Archive for Afghanistan war

Mission Impossible?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , on July 1, 2010 by playthell
General Petraeus: Our Man in Afghanistan


Can General Petraeus Win the Afghan War?

       One need only listen to the Senate hearings on the President’s selection of General Petraeus as the new supreme commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan in order to recognize how much easier it is to start a war than to end one.   And this may be truer of Americans than for other nations because any American President who seeks to end a war without a clear cut “victory” does so at his political peril due to the power of the prevailing ideology of “American Exceptionalism.” Hence our President’s continue to squander the nation’s blood and treasure during Marches of folly in foreign wars even when nobody can define what “victory” is.

The theory of American Exceptionalism – a silly and dangerous idea – holds that the United States is uniquely good and wise compared to other nations because it’ s founding was an act of divine providence; a Manifest Destiny.  Thus American ideas and actions regarding other peoples are always morally right because God is on our side.  This is how the official mythmakers justify the genocide and massive land theft by the Europeans who became “white Americans,” and it is how our leaders now justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that have resulted from American military actions.

The fact that the American government labels these deaths accidental or “collateral damage” does not, and cannot, justify this slaughter of innocents seems to escape most Americans – until it is used as an excuse by former military men who engage in actions that result in the slaughter of innocents at home like Timothy McVey.   However the nearly decade of war waged by the US in Afghanistan has made one thing abundantly clear: There will be no “victory” in that country in any conventional understanding of the word.

Hence in spite of his confident demeanor as he answered the Senators questions today, I cannot help viewing General Petraeus as the next sacrificial lamb.  Changing command in Afghanistan is like changing captains on a sinking ship. General Stanley McChrystol is fully as capable a commander as Petraeus, and he was certainly brave and flexible in his approach to conducting the war. He was so committed to Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy that he often walked into Afghan villages unarmed to try and win the confidence of the village leaders.  However the Taliban remained unimpressed because they are operating from a world view that casts Americans as evil, decadent, infidel invaders who are enemies of Islam.

Although General McChrystol instituted all sorts of restraints on the use of deadly force by his troops, one misplaced American bomb that kills innocent bystanders – which happens all the time – will nullify any goodwill such tactics may have engendered and new recruits rush to the rebel ranks.  That’s the reality of the Afghan war…and that’s why no matter who is in command it will remain an impossible mission.




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 29, 2010

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It’s Time To Quit Afghanistan

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on October 29, 2009 by playthell

The Commander in Chief!


The Commander In Chief with his Troops


President Obama Must  Not  Expand The War

No American President has been confronted with more disasters upon entering the Oval Office than Barack Obama.  And of all the crucial decisions he has been required to make, none is more critical to the fate of his Presidency than the direction he chooses to take in Afghanistan.  Fortunately, President Obama is showing the better part of wisdom by not allowing the Generals, and the congressional chicken hawks who repeat their demands like a Greek Chorus cheerleading for war, to stampede him into sending thousands of young Americans into the murderous quagmire that is Afghanistan.  Any careful  analysis of the facts on the ground in that treacherous terrain, and how this war relates to our strategic objective of defeating Al Qaeda, raises troubling questions that must be addressed before committing more American blood and treasure to that perplexing country – which is called “the graveyard of empires” with good reason.

In the wake of the most deadly month since our invasion of that country – with casualties running better than one a day – I have carefully analyzed the situation, and concluded that not only should the President refuse to order more troops into Afghanistan, he should withdraw the ground forces that are already deployed there.  I can envision no scenario where anything that is commonly understood as a “victory” is achievable in  that country.  First of all, there is not a single instance in the historical record where a full blown insurgency, or people’s war, has been defeated by a foreign occupier.   This is true whether we are talking about the French in Vietnam or Algeria, or the Portuguese in Africa – both of whom committed myriad crimes waging near genocidal wars in their attempt to defeat the insurgents. Even after years of warfare with France the Vietnamese still managed to defeat the mighty US military machine in a protracted war.   

The white supremacist, American Exceptionalist and militarists among us have never reconciled themselves to this humiliating defeat resulting from our misguided attempt to resurrect a failed French colonial project.  Hence they view the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a chance for the US to redeem ourselves and reclaim America’s status as an invincible warrior nation.  This attitude is particularly powerful among some members of the warrior class and militaristic policy wonks who presided over the Vietnam debacle.  That’s a major reason why I opposed John McCain’s bid for the presidency.  (see “John McCain is Not qualified to be Commander-In-Chief.”)  It was abundantly clear from McCain’s rhetoric that he would seek redemption for his humiliation in Vietnam by making a stand in Afghanistan. I am convinced such a policy would result in another disaster on the scale of Vietnam.

Afghanistan is a more difficult theater to wage war than Vietnam. Aside from the mountainous geo-physical profile of the country which renders conventional warfare ineffective, there are qualitative differences in the nature of the enemy.  The Vietnamese revolutionaries were atheistic political militants whose strategy and objectives were firmly rooted in Mao Tse Tung’s theories of protracted warfare; which were in turn rooted in the doctrine of Prussian military strategist Von Clauswitz.  The fundamental conception of all warfare in this view is that war is an extension of politics.  Mao put it this way: “Politics is war without bloodshed, war is politics with bloodshed.” 

The Taliban on the other hand is made up of religious zealots who are convinced that they are the carrying out the will of God; hence they are indifferent to the objectives of those who are motivated by politics.  Whereas politics is the art of the possible and thus the strategy of political actors is shaped by that reality, the Muslim Jihadists are concerned with crushing the infidel invaders and establishing Sharia law. 

 Mullah Omar, a fearless warrior and the supreme leader of the Taliban, which began as an organization of militant seminarians from a Madrassa where he once taught, epitomizes this other worldly view.  And if one is carrying out a mandate from God compromise with earthly realities is not an option.   Hence, the Taliban take a very long view of their mission – after all, the Sunnis and Shiites have been slaughtering each other for more than a thousand years over a theological argument and they are still going strong.  Furthermore the Taliban leaders – having defeated a Russian army of a half million men – know that Americans will eventually tire and go home.   It is in the nature of things.  The only question is: How much American blood and treasure, along with innocent Afghan lives in collateral damage, will be spent before American armed forces pack up and go home?  I am arguing that the time to get out is now!

 Mullah Omar

 Mullah_Omar, Taliban Leader

An Authentic Afghan Rebel Leader

Although I could write a book on why we ought to remove our ground forces from Afghanistan, I shall confine myself to minimum essential  reasons for withdrawal.  First of all we have lost any moral authority because we are presently, and for the foreseeable future, supporting a thoroughly corrupt gang of dope dealers and criminals who do not have the trust or support of the majority of the Afghans. Thus they had to steal the last election to remain in power, and the Afghan people know it; what is worse is they know we know it too.  And  it remains to be seen if holding a new election will assuage the cynicism of the Afghan people toward the Karzi government.  It will not in any case win the Taliban, because as believers in Sharia they desire a theocracy.  

Hence it is to the rest of the Afghans that American policy must be directed in the battle with the Taliban for the allegiance of the Afghan people. General  McCrystal  correctly argues that we cannot win this war without winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people first.  At present our soldiers who are entrusted with training the Afghan army to fight the highly motivated Taliban forces, who are inspired to selfless sacrifice by visions of an after life in Paradise with a harem of beautiful virgins at their beck and call, report that Karzi’s army is fueled by hashish and Yankee gold.  Check out the video “The Hashish Army” on You Tube and witness the impossible task our young people have been assigned!  The footage in this video was shot on the front lines in the Afghan mountians, and I think it would be criminal to continue sending brave young Americans – many of whom joined the military because they lacked opportunities in civilian society – into this deadly quagmire.

 Thirdly, the mountainous landscape and difficulty in identifying the enemy means that American forces will continue to kill innocent people attending weddings and funerals that our armed forces mistake for Al Qaeda conclaves.  And this is certain to increase hatred for the “Infidel American invaders.”  It is the best recruiting tool the Taliban and the entire Islamic Jihadist movement could wish for.  The recognition of this simple fact led William Hoh, a Foreign Service officer serving in Afghanistan, to recently resign his post after concluding that the very presence of American forces in Afghanistan is the major factor fueling the armed insurgency!   

 Indeed, the recent statement from Mullah Omar marking the end of Ramadan, the holiest period on the Muslim Calendar marked by intense fasting and prayer, supports Mr. Hoh’s conclusion.  “”The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama,” the statement reads, “who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war… “The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan from the time of  the Alexander…Still, if they are bent on ignoring the history, then they themselves saw with their own eyes the events of the past eight years. Have they achieved  anything in the past eight years?”  Those who are hell bent on pursuing this war will argue that the lack of progress in a war that has already lasted twice as long as world War II is the natural result of bungling on the part of the Bushmen, who squandered the resources in a war of choice in Iraq that they should have committed to a war of necessity in Afghanistan.  A month ago that was my position too.

 However when I consider Mr. Hoh’s comment in light of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s  recent observation that before he joined the Foreign Service Mr. Hoh was a Marine officer who had commanded combat troops in Afghanistan, just as Ellsberg had once done in Vietnam before he became a national security analyst and opposed that war,  therefore Hoh should be regarded as a more reliable authority on the military possibilities than the Generals, I am confirmed in my conclusion that now is the time to quit Afghanistan!  The President should turn the global war against terrorists over to Special Ops and the CIA; and focus on their destruction with the precision of a laser beam.  Policing and restraining the murderous repressive policies of the Taliban – especially their treatment of women and girls – is a noble calling to be sure; but it is a task that should be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and regional organizations with generous American support.

 But let there be no mistake: escalating the war in Afghanistan is dangerous folly – as the distinguished historian Barbara Tuchman – who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for historical writing – defined it in her seminal book: “The March Of folly.”  Which is a term she coined to explain the decision of leaders throughout history who pursue policies that all the observable facts testify is against their nation’s interests.  For Lyndon Johnson the motivation was ego; for George Bush it was ignorant macho.  Barack must not bog this nation down in Afghanistan to prove he is a man, not the wimp the Republicans are sure to label him should he decide to pull out. For saving face is not worth a single drop of American blood.



Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On The Times

             Harlem New York

October 28, 2009



President Obama And The Afghanistan Dilemma

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on October 1, 2009 by playthell

 Dammed If He Does…And Dammed If He Doesn’t!

Barack Obama, king of the World Heavy is the head that wears the crown

Only one thing is certain about American policy in Afghanistan: President Obama is right to take his time and carefully study his options as commander-In-Chief, before committing further American blood and treasure to that protracted conflict where the objectives are uncertain and the possibilities for disaster are legion.   Indeed, Barack seems to have heeded the old adage “fools rush in where wise men fear to tread!

 The problems American forces face in that remote and foreboding land are staggering and public opinion is deeply divided at home.  Furthermore it is clear that simple approaches such as the “Powell Doctrine” that worked so well in “Desert Storm,” or the “Surge” strategy that is now credited with a dubious American “success” in Iraq, will not work in Afghanistan.  The former is based on strong public support at home and overwhelming force against the enemy, and the Surge strategy depends upon flooding hostile areas with large numbers of troops who will take and hold ground. Neither approach is applicable given the treacherous terrain in Afghanistan and the turbulent political climate in the US.

Although General Stanley McCrystal, the President’s hand picked commander in the Afghan theater, has requested more troops he does not believe a dramatic increase in the Taliban body count is the path to an American victory.  The General seems to have studied the lessons of past counter-insurgency efforts well.  In recent interviews he has downplayed the role of firepower and greatly emphasized the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.   He is so committed to this strategy that he has taken to walking among the Afghans unarmed to show that he means them no harm.

The General has declared in no uncertain terms: if US forces fail to win the support of the Afghan people, no amount of firepower can salvage their mission.  This is the major lesson of the Vietnam war that emerges from “Deadly Deceits.” Written by Ralph McGhee, a former CIA agent from the Vietnam era,  the principle lesson of that candid expose was that American policy makers and military commanders never understood the real nature of the Vietnamese insurgency – mainly because of politicized intelligence designed to justify a preordained policy rather than inform policy makers of the facts on the ground.

The reckless Republican policies that led us into the bogus invasion of Iraq was also based on politicized intelligence, presided over by “Dirty Dick” Cheney and the cabal of policy wonks he recruited from the Project for a New American Century led by Paul Wolfowitz.  And these same war criminals are now trying to goad President Obama into precipitously escalating the war in Afghanistan without a coherent plan spelling out American objectives or how they will be achieved.

For these war mongers, the loss of life, limb and sanity on the part of young American soldiers, or  the slaughter of Afghans of all ages and genders, is of no real concern; only their imperial ambitions for a Pax Americana matters.  Hence President Obama must ignore the clatter on the right, heed the counsel of his chosen advisors, and deliberate with Solomonic wisdom in choosing his course.  Even then, given the fact that the US is committed to supporting a government that just stole an election, disaster may prove unavoidable.


Playthell Benjamin

 October 1, 2009