Since when does a (mostly) respected press pundit sound just like an army general? Well, for a while now, in fact. Politicians and reporters will argue viciously about all kinds of issues: immigration, healthcare, race, et al. There’s only one sacred cow that mainstream insiders – both "left" and right – dare not challenge: the runaway Pentagon budget and America’s forever wars.
So it was, this Sunday morning, lounging in my hotel room in Spokane – I was in town for the national Veterans for Peace convention – that I happened to watch CNN’s Fareed Zakaria droll on about the supposed risks of "prematurely" (after 18 years?!?) pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Fareed is, indeed, eloquent, and his soothing voice and calm demeanor seem to lend authority to his show’s opening monologue. Yet his argument was ridiculous. Here he was parading out all the old tired arguments about why its supposedly too dangerous to end America’s military commitment: Al Qaeda will come back; There’ll be another 9/11; Afghan women will suffer under Taliban rule, and on and on.
I knew I’d heard it all before, but there was something about Fareed’s impromptu lecture that seemed more familiar than usual. Then it hit me – I’d just read all these talking points. And the author? You guessed it: retired General (and disgraced former CIA Director) David Petraeus. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Petraeus chimed in with his usual scare tactics to enable all he knows: perpetual war. Zakaria and Petraeus, on the surface the two men couldn’t be any more different. Yet the pundit seemed to have lifted all his talking points from the general’s standard playbook.
This ought to concern us all. Zakaria’s apologism and justification to extend America’s longest war demonstrates, rather disturbingly, just how firmly entrenched the US military-industrial complex and warfare state has become. No one on the mainstream cable news stations, even on "liberal" MSNBC, seriously challenges the very logic, and premise, of not only the war in Afghanistan, but American forever war, writ large.
It seems there are two main reasons for this. One, the alliance between defense contractors, retired generals, fundraising-crazy politicians, and a pliant corporate press creates a systemic and vicious cycle of warfare rationalization. Two, the mainstream media (excluding Fox News) and political insiders so loathe Donald Trump that they reflexively oppose any action the president takes, including, in this case, the rather rational intention to negotiate an end to the Afghan War.
This author, at least, has dedicated (perhaps wasted) tens of thousands of words describing just why the war in Afghanistan can’t be won. Without re-litigating the case yet again, let’s just review all the inconvenient facts that neither Petraeus nor Zakaria bothered to mention in their shameless Afghan War apologism. There was no mention of the unsustainable nature of Afghan Security Force casualties, that the army can’t recruit troops fast enough to replace the tens of thousands killed annually. There was not a word about how Afghanistan’s GDP and paltry budget can’t even cover the costs of its own military and police force and is wholly reliant on foreign aid. There was no mention of Afghanistan’s record opium crop that fuels the Taliban and warlordism in general; no discussion of how the Taliban now controls or contests more districts than at any time since the war began in 2001; not a word about the corruption and legitimacy crisis of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. I could go on, but you see what I mean.
All the inconvenient details and context surrounding America’s doomed campaign in Afghanistan are erased in mainstream media and political circles. Their arguments are simplified to one basic – and easily debunked – premise, the “safe-haven myth.” Simply put, this is the idea that if any vaguely Arab or Muslim country is unstable or contains ungoverned spaces (they almost all do by the way) then that territory will harbor terrorists and lead to a new 9/11-style attack on the US homeland. Forget the fact that 9/11 was planned as much in Germany and the US as in Afghanistan, or that the US military – even with its bloated budget – can’t possibly occupy each and every unstable state containing Muslims (though it does try!). It’s just logistically impossible and, besides, recent history proves that US military intervention is often actually counterproductive and tends to fuel anti-American jihadism.
Nonetheless, you won’t hear any of that from the likes of Zakaria, Petraeus, or just about any other mainstream public voice. It’s famously been said that "tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance." That’s certainly the case when it come to America’s imperial adventurism and growing warfare state. Absent any frank discussion of context about the region or US wars, absent any mention of discomfiting facts, both pundits and generals can pretend that history began yesterday and use fear to sell forever war. I expected as much from Petraeus; I’ll admit I’d hoped for better from Zakaria. How hopelessly naive of me…
Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, TomDispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen