Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Letting us know some truth

If you listened to Australia's political leaders yesterday expressing the nation's sorrow at the death of more Australian soldiers you would have thought that those deaths were but an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of actions that have to be taken to contain international terrorism. Read The Runaway General | Rolling Stone Politics and you will realise just what nonsense Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott spoke during their House of Representative eulogies.
The comments of the US commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal have received plenty of coverage elsewhere this morning as the world waits to see if supposed insubordination leads to his dismissal by President Barack Obama. Suffice it for me to say that the Rolling Stone piece provides a rare insight into the disagreements and confusion that lie behind the pretense of there being a unanimity of purpose in the allied efforts in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal and the handpicked "collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs" that make up his staff, that jokingly refers to itself as "Team America", have done us all a favour by talking so frankly and on-the-record about how decisions are really made.
Perhaps the saddest insight by Michael Hastings, the writer of this must-read piece, is this:
"When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal's side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn't hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France's nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. 'Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan,' he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. 'It's all very cynical, politically,' says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. 'Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there's nothing for us there.'"
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