A Crock of COIN

A new CBS poll says 69 percent of Americans think things are going badly in Afghanistan.  Only 27 percent of Republicans think things are going well there.  Yikes.  

Much of this perception was no doubt shaped by Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment that was leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and the ensuing media mania that accompanied it, including sanctioned leaks that Stan the Man would kick a sand dune and quit if he didn’t get what he wanted.  McChrystal insisted throughout the echo chamber that lack of more troops in Afghanistan would result in "mission failure."  

But what is the mission in Afghanistan?  The Obama administration has stated it’s about "disrupting terror networks," and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says we’re only in Afghanistan to get at al-Qaeda, and that we have no long-term commitment to rebuild Afghanistan.  

That’s in stark contrast to what McChrystal and his Pentagon and media pals have been saying.  He and Joint Chief chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been telling Afghans Oh, don’t worry, we’ll stay with you; you can count on it.

But the Afghans don’t want us there.  You must watch this video at the Guardian UK that was put together by Sean Smith, Guy Grandjean and Michael Tait.  We’re screwing things up there so bad we’ll never undo to damage we’ve done.  It rends my heart to shreds to see how we’ve put our fine young troops into a mission so impossible.  Watch those kids, putting their lives on the line, listen to locals beg them to go away.  Afghan forces, a key to McChrystal’s flying pie counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, are worse than useless.  They’re as on-the-take as their President, Hamid Karzai. McChrystal wants a combination of U.S., NATO and Afghanistan forces that number somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000.  That’s based on our counterinsurgency doctrine, which is a bogus as a blue dollar bill.   

The doctrine is tripe for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason is that it calls for "effective governance by a legitimate government."

Funny thing.  Transparency International, a global coalition that tracks corruption, rates Afghanistan at number 179 of 180 nations it monitors.  The only nation rated more corrupt than Afghanistan is Somalia, which for years has been, as journalist Jim Lobe puts it, "has not had a functioning government capable of controlling a major portion of its territory since 1991."   

Iraq, the other place where we’re trying to conduct COIN, ranks 176.   

It’s little wonder that the real key to counterinsurgency doctrine is bribery.  British troops are being told to buy off the Taliban with "bags of gold."  Gen. David Petraeus made himself the most famous and powerful general in the world by bribing gunslingers in Iraq not to shoot at people we don’t want shot.   

Therein lies the greatest fallacy of our COIN doctrine.  It calls for a legitimate government for us to back, but legitimate governments, by and large, don’t face insurgencies.   

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, we created the insurgencies that we’re unable to quell.  Saddam Hussein kept things under control in Iraq, and Mohammed Omar’s loose Taliban coalition had a grip on Afghanistan.  Our interventions in those two countries have done little more than to take baseball bats to hornets’ nests.   

That’s good news to our Long War hoodlums, who can’t find enough hornets’ nests to molest.  For the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon and its pals in Congress and the media have been desperately trying to find a reason to soak up the lion’s share of the federal budget.  

We do not, and will likely never again, have a military threat to our existence or safety.  Terrorism is something best handled by policing and political action.  As the respected analysts at the Rand Corporation phrase it, "Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors."  There is no "battlefield solution," Rand analysts say.  More importantly, they say that the best approach to countering terrorism should involve "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all." 

Yet we continue to pursue a heavy military footprint approach to counterterrorism.  This is partly because the Pentagon’s Long War strategy has little to do with combating terrorism.  David Kilcullen, an adviser to Petraeus and McChrystal, says terrorism isn’t "at the top of my list" of reasons to persist in Afghanistan.  He’s more worried about preserving NATO, the Cold War coalition that hasn’t had a reason to exist for 20 years.   

Terrorism isn’t a reason we keep lingering in Iraq either.  The Mesopotamia Mistake was never about terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction, or even Saddam Hussein.  It was a neoconservative stratagem to invade and occupy the heart of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.   

We’re gushing blood and treasure into Southwest and Central Asia for no other reason than to keep the military-industrial cash caisson and gravy ship and wild-blue budget alive.  COIN is a red herring, a deliberate attempt to distract attention from what’s really going on.  The Pentagon and its kiss ups in Congress and the media and industry would have us believe that counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism are the same thing.  They are not.   

COIN, especially as we are practicing it, is about propping up the most corrupt governments on the planet.  Counterterrorism is about going after terrorists.  There’s a big difference. We’re not really going after terrorists. We’re seeking ways to keep the Army at war in order to justify its budget.    

Little wonder it is that U.S. Army suicides are expected to rise for the fifth straight year.  They know that the COIN doctrine they’re executing is a crock of horse feathers.

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.