, and people are beginning talk about retreat.

So what went wrong this time? Why aren’t we winning?

In a word, because it was never properly understood or defined what “winning” would mean.

On the very evening of September 11, 2001, George Bush almost articulated the right approach:

_QuoteThe search is under way for those who are behind these evil acts. I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law-enforcement communities to find those responsible, and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts, and those who harbor them.”

“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts, and those who harbor them.”  This last was an important distinction.  It was the recognition in policy that no terrorist can carry out his atrocities without a safe harbour in which to train and organise (in either a failed state or an allied aggressor state), nor without the oxygen of financial, logistical and materiel support from an allied aggressor state. For Al Qaeda, that safe harbour was the Taliban's Afghanistan, which is why thirty days later virtually the whole world stood behind the US as it invaded Afghanistan, with NZ solders in the van, to eject the Taliban and hunt down Al Qaeda’s leaders.

But “to bring them to justice”?  What was that about? Destroying the Twin Towers and everyone in them was not a criminal act—it was an act of war!  As much an act of war as the attack on Pearl Harbor, from which the US declaration duly followed.  An act of war part of a whole train of infamy that most people would like to forget but should still live in history forever.  Yet nine years after that act we’re still left at the mercy of all the atrocity-mongers, while our solders are running around with their hands tied pretending they’re engaged in some kind of grand policing operation-- with criminal trials as the final outcome. But fighting these anti-human vermin isn't a matter or law enforcement, with all the strings around such a battle; it is war, and we're already in it. As Patrick Henry said in 1775:

_Quote Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace.
The war is actually begun!'

So Bush was wrong—and the error is only magnified by his successor.  Instead of hunting down and killing Al Qaeda’s leaders and those who succoured them, western forces in Afghanistan have instead let the leaders escape over the border into Pakistan, and their succourers revitalise and once again take up arms—supplied (as the recent WikiLeaks dump confirmed) with both military intelligence and materiel from both Iran and Pakistan. Meanwhile, doing little to arrest that situation and hamstrung by evasion of who’s now harbouring whom, and by rules of engagement that all but forbid actual engagement, western troops risk their lives while planting flower gardens and building sewage plants--“placing ‘compassion’ ahead of the proper task of self-defense.”

“Compassion” for one’s enemies 9and their helpers) looks a lot like injustice to one’s troops.

AND BUSH WAS CRITICALLY wrong on something else as well.  He called the whole operation a “War on Terror."

What the hell is that about?  A war on a tactic?  This would be like, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, declaring war on surprise attacks.  Or a war against dive bombing.

With the help of the heroic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Joseph Kellard explains the correct approach:

    “It’s not a war on terror, it’s a war on Islam,” [says Ayaan HirsiAli]…
    “Terrorism” is merely an action, in particular a tactic, and actions are derived from people who initiate them. You wage a war against particular people, not their actions or tactics..
    Wars are started by aggressors, those who initiate force. The aggressors in this war are those faithful to Islam, who initiated this war, decades prior to 9/11, specifically on the West – particularly the people who most represent the core Western values that they adamantly oppose: reason, individualism and freedom. Properly described, this war is the Islamic radicals’ war on the West. And Ms. Ali shows that she understands this fact when she says: “It isn’t a war that was declared on Islam, but it is a declaration of war in the name of Islam on civil society and all the freedoms that we believe in.”


First of all, it requires recognition of the real enemy; and that enemy is not a tactic.  The enemy worldwide is Radical Islam.  The enemy on the Afghanistan front  is Al Qaeda and their Taleban, Pakistani and Iranian helpers.

That’s who we’re fighting. Face up to it. 

Second, it requires actually wanting to win. The errors made by George W in waging his “war against a tactic” (and in the wrong place) are now being repeated by his successor, President Zero, a Commander-in-Chief who confessed just last year while his troops were in harm’s way,

“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur.”

But, you know O, when Emperor Hirohito was made to come down and surrender to MacArthur that was the beginning of the end for the medieval warrior spirit of Shinto, and also the beginning of the beginning for the peaceful success of the modern-day Japanese who -- liberated from their medieval past -- gave the whole world a lesson in how ragingly successful the peaceful pursuit of prosperity can be.

The Afghans may never get that lesson themselves. But they won’t if we keep pretending they don’t need to.

Third, it requires defining what winning against them would mean.

Does winning mean peace negotiations with the Taleban and “civilising” Afghanistan? Hell now. Our only selfish interest in sending New Zealand soldiers to Afghanistan is not the thankless task of civilising a place of medieval barbarism—a vain hope in a place that only built its first real school in 1903; where life expectancy went up after the Soviets invaded (life in a Soviet war-zone being more life-enhancing than what went on there before); which hosts the world’s most corrupt government; and where women are still sliced up as a matter of honour.  We have no selfish interest at all in civilising such a place, and little sane expectation of success in such a task –certainly s long as we pretend their culture is no different to ours, our defeat will make that happen.

So what would winning actually mean? In summary, it must mean ruthlessly destroying our enemies, and leaving no place for them to receive succour.

In short, it means the policy that should have been followed nine years ago with Radical Islam, one that was followed seventy years ago with Japanese Militarism.  With abundant success.

There is “No Substitute for Victory in the War Against Islamic Totalitarianism.”  We’re already in that war; about that we have no choice.  Our only choice is whether or not we want to win it.

Do we?

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  1. People don't win in Afghanistan. It has been known as " Afghanistan, Conqueror of Empires" for centuries - long before 9/11 and long before you can shunt blame onto Bush and Obama.

    But one example - Afghan troups annihilated the British in 1842 - only one man survived - and they sent him back as a warning to the rest.

  2. As history teaches us the Pashtuns are a tribe best left to their own devices. They like fighting, it's what they do amongst themselves when they are not being invaded.

    A/stan is not Japan and never will be.
    The West should have as little to do with Islam as possible, this is the real issue. If Islam can be secularised towards some slow progress as in Turkey or Malaysia, there might be some hope.

    It is a backward , hell hole, but it is THEIR country.

  3. Ruth, you can't compare the war in 1842 to modern day. The reason the international forces in Afghanistan is not winning is because of all the bullshit that Western leaders worry about accidental killing by their troops. They worry about TV images and that hesitation is translated directly into the fighting soldiers’ war mentality out in the field. When this happens, soldiers also hesitate to fight, since in their mind, they're more afraid of potential prosecutions coming from their own superiors/commanders (i.e., potential war crimes) than bullets coming from terrorists and this is a fact. That's why the war is already lost? Soldiers fear more about prosecution rather than terrorists.

    Did you watch the TV1 Monday weekly series, Generation Kill (about Iraq Invasion) ? Soldiers were cautious and hesitate that they might be prosecuted? The West set itself out to lose in today's theatre of war (too many bullshit rule of engagement), but it was a different story all-together in past wars.

  4. @Ruth: Such stories were being told right up to the capture of Kabul.

    Allied forces have already "won" to an extent more than sufficient to explode such stories.

    What's needed now--and was needed then--is to either define what victory actually means, which I've attempted above, or stop risking troops' lives on a job they shouldn't be doing.

    @Goatcabin: "The West should have as little to do with Islam as possible..." Try telling that to the Islamists who like blowing us up.

    @ChengD: The rules of engagement are a symptom, not a cause.

  5. ChengD,

    The Soviet Union waged one of the most brutal counterinsurgency wars of the modern era against the Afghans, with no press or rules of engagement to concern themselves with. They still lost.

  6. Good post. It doesn't look like 'we' want to win, for a variety of reasons including the therapeutic views of the mangina who wrote that piece in the Telegraph. (Gets his philosophy from Brian Ferry).

    Thing is, 'we' are going to have to win it some time. No choice about that. They're not going anywhere, or changing, so a US withdrawal will mean victory for them and will give them secure digs from which to extend global operations and all sorts of misery. History says it's better & cheaper in terms of lives to do it now.

    Letting the enemy know when you plan to leave doesn't help. Well it helps the enemy... go figure. :/

  7. Ruth, the slaughter of Elphinstones Army on the retreat from Kabul was an example of total military incompetency of leadership. It was not an immutable law that states that all will perish who venture against tribal moslem maniacs.

    Go read about Pollocks 'Army of Retribution' that exactly one year later went back to Kabul, defeated the defenders,sacked and flattened the place, captured the Khan, relased captive personel from the previous expedition, and went back to India relatively unmolested.

    Pollock was obviously not a hand wringer.


  8. Excellent post. You make many important points, including:

    But “to bring them to justice”? What was that about? Destroying the Twin Towers and everyone in them was not a criminal act—it was an act of war!

    “Compassion” for one’s enemies looks a lot like injustice to one’s troops.

    What the hell is that about? A war on a tactic? This would be like, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, declaring war on surprise attacks. Or a war against dive bombing.

    I would only add that we also are failing to win the ideological war. This does not mean pitting Christianity against Islam, but reason, freedom and capitalism against irrationality, subjugation and medieval Marxism. The book “Reagan's War” (Peter Schweizer) explains that Reagan had a three prong strategy to win against Communism and the USSR. The three prongs were 1) build up our military, 2) strengthen our economy, and 3) win the ideological war. According to the book Reagan was the only president to directly attack the ideological basis of the USSR. One of his most important battles in the ideological war was to stand in west Berlin and tell Gorbachev to tear down this wall. Neither Bush or Obama or any other world leader I am aware of are up task of winning the ideological war. In my opinion, this war will primarily be won by winning the ideological war.


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