Obama’s Potemkin Afghanistan

In a message to US troops in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised the soldiers who fought in the recent Marjah offensive, averring: "

“You all have had a very tough time. You came into an area totally controlled by the Taliban. You fought for a critical battle space, you bled for it and now you own it.”

Yes, we own it – but what is it, exactly, that we own?

Marjah, by all accounts appearing in the US media, is supposed to have been a city, or at least a major town. Described as containing some 80,000 inhabitants – and a bustling center of insurgent activity, a Taliban stronghold that had to be taken – Marjah was depicted as a rather large target, and our glorious "victory" was therefore portrayed as a major triumph. The only problem with this narrative is that it bears no relation to reality.

As Gareth Porter points out in a piece published on this site, Marjah, far from being a major city or even a town, is a minor hamlet consisting of one mosque and a few other buildings, mostly stores. There is no city of 80,000 souls, as Western "reporters" have been telling us, there are no "neighborhoods" as described in countless news dispatches from the "mainstream" media, and the imagery of house-to-house fighting imparted by these reports is a total fiction.

It wasn’t quite as elaborate a production as in Wag the Dog, a movie in which a President in trouble on the home front cooks up an overseas "crisis" – complete with phony footage of US soldiers in action – to divert attention away from his own foibles.

Sure, there was a battle, but the stakes weren’t nearly as high as we were led to believe, and the scope of this largely imaginary "offensive" was deliberately hyped.

Which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that this mighty offensive was launched, not against the Taliban, or al-Qaeda, but against the natural skepticism of the American people. While not quite measuring up to the production values of Wag the Dog, "Operation Marjah," or whatever they’re calling it, comes awfully close. In effect, the "Marjah offensive" – hailed as a great victory by US-NATO propagandists – was cooked up in the news rooms of the "mainstream" media, and dished out to the American people.

See? We’re making progress, the War Party assures us. Marjah was a glorious "victory," and we’re on the road to ultimate success. That is the "lesson" this administration hopes we’re learning. Forget truth and falsehood: we’re talking about war propaganda, which is concerned with neither.

As Porter points out in his piece, "A central task of ‘information operations’ in counterinsurgency wars is ‘establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative,’ according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006." But just who is this narrative aimed at?

The primary targets, I would argue, are not the Afghans, but us – we, the American people, who after all have to give their tacit consent to Obama’s war, however passively and reluctantly. The insurgency the Pentagon is concerned with preemptively countering isn’t in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, but right here in the good ol’ US of A. With an economic recession fast turning into a full-blown depression, and US troops still in Iraq, an antiwar insurgency on the home front is the Pentagon’s worst nightmare. Their field manual [.pdf] aims at neutralizing it, and reflects the view of their top strategists that it’s just a matter of creating – and disseminating – the right "narrative."

Like all government programs in a democratic society, the tendency toward self-perpetuation is inevitable: it’s notoriously true that once a subsidy is granted, it becomes almost politically impossible to get rid of it. That’s because the beneficiaries of these programs mobilize quickly to defend their interests, while the majority barely notices, or, if they do notice, are rarely stirred to action.

In the case of ordinary thievery, i.e. most domestic government spending, this works well for the beneficiaries, because the consequences of their profiteering rarely include thousands of deaths. When it comes to war, however, there is usually a bit more scrutiny – and, one would think, especially at this point, when we’re fresh from the Iraqi WMD fraud.

That’s what has the Pentagon’s strategists scratching their heads trying to preemptively de-energize a rising insurgency of American taxpayers, who are sick and tired of paying for this nonsense.

This war is just another "job-creating" government program to keep restless youth off the streets – and, in these hard times, record numbers are signing up. Imperialism as a way to solve the unemployment problem: it’s military Keynesianism, the latest in "progressive" chic.

So much of what this war is about has nothing to with Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or the very real and deadly serious issue of terrorism – it’s all about politics, and economics, i.e. money and power. This war is being driven by the internal political dynamics of the West, and the "enemy" – in the Pentagon’s view – isn’t so much the fanaticism of the Taliban, or the devilish nihilism of al-Qaeda, but the natural skepticism and "isolationism" of their own countrymen.

In short, it’s all about us.

When it comes to individuals, such extreme narcissism would be diagnosed as a form of mental illness, or at least a disabling idiosyncrasy of the sort that would generally keep one well out of polite company. However, when certain powerful nations act out their internal obsessions and unnatural drives on the global stage, wreaking havoc and causing untold death and destruction, they become a danger not only to the whole world but to themselves. It therefore falls on the citizens of that rogue nation to rein in their government.

This rising possibility is precisely the main concern of our top military strategists, who want to overcome the infamous "Vietnam Syndrome" by concentrating their efforts on the war skeptics at home, rather than the armed enemy abroad. The last thing they want is a "tea party" movement against the biggest, most tragically wasteful, and certainly the costliest current government program in every sense: our "war on terrorism," which commits us to fighting a generation-long conflict in multiple theaters simultaneously. And we’re not just talking about special operations, limited forays to get particular bad guys: Obama’s wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are massive undertakings, and getting bigger by the day.

The human and material costs are so great that a reaction is bound to ensue. The War Party realizes this: that’s why they spend so much of their time, energy, and resources on war propaganda, even tailoring their military strategy to create the right "narrative" for the American public.

Yet this war is more than a story we’re telling ourselves: real people are dying, and being maimed, daily, and for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Our invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan hasn’t deterred or even slowed down the efforts of terrorist organizations to reach into a major military base on American soil and take down more than a dozen of our soldiers. Obama’s wars merely provide the terrorists with more human cannon fodder to hurl against us. The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan must end, not because there is no terrorist threat, but precisely because there is one – and this is no way to fight it.

One year into Barack H. Obama’s presidency, it’s fair to say that George W. Bush’s grand strategy of effecting a massive "transformation" of the Middle East, by conquering and occupying much of it, is being continued – and expanded – by his Democratic successor. Under Obama’s tutelage, the conflict is spilling over into neighboring countries as we pursue a highly mobile and adaptable enemy throughout Central Asia. US military bases are already ringing the periphery of the Af-Pak theater, in preparation for a regional conflict.

We are, in short, embarking on a major turn in US foreign and military policy, largely without much public discussion – although Dennis Kucinich and a small band of antiwar members of Congress, including Ron Paul, will get a few hours of formal debate on the House floor. Kucinich’s resolution calling for a US withdrawal will come up for a vote, and so put our solons on record as supporting this disastrous turn, which future historians will be perfectly justified in comparing to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

The Kucinich resolution is a political masterstroke, and it’s great to see the Democratic party leaders having to sit still for it. Let us see who is for this massive expansion of our nascent Middle Eastern empire, and mark their names well. Before history judges them, let us judge them at the polls – and spare no effort in turning them out of office, no matter what party or what other views they may uphold. If that means the veritable decimation of incumbents – well, wouldn’t that be sending them a message they’re not likely to forget?

Obama’s Potemkin village in Afghanistan may succeed in fooling some people for a limited period of time, but the flaw in the COIN strategy embraced by this administration is that it overlooks a key point. A self-serving and demonstrably false "mainstream" narrative invariably provokes a counter-narrative, one much closer to the truth. The War Party may be able to rely on the "mainstream" media to go along with the fraud for a good long time, but they would have to shut down the Internet to preemptively kill the counter-narrative and silence its adherents. Although, I hear, they’re working on that ….

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].