Our National Cognitive Dissonance

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
Bertrand Russell

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on the Sunday gab circuit that rooting al-Qaeda out from Afghanistan is our only goal in that country. That’s interesting, considering that the "maximum estimate," according to National Security Adviser James Jones, says there are at most 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since there are roughly 100,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, we already outnumber them 1,000 to one. Why does Gen. Stanley McChrystal insist we need more troops to avoid mission failure?

Our biggest problem is that we don’t really know what we’re doing there. On ABC’s This Week, Hillary said, “We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear.”

That’s in stark contrast to what Pentagon types have been putting out. In the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen wrote, "The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: ‘Will you really stay with us this time?’ ‘Can we really count on you?’ I tell them that we will and that they can."

In a recent appearance on al-Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “[B]oth Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term.”

The Pentagon has been trying to make Afghanistan the spine of its Long War, a concept that envisions 50 years of low-level armed conflict that will ensure the gravy caisson keeps rolling along. They probably don’t like Hillary saying we don’t have a long-term stake there.

McChrystal was supposedly fuming when Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who was once commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sent cables to Washington saying that sending more troops there was "not a good idea."

One of McChrystal’s top advisers on Afghanistan, counterinsurgency "expert" David Kilcullen, says the counterterrorism mandate isn’t "at the top of my list" for reasons to be in Afghanistan. Kilcullen thinks it’s far more important to stay the course in Afghanistan to preserve NATO, the dinosaur alliance that hasn’t had a useful function since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down 20 years ago.

Secretary Clinton said, “I have made it clear that we’re not going to be providing any civilian aid to Afghanistan unless we have a certification that if it goes into the Afghan government in any form, that we’re going to have ministries that we can hold accountable."

We’ll never be able to hold Afghan ministries accountable. We’re stuck with Hamid Karzai, who just stole two elections, and whose brother is a heroin dealer on the CIA payroll, and who has ties to the Taliban. Oh, yeah, Karzai’s going to clean up his act hubba hubba ’cause Hillary told him to. He’s said to be forming a "high-level anti-corruption unit" to investigate graft among his senior officials. One suspects this anti-corruption unit will consist of the same crooks he assigned to rig his elections.

Hillary told ABC, "This is not the prior days when people would come on your show and talk about how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy and build a more functioning state and do all of these wonderful things."

Problem: that’s precisely what McChrystal proposes to do with his "classic counterinsurgency" plan, based on the Pentagon’s cockamamie COIN doctrine that amounts to giving birth to nations at gunpoint.

A recent report by the Army indicates that troop morale in Afghanistan is sagging. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. "They’re tired," says psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen. Who wouldn’t be? The Army has been at war for eight years and change, and there’s no end in sight.

There’s also a significant question, one straight out of World War II rhetoric: was this trip necessary? I sense that as the war timeline shifts right, more and more of our rank-and-filers in uniform sense that the sacrifices they’re making are for naught. Much of service for one’s country is Orwellian. It involves accepting the brainwash one is constantly fed, even though at heart one knows it’s untrue. A break comes at some point, though, and that’s why we’re seeing so many cases of PTSD and other mental problems with our war veterans.

Our woebegone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become our national cognitive dissonance. By now, all but the rabid among us know that our military adventurism is a counterproductive waste of effort, that we create two or more terrorists for every one we kill or capture, that our military and its supporting civilian and political structure have far more control of our government than they should.

Can we change course? Not easily. Can President Barack Obama put us on a vector of enlightenment? We’ll see. I for one am full of doubts on that score.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.