In Britain, they’re getting antsy about Obama’s war – the "Af-Pak" [.pdf] war, that is. Without the poodle Tony Blair to cover for us, Britain’s ruling Labor Party – decisively smacked down in the recent elections to the European parliament – is grumbling about being stampeded by the United States into fighting another unpopular war. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee is complaining that the joint U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan is degenerating into a strategic disaster – or, as they put it, has become "considerably more difficult than might otherwise have been the case" – and it’s all our fault.
That may very well be true, but one has to ask: faced with an essentially impossible task like subduing the Afghans, under what circumstances would the effort have been any less difficult?
Well, the Brits have a few suggestions to make. They, after all, are experts at the business of empire, having had so much more experience than their American cousins, and they are full of advice. The problem, you see, is "the lack of a realistic strategy."
How enlightening! What the House of Commons would consider "realistic," however, is rather a mystery. We need only look at the Brits’ experience in Afghanistan – and the Russians‘, and others’ going all the way back to the Parthians and Alexander the Great – to realize the only realistic strategy would be to get out while the going is good. All the czars of Russia couldn’t pacify this indomitable, inherently warlike people, fighters without match anywhere in the world. Obama and all his czars cannot do much more than match this record.
The American answer is that they do indeed have a new strategy, although its newness is up for debate.
The Bushian neocon strategy of "kill, kill, and kill again" succeeded in establishing a beachhead, and now the Obamaite strategy is "clear, hold, and build." Theirs is a more "responsible" imperialism, armed with a brand new counterinsurgency doctrine, one that blends the prudent use of force in perfect concert with nation-building and diplomacy. I don’t know what the Brits are complaining about, because this model is based roughly on the popular American conception of the British example, which supposedly introduced civilization into the wilds of Africa and Asia, leaving behind a legal and cultural legacy that persists to this day. Be that as it may, the effect of all this is to give the British the right to lecture us, wagging their fingers and warning:
"The ‘considerable cultural insensitivity’ of some coalition troops had caused serious damage to Afghans’ perceptions that will be ‘difficult to undo.’"
In Britain, political incorrectness is a crime punishable by exclusion, as Michael Savage found out, and a jailable offense. In a parody of Orwell’s worst fantasy, spy cameras are everywhere, though this hasn’t [.pdf] put much of a dent in the crime rate. An off-color remark that might be deemed offensive to some state-protected minority can land you in prison. Britain, in short, can no longer be considered part of the free world, which is only half of why their condescension is so obnoxious.
The other half is due to their blindness to the obvious: invading and occupying someone else’s country is inherently "insensitive," culturally and in every other conceivable sense. The illusion that one is waging war in a "culturally sensitive" manner is bound to inspire war crimes as yet undreamed of, yet this is what the Brits are urging on us. And that is just the beginning of the British solons’ critique:
“We conclude that the international effort in Afghanistan since 2001 has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy grounded in the realities of Afghanistan’s history, culture, and politics."
Truly take up the white man’s burden: go native. That’s the trick! Think Lawrence of Arabia – not Rambo! Oh, and, by the way, unless you come up with "a unified vision" – i.e., cut us a piece of the pie – we’re getting up from the table and exiting the door.
The United States is moving rapidly to establish a series of military outposts throughout the Central Asian core, emanating outward from Iraq and extending into the former Soviet ‘stans, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The result: a ring of military bases encircling both the Iranians and the Russians and guarding multiple pipelines pumping the oil and natural gas reserves of Central Asia along the old Silk Road.
The Europeans want in on this energy bonanza, while the U.S. bears most of the costs of developing, maintaining, and defending the physical infrastructure. So some of this rhetoric reflects a falling out among thieves over how to divide the spoils, while the reflexive anti-Americanism of the Labor Party’s natural constituency is another factor.
In any case, the proper answer to the Brits is that there is no right way to invade and conquer a sovereign people, no "culturally sensitive" method of committing naked aggression, no "unified vision" that could possibly justify such a futile and profoundly immoral mission. To drop a bomb on an Afghan village and then drop leaflets explaining to the survivors we’re doing it for their own good is typical behavior for the sort of soulless, collectivist bureaucracies that rule the Eurosphere. I doubt that even Barack Obama could get away with that sort of thing here – yet it increasingly looks like he’s going to try.
Already his commanders are demanding more troops for the Af-Pak front, and this takes place against the backdrop of a curious phenomenon. While opponents of the Iraq war, and of military adventurism in general, voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers, his election has not seen the triumph of their cause. Instead of retreating in the wake of Obama’s victory, the interventionists have succeeded in extending their reach, building a new and broader coalition than the one assembled by the neocons in the Bush years. Today, the War Party extends from Bill Kristol’s "Foreign Policy Initiative" to the various Obamaite Centers for This ‘n’ That.
On the home front, at least, the "coalition of the willing" is ready for action: what the Brits want is to sort out the international aspect, then we can move ahead – via our "unified vision" – with a joint colonialist project carried out in a culturally sensitive and mutually lucrative manner.
So is the British complaint that the mission has yielded "much less than it promised" adding an international flavor to the rising chorus to widen and deepen the West’s military commitment? Not in the least. The House of Commons is deeply concerned about "mission creep," as they put it:
"We conclude that the UK’s mission in Afghanistan has taken on a significantly different and considerably expanded character since the first British troops were deployed there in 2001."
So we’re doing less than we promised, but even that may be too much. Oh, the ironies of running an empire! It’s certainly a job requiring more subtlety and appreciation for the absurd than Americans are capable of, a thankless task demanding more patience – and funding – than we can presently afford.
Speaking of irony, I’ll pause only briefly to note the indelicacy of asking the first black American president to take up the White Man’s Burden in a responsible and "culturally sensitive" manner – but then again arrogance and outright rudeness is part of the charm of being British, at least as far as we Americans are concerned.
The Obama administration has so far ignored all the early warning signs that their Afghan adventure will prove a costly disaster, of which the balking British are just the latest. They seem determined to venture into this boneyard of empires, and not halfheartedly, like their predecessor.
They are intent on launching a comprehensive and systematic campaign to "clear, hold, and build" a Western sphere of political and economic influence extending from Kabul to the Horn of Africa, walling off the Iranians and the Russians from access to vital trade routes and raw materials, isolating them from the world market and from each other. This is the real "unified vision" of the Western project in Central Asia, albeit not one our British advisers are likely to openly acknowledge.
The Iraq war proved to be the Republican Party’s Waterloo. Will the Af-Pak war turn into the Democrats’ Vietnam? The cultists compare Obama to John F. Kennedy, but aside from the glamour factor the resemblance may be closer to Lyndon Johnson, a liberal president with an expansive domestic agenda who let an overseas conflict escalate out of control, in spite of all the efforts of the Best and the Brightest.