Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Waiting for Israel

Melanie Philips on what the McChrystal/Rolling Stone thing tells us:

For my money, the most alarming thing about the Rolling Stone piece is the perception of the troops on the ground that they are being forced to hold back in order 'not to upset Afghan civilians’ – and as a result are losing not just their comrades but the war itself...

For what the article has confirmed is that the American prosecution of the Afghanistan war is flawed, chaotic, and incompetent and will hit the buffers unless someone gets a grip. And that means fighting this war as if it really is a war and not a ‘nation-building’ exercise; and saying unequivocally that America is there for as long as it takes because, however awful and bloody this conflict is, the alternative – a jihadi-boosting defeat for the west and the Talebanisation of Pakistan – is infinitely worse.

Not on the face of it the sharpest bit of reasoning.

But let's not be too hasty. There could be more to this that meets the eye. Like the soliloquy of a syphilitic grotesque fool in some sort of ostentatiously avant garde Shakespeare production, Mel's rambling little diatribe may conceal profound truths behind a veil of simple-mindedness.

"But Petie," you say, "she doesn't make any bloody sense! 'We need to get a bit more blasé about civilian casualties in Afghanistan so as to make sure the Taliban don't take over Pakistan?' There's not even the most cursory gesture towards cause and effect going on there."

Well maybe. But can you blame that on Melanie? Because make no mistake folks, this is a mad war. From that article:

For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. "The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense."

In the end, however, McChrystal got almost exactly what he wanted. On December 1st, in a speech at West Point, the president laid out all the reasons why fighting the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea: It's expensive; we're in an economic crisis; a decade-long commitment would sap American power; Al Qaeda has shifted its base of operations to Pakistan. Then, without ever using the words "victory" or "win," Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, almost as many as McChrystal had requested.

See. No-one actually believes that America can win the thing. In fact, no-one even really knows what winning would mean. I went to a talk about why we should be in Afghanistan by Ivan Lewis, then minister-for-bullshit-rationales-for-the-Government's-Middle-Eastern-adventures, who told me with a straight face that we were in Afghanistan because 70% of terrorist attacks in the West had substantial links to Afghanistan or Pakistan,[1] then pretty much conceded that even if you turned Afghanistan into the most dreamy Westernised-democratic-freedom-loving-drug-free-libertopia known to man, the terrorists would just move somewhere else, before asking me - I shit you not - "But what would you do?" So no-one knows what we're doing there. They'd just be embarassed to admit that it was all for nothing after everyone got so pumped about it and that many people killed. Someone could lose their job, y'know.

There's a sort of crazy logic going to it, but it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism. Now you could meticulously trace how all the perverse incentives and fragile egos have joined together to get us into this mess. But Mel does something else; I might say, if I was that sort of wanker, something braver: like a caged animal protesting against the bars of insanity that hold it captive, she smears the pages of the right-wing tabloids with her writings in an unceasing dirty protest against the madness of modern war.

Far-fetched? Maybe, but at least the whole Mel-postmodern-performance-artist explanation does at least make more sense of explaining Mel's rightward tack than this sort of sorry drivel.

Or she could just be throwing more fodder to the folks who want to fuck up all the Muslims in lieu of getting a library card and a satisfying sex life.

[1] I will always regret not demanding that he declare war on France, because wasn't it true that 70% of terrorist attacks were planned in Pakistan or Afghanistan or France?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a pity that women under the muslim Taliban rule cannot have a satifying sex life because they are mutilated in a way that prevents this. How does Uncle Petie propose to defend their human rights or the human rights of the woman forced to watch her 9 year old son being hanged by the Taliban because they said she wasn't following their rules.
Rhetoric and slagging off givernment ministers will not help these people.

08 July, 2010 13:39  
Anonymous Maisie said...

Shit, I didn't realise the Afghan war was all about FGC. That's even more misguided than I had hitherto realised. I await the imminent redeployment of troops to, say, Sudan when someone finally gets their hands on some FGC geographical prevalance stats...

08 July, 2010 22:22  
Blogger Uncle Petie said...

I think you missed the point of the story. The (ex-) government minister was talking about how being in Afghanistan was meant to stop terrorism, and I was saying that our being in Afghanistan wasn't going to do much about terrorism, and he said words to the effect of: "Well it makes us look like we're doing something."

He could have said "Well it's not really about the terrorism, it's all about human rights" but he didn't. Maybe it's because he's not as smart as you are, but I'm going to guess it's because he didn't want to invite a whole load of questions about why he'd kept going on about terrorism being the reason for staying, or about why Karzai was throwing women's rights under the bus:

09 July, 2010 14:49  
Blogger Rob said...

Presumably the Foreign Office and MoD are scanning the human rights watch list for the next country to save.

That's just the lamest of arguments to push even tony blair winces when he pushes it.

09 July, 2010 15:32  

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