Tossing the COIN in Afghanistan

Our new counterinsurgency doctrine is obsolete before it has even been tried

by , November 04, 2009

Our new counterinsurgency doctrine [.pdf] is obsolete before it has even been tried.

If you have a high tolerance for asininity, go directly to the Web site of "President" Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and feast your eyes on the litany of congratulations emanating from world leaders upon his election "victory."

From an official statement by the U.S. embassy in Kabul:

"The United States welcomes the decision by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to conclude Afghanistan’s electoral process by foregoing a second round of balloting. We appreciate that the IEC has taken this decision according to its mandate under Afghan law. Throughout, the United States has been committed to supporting the Afghan people and the institutions of their government in carrying out a constitutional electoral process.

"We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him, his new administration, the Afghan people and our partners in the international community to support Afghanistan’s progress towards the institutional reforms, security and prosperity. We also congratulate Dr. Abdullah and all the other candidates for their efforts to strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic future."

A phone call from the Brits:

"British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a telephone conversation today congratulated President Hamid Karzai on his victory in the Afghan elections. Mr. Brown stressed on his country’s continued cooperation with Afghanistan and wished prosperity and progress for the people and government of Afghanistan. President Karzai thanked British prime minister and stress [sic] on the expansion of UK-Afghan relations."

The Pakistanis and the Turks were also on the horn, slapping their fellow "democrat" on the back for having pulled off the most brazen act of ballot stuffing to take place outside of Chicago‘s city limits. Also chiming in was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"I welcome today’s decision by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission to forego a run-off vote and to declare Hamid Karzai as the winner of the 2009 presidential elections. I congratulate President Karzai. This has been a difficult election process for Afghanistan and lessons must be learned. Afghanistan now faces significant challenges and the new president must move swiftly to form a government that is able to command the support of both the Afghan people and the international community. The United Nations remains committed to providing every support and assistance to the new government in helping to push forward progress for all peoples of Afghanistan."

Yes, it has been "difficult," what with the U.S. representative responsible for liaison with the Afghan electoral process resigning in protest at the enormity of the fraud, Karzai’s chief opponent refusing to stand in the sure-to-be-rigged runoff, and the generally acknowledged fact that the whole sorry spectacle was staged by Karzai’s hand-picked electoral commission. But to the bringers of a New World Order, who have occupied Afghanistan for the past eight years – and are determined to hang on for at least another decade or so – these are mere details to be smoothed over by soothing words. Beneath the euphemisms and general soporifics, however, an increasingly ugly reality festers…

The embarrassing visibility of the corruption embodied in the Karzai regime makes it difficult to sell "Operation Enduring Freedom" on two fronts: in Afghanistan, Karzai has lost whatever legitimacy he may have once possessed, and here at home, the American people are beginning to wonder what’s up with eight years of futile fighting – and what the future holds. Add to this spiraling economic uncertainty and the metastasizing costs of the war, and you have what Andrew Exum decries as a growing "neo-isolationism" on your hands.

Horror of horrors, we can’t have that! Why, the American people might begin to ask all sorts of uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing questions of their ruling elites, such as: what are we getting out of this foreign policy of endless war, anyway?

Exum, one of the leading advocates of escalating the war effort – he was one of the architects of Gen. McChrystal’s plan to send 40,000 more troops to the Afghan front – is a big wheel over at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the Rockefeller-funded pro-Democratic Party think-tank holding the semi-official foreign policy franchise in the Obama administration. Along with CNAS head honcho John Nagl, Exum is one of the chief theoreticians of the "COIN" doctrine of the new American imperialism, which saw its debut with the supposedly successful "surge" in Iraq. (We aren’t supposed to notice that the Iraqi success is rapidly falling apart, and U.S. troops show no signs of making their much-promised effort.)

In any case, this revamped strategic rationale for empire-building holds that, in order to defeat an insurgency, an occupying army must fight what the Chicoms used to call a "people’s war." What this means, in practice, is that U.S. troops must be stationed in the countryside, as well as in cities and major towns, living side-by-side with the population we are pledged to "protect," even as we engage in a prolonged campaign of nation-building.

Yet, as even Exum concedes, the fake election was a "disaster," and, worse, "the predatory Afghan government" is at least as much a threat to the success of the U.S. mission as the Taliban. Furthermore,

"As Steve Biddle and others have noted, though, the primary weakness of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine is its assumption that the interests of the host nation will line up with those of the United States. In Afghanistan – as in Iraq and Vietnam – U.S. military officers and diplomats have dealt with host-nation governments whose composition and behavior has often been at odds with U.S. objectives and interests. So while countless memoranda and manuals exist instructing U.S. servicemen on how to wage counterinsurgency campaigns at the operational and tactical levels, there is currently little guidance for how U.S. policymakers should use leverage over its [sic] Afghan partners. The Obama administration, if it’s clever, will try to figure out the best way to use its leverage over Karzai and other Afghan politicians. And in that effort, they deserve time to succeed."

Oh, but there is some guidance in historical precedent, as I pointed out in my last column, "Karzai as Diem." President Obama is often likened to President John F. Kennedy by his admirers, so why not take a page from Camelot’s book and toss Karzai overboard the way we ditched Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem? We could always blame his tragic demise on the Taliban.

That’s not the Obama style, however: too blatantly obvious, and potentially controversial if the truth ever got out. So the self-proclaimed "pragmatists" in Washington prevailed on their guy, former Northern Alliance official Abdullah Abdullah, to drop out, avoid a runoff, and be content – for the moment – to wield some influence inside the Afghan government with the appointment of a few ministers from the ranks of his supporters. Karzai is pledging to clean up corruption, and everyone is supposed to join hands and sing "Kumbaya" as the Yanks bomb the sh*t out of their country.

In the meantime, the world has stopped waiting with bated breath for the much-vaunted decision by the U.S. commander in chief on how many more troops he intends to send to the graveyard of empires – and, more importantly, what their strategy is going to be. Exum’s admission of grave problems in the execution of this war were made in the context of a piece arguing that the president ought to be given all the time in the world to craft his momentous announcement. The great problem of the Obamaites, however, is that there is not enough time in all eternity to come up with a successful strategy for occupying a people who fiercely refuse to be occupied – and particularly not when it comes to the Afghan peoples, whose demonstrated ability to fight off successive waves of invaders over the centuries must surely make any would-be occupier think twice.

The indefinite extension of the presidential decision-making process signals a fierce struggle within the administration, and until Dear Leader finally comes down from the mountain with the tablets in hand, what we are witnessing is policy paralysis. Unfortunately for the men and women on the battlefield, however, the Taliban – and the myriad local insurgent groups not affiliated with any national network – are very far from being paralyzed. They are moving to take total control of the country.

Apart from the politics, that is the reason the U.S. pressured the Abdullah faction to cool it: sheer military necessity. A runoff election would have presented the U.S. and its NATO allies with a major project – providing enough security at the local level to protect polling stations and voters – that they simply could not have pulled off. Also, the prospect that the scant number of voters would have proved to be an embarrassment no doubt contributed to Washington’s decision to absorb its losses – of credibility, both at home and on the ground in Afghanistan – and plow onward.

A major complaint of the progressives during the Bush years was that the administration, in launching an invasion of Iraq, was living in a bubble of its own making, one that allowed it to scale the heights of hubris, as journalist Ron Suskind related:

"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’"

This radical subjectivism is not the exclusive province of Republicans or neoconservatives; it is an occupational hazard of government officials, one that begins to intrude on their consciousness the moment they take the reins of power. Minus the rhetorical egoism – "and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do" – the top echelons of the Obama administration are as prone to this peculiar form of blindness as their predecessors were, and perhaps, in a sense, even more so.

For these "progressive" warriors are equally committed, along with their neoconservative counterparts, to the proposition that the U.S. is indeed an empire – and that it must continue to be so, no matter what the cost. Furthermore, the Obamaites are determined to "learn" from the mistakes of the Bush administration not by abjuring the Bushian policy of relentless aggression, but by fighting the "right" war utilizing the "right" strategy on the "right" front: Afghanistan, which, Obama averred during the campaign, was "neglected" by George W. Bush and his advisers.

More ominously, both the progressive and neocon wings of the War Party are laboring under another common yet mistaken assumption: that not only are we an empire, and rightly so, but we’re an empire on the ascent. In both cases, it seems, economics is not their strong point. One wonders how many more banks have to shutter their doors before these grand strategists wake up to the fact that the American empire is bankrupt.

Long before that signal event occurs, however, the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of our war-crazed foreign policy will become apparent to all who live outside the boundaries of the Imperial City. The makeshift and not very convincing legitimization of the Karzai regime, hailed by bilious communiqués of congratulations by our shameless world "leaders," goes a long way toward that realization.

Forget all the guff about that new counterinsurgency doctrine that will supposedly make it possible for us to achieve what other occupiers throughout Afghanistan’s long history failed to do. COIN theory is just administration propaganda, anyway, intended for domestic use, wheeled out in order to dress up the same old imperialism in a new garb and market a futile and costly war to the president’s "progressive" supporters. You can toss that COIN in the fountain, make a wish, and then forget about it, for all the good it will do.

But just remember: wishing doesn’t make it so.

Read more by Justin Raimondo