The Afghan ‘Experiment’

The spectacle of a US President receiving the Nobel "Peace" Prize just as he’s announced the escalation of the war in Afghanistan – and, since his inauguration, doubled the number of US troops occupying that country – should forever confirm the thesis, which I’ve argued in this space since the 9/11 attacks, that we’ve been pushed into an alien dimension.  

According to my theory – which I think has since been proved many times over – the sheer force of those planes ploughing  into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon knocked the very structure of the space-time continuum off-kilter. This momentous shift  plunged us into an alternate universe – Bizarro World – where up is down, war is peace, and soldiers deployed in the service of "regional peacekeeping" – such as Obama’s Afghan escalation – are "wagers of peace," as the President put it in his Nobel speech. 

"Wagers of peace" – my eye

It’s fitting that the inheritor of the Russian attempt to subjugate Afghanistan should speak in terms that can only be described as Soviet. For all you post-cold war types, who reached political consciousness after the fall of the Evil Empire, the leaders of the Kremlin were fond of describing their efforts at conquering subject peoples as campaigns for "democracy." Occupied Afghanistan, when the Red Army was in charge, was officially known as "the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan," in spite of – or, perhaps, because of – the fact that it was neither democratic, nor a republic, but a Leninist dictatorship that had zero support from the Afghan people. The Red Army, the Soviets averred, was bringing not only democracy but "peace" to Afghanistan : one could say, in this context, that they, too, were "wagers of peace" in the same sense as NATO forces are today. 

After deconstructing Obama’s let’s-escalate speech, practically line by line, I don’t have the stomach to perform a similar operation on his Nobel peroration, aside from noting Stephen M. Walt’s sage advice on the subject: 

"How about we just ignore Obama’s Nobel Prize speech? Instead of spending a lot of time parsing Obama’s latest speech — to no one’s surprise, it was thoughtful, self-effacing, nuanced, balanced, eloquent, lucid, well-delivered, etc. etc. (yawn) — I suggest we focus our attention henceforth on what he actually does." 

Good idea. Along those lines, therefore, let’s look at what is going on in Afghanistan at this very moment, where "President" Hamid Karzai is declaring it’ll be "15 to 20 years" before Afghanistan can stand on its own militarily, Kabul’s mayor is continuing to run Afghanistan’s capital city "despite being sentenced to four years in jail on corruption charges," and the US is ramping up its counter-terrorist "special operations," which have been quite active in the region – see the Nation‘s revealing look at the secret war in Pakistan, whose sovereignty is apparently just a myth.  

In regard to the "special operations" angle, General David Petraeus told Congress the other day "the strategy also includes development of ‘community defense’ forces, tapping local leaders to defend their territory in conjunction with coalition and Afghan forces. That effort has long been pushed by the U.S. Special Forces Command, which has argued that the extremely localized nature of Afghan culture should be matched by a localized U.S. approach. ‘It’s a village-by-village, valley-by-valley effort,’ Petraeus said, ‘and we’re using some of our best Special Forces teams right now to really experiment with this.’" 

Yes, it takes a village to win the war, but what about that troublesome "localized" Afghan culture, an attachment to place, religion, and family that is part and parcel of their stubborn refusal to embrace "modernity"? How will we navigate the shoals of such savagery? As part of this effort, we’re sending in nearly a thousand civilians, in part to carry out the political side of this war – a major aspect of the new counterinsurgency strategy in vogue at the Pentagon these days. Some of these civilians will be anthropologists – and, yes, you read that right.  

Indeed, the anthropologists have already arrived – with at least three such specialists among the US casualties. To my knowledge, 36-year old Paula Loyd, anthropologist and US Army reservist, is the third social scientist to be killed in Afghanistan, where she was working with the so-called Human Terrain System (HTS), one of the US military’s more Orwellian projects. As someone posted on Metafilter at the beginning of this year:

"The circumstances of her death were gruesome. Her death was then brutally avenged by a fellow HTS worker and military contractor, Don Ayala, now awaiting trial for murder.  

"HTS, has been
controversial from the start (NY Times). The American Anthropological Association has opposed the project in no uncertain terms, recognizing a long history of anthropologists’ complicity with military and colonial power. Loyd herself had been critical of the role of US military contractors in Afghanistan." 

Loyd was accompanied by Ayala and several US soldiers as she went out to a remote Afghan village to "interview" the inhabitants. The US convoy came upon one villager, who was filling up his vehicle with petrol, and Loyd began chatting with him about the price of fuel. In the middle of this tete-a-tete, her subject suddenly doused her with the petrol — and lit a match.  

Reading this piece about the heinous attack, and the revenge killing by Ayala, we come across this statement by a sociologist-warrior presumably employed by the HTS: 

"’In a counterinsurgency, your level of success is inversely proportional to the amount of lethal force that you expend,’ lead social scientist Montgomery McFate told me earlier this year."

The irony here is that an effort that aims at minimizing violence in this instance provoked violence — and horrific counter-violence, as Ayala shot the captured and subdued perpetrator in the head.

This effort to create a kinder, gentler form of colonialism, to make a military occupation a true labor of love, is part and parcel of the loony faux-Maoist "COIN" strategy championed by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), whose policy wonks have captured the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. Their efforts to construct a "smart" version of George W. Bush’s "war on terrorism" on the Af-Pak front are imbued with just the sort of pseudo-scientific claptrap that allows liberals to think they can similarly "experiment" – as Gen. Petraeus puts it – on the American people as well. This is where Republican critics of Obama’s war, such as Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, are absolutely correct in rejecting the idea that the US military is anything other than a very efficient killing machine. As Chaffetz puts it

"Our military is not a defensive force for rough neighborhoods around the world.  They are trained to be an offensive, mission-driven military force to protect the United States of America.  They are not trained to be nation builders or policemen.  They are trained to be an aggressive machine that destroys and eliminates the enemy." 

That’s what a real war is all about, period, full stop, but we are engaged in much more than that, in spite of the President’s protestations that he’s not interested in "nation-building." We have launched a massive social engineering project in the wilds of Central Asia and it’s only natural, therefore, that we should deploy platoons of sociologists "to place the expertise and experience of social scientists and regional experts, coupled with reach-back, open-source research, directly in support of deployed units engaging in full-spectrum operations," as the HTS web site puts it

Armed with the mantle of "science," as well as rhetorical tropes of "realism" and self-described "pragmatism," the legions of Goodness are fighting the "good war" whilst conducting a vast "experiment," in Petraues-talk, on the Afghan people. I’m veering awfully close to violating Godwin’s law, here, but I can’t help but think of the infamous Dr. Mengele, in this connection, as well as innumerable mad scientist movies in which the scientist-villain invariably wants to conquer the world.  

Of the many conceits of "modernity," this has got to be the most pretentiously laughable. The idea that we can amass enough knowledge of the various Afghan subcultures to be able to manipulate them into supporting the military occupation of their country by a foreign power would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic. But what else can we expect from our smug Washington elites, whose narcissistic fixations are devoid of either prudence or respect for historical experience? 

You don’t have to have a degree in the social sciences to understand why the Afghan people will never submit to occupation, but, assuming the HTS is part of the Obama administration’s jobs program, I wouldn’t want to contribute to the unemployment figures by letting them in on what everyone else knows: that their "anthropological" strategy is bound to fail, no matter how "scientific" it may be. It is typical of Washington’s smarty-pants liberals, who think they are the apex of "modernity," to think they have a formidable weapon – one costing $90.6 million – in the HTS. 

"Science" cannot defeat the natural human desire for freedom from foreign domination, and in the Afghans this universal  trait is unusually pronounced. Just ask the former Soviet leaders – those ill-starred advocates of "scientific" socialism – whose hubris was humbled and brought down by the mujahideen. We emulate their example at our peril.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].