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October 14, 2009

Must Read of the Day

Dexter Filkins has a must read article in the NY Times:

THE MARINES WERE walking along the sandy road when the Afghans lined up to watch the bomb.

The Marines, members of Echo Company of the Second Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, had plodded through a mile of sodden cornfields in the heat of Helmand Province and climbed a rock promontory to an observation post once manned by soldiers of the Soviet Union. They arrived in early July as part of the big push ordered by President Obama; General McChrystal had visited their command post in Garmsir, 12 miles up the road, three days before.

The Marines had been in plain view for more than two hours. And when they moved down from the old Soviet lookout and walked up the dirt path that runs alongside the hamlet of Mian Poshteh, the Afghans started to come out.

At first, a lone man walked along the edge of one of Mian Poshteh’s mud-brick houses. Then he stopped and turned and stood, watching. Then another man, this one in an irrigation ditch, stuck his head up over the ledge. A pair of children stopped playing. They turned to watch.

“Something’s going down,” Sgt. Jonathan Delgado said. He was 22 and from Kissimmee, Fla.

“Watch that guy,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Vance, pointing. He was also 22, from Raleigh, N.C.

Two more Afghans arrived. They stopped and stood and looked at a spot just ahead of the Marines. A man on a motorcycle drove past, driving slowly, turning his head. Then the bomb went off. It had been buried in the path itself, a few feet under the sand, a few feet in front of the Marines.

The blast from the bomb was sharp and deep, and a dirty cloud shot up a hundred feet. Waves from the blast shot out, toward the village and toward us. Ten Marines at the front of the line disappeared.

“We’re hit! We’re hit!” Delgado shouted, and everyone ran to the front.

Marines began staggering out of the cloud. They were holding their ears and eyes.

“God, I’m still here,” Cpl. Matt Kaiser said, rubbing his ears. Kaiser had been at the front, sweeping the ground with a mine detector. He was from Oak Harbor, Ohio. “I’m still here.”

“No one’s hit,” Delgado said. “Jesus, no one’s hit.”

The rest of the young men staggered out of the cloud while the Marines trained their guns on Mian Poshteh.

The Afghans were gone.

“My bell’s rung pretty bad,” Kaiser said. He was shaking his head and glancing up and down and half laughing.

The bomber had missed. The weapon had been what the Marines refer to as “command-detonated,” which meant that someone, probably in Mian Poshteh, had punched a trigger — on a wire leading to the bomb — when the Marines came up the path. The triggerman needed to remember precisely where he had buried his bomb. Clearly, he had forgotten. If he had waited five more seconds, he would have killed several Marines.

Delgado, Kaiser and the others gathered themselves and walked toward Mian Poshteh. On their radio, the Marines could hear voices coming from inside the village.

“Is everything ready?” a voice said in Pashto.

“Everything is ready,” another voice said. “Let’s see what they do.”

The Marines stayed back. Earlier in the war, they would have gone into Mian Poshteh; they would have surrounded the village and kicked in doors until they found the bomber. Most likely they would have found him — and maybe along the way they would have killed some civilians and smashed up some homes. And made a lot of enemies. The Marines are a very different force now, with very different goals. They walked to within 50 feet of Mian Poshteh, and Lt. Patrick Bragan shouted: “Send us five men. Five men.”

Minutes passed, and five Afghans appeared. They were unarmed and ordinary looking.

“I have no idea who did that,” an old man named Fazul Mohammed said.

“Maybe they came at night,” a man named Assadullah said.

“I only heard the explosion,” a man named Syed Wali said.

The face of Lieutenant Bragan was pink from the heat and from pleading.

“All you have to do is tell us,” he said. “We’re here to help you.”

The Marines gave up. Near sunset, they started back the way they came, through the head-high corn. Delgado turned to one of his buddies, Cpl. John Shymanik, 22.

“They didn’t get us today,” Delgado said.

“They’re still trying, though,” Shymanik said.


If you're ever looking for a good read, I highly recommend Filkins' The Forever War. While I suspect that Mr. Filkins and I will never see eye to eye politically, he's a fantastic writer.

I bought the book for the spouse and, when it proved he didn't have time to read it after working 12 hours a day and commuting several more, bought the book on CD so he could listen to it in the car.

It was unforgettable. Arguably one of the best things I've read on the war on terror.

Posted by Cassandra at October 14, 2009 03:34 PM

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A personal story, here.

Once a very long time a go, I was in a far off place looking out at the countryside. It was just about dusk. I was puffing on an ever present Camel cigarette, contemplating some things in general and home in particular. We wore the old helmets in those days, and the flack jacket was heavier than I happened to be at the time, so, they were lying on the ground. All in all, it was RIslander's idea of just how a conflict should be. That is, a beautiful scene and all the dangerous stuff far far away.

Local folks were moving around doing local folks things, and as usual, acting as if we weren't even their. Being friendly to us tended to shorten their life spans. As young as I was, I could understand that.

It was in this bucolic setting that an artillery shell went off no more than 40 feet from where I was standing. I never understood what loud was until that thing burst. The funny thing is, I could hear the shrapnel slamming into things all around me. My helmet was hit; my flack jacket was hit; and the ground around me was hit. Me? I did not even get a scratch John Kerry would have been in the hospital for.

At first, I did not realize how lucky I had been. After all, I was very young, and as you know, when you are very young, you also happen to be immortal. Within an hour, though, man, did I get the shakes.

Posted by: RIslander at October 14, 2009 05:16 PM

At first I thought you were talking about Joe Haldeman's novel of the same name

Posted by: cas at October 14, 2009 05:28 PM

Well, what is happening is that there are some honest journalists out there who will now get some of their writing published that might put things in a better perspective, because Voldemort/Bush is no longer President and now Obama the bringer of Unicorns is.

It's safe to actually speak some truth to us plebes, because otherwise we might have gotten the wrong notion about maybe Bush being right about some things. Can't have that sort of thinking occuring.
Double-plus ungood.

CNN Factcheck on SNL: Chris Farley probably didn't have the physique to actually be a Chippendales male dancer.
Don't let those guys kid you about anything.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at October 14, 2009 10:11 PM

"Dexter Filkins has a must read article in the NY Times"

Sorry, I have personal policy of not supporting the NY Times in any way, shape or form. War is, by its very nature, dangerous and unpredictable. We're supposed to have known that we were taking our chances when we signed up, although sometimes the reality exceeds our expectations. Like most humans, I have learnt best those things that I've learnt the hard way...

Posted by: camojack at October 15, 2009 01:16 AM

We're supposed to have known that we were taking our chances when we signed up...

Which is why the reactions of some of the Air Force types here to a *boom* which is obviously over 500 meters away provides a neverending source of amusement to us silverbacked Neanderthals.

We just figger they're NYT readers when they're home...

Posted by: BillT at October 15, 2009 02:48 AM

BillT, my experience with the AF types is that they tend to get really upset when combat operations get close enough to cause ripples in the pool.

Posted by: RIslander at October 15, 2009 11:14 AM

Have you read Andrew Mccarthy article re: General McCrystal?

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NWQ3Y2U2NjNlYTAyMjI3MTAxZjYyOWZhNTU0Mzg3MzQ=

Posted by: malcolm Smordin at October 15, 2009 02:26 PM

This Mission Is Not McChrystal Clear
Our troops are not in Afghanistan for a social experiment.

By Andrew C. McCarthy

Deep down, national-security conservatives know President Obama will not wage a decisive war against America’s enemies in Afghanistan. They also know that the young men and women we already have there are sitting ducks. Ralph Peters notes that our commanders, obsessed with avoiding civilian casualties, have imposed mind-boggling rules of engagement (ROE) on our forces, compelling them to retreat from contact with the enemy and denying them resort to overwhelming force — including the denial of artillery and air cover when they are under siege. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York recently reported, even some Afghans are telling our commanders to “stop being so fussy . . . and kill the enemy.”

Yet the national-security Right is urging that we up the ante and put another 40,000 American lives at risk in this hostile theater, under this commander in chief and the same military leadership that dreamed up the ROE. Why? To attempt, under the rubric of “counterinsurgency,” the unlikeliest of social-engineering experiments: bringing big, modern, collectivist, secular government to a segmented, corrupt, tribal Islamic society — a society that has been at war with itself for three dozen years, which is to say, since the first futile effort to impose big, modern, collectivist, secular government ran smack into Afghanistan’s tribal Islamic ways.

Many on the right who urge the troop escalation want no part of the experiment. But they are hallucinating, too. They have convinced themselves that just because they would take the fight to our enemies, Barack Obama also is inclined to do so: the same Barack Obama who has decried American “militarism” since he was a Columbia undergrad, whose top foreign-policy priority has been to make nice with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, and who would have to overcome every fiber of his blame-America-first being to wage the war that needs to be waged. It is foolish to believe that, and it would be much worse than foolish to put American lives at risk based on that belief.

Obama plainly does not want to deploy more troops. He has boxed himself in, though, by following the Democratic practice of politicizing our national security. Though it is doubtful that Obama would see any military action in pursuit of American interests as righteous, his campaign hyped Afghanistan as the good war, the “war of necessity”— the better to denigrate Iraq as the bad war, the “war of choice.” He compounded the problem in March when, in the course of adding 21,000 troops to the Afghanistan mission, he couldn’t resist sniping at his predecessor, saying President Bush had turned a deaf ear to our commanders, who had been “clear about the resources they need.” So now Obama finds himself presiding over the good war of necessity with a commander — the commander he chose — who is quite clear that he needs 40,000 more troops.

That commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is a highly decorated veteran with impressive combat-command experience. He is also a progressive big-thinker on geopolitics, having been a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School. One perceives more of the academic than the warrior in his startling white paper proposal for what is labeled a “counterinsurgency” campaign.

The proposal was strategically leaked to the Washington Post last week. The president’s knees are buckling as opportunistic politics give way to political accountability. The general has seen many a former courtier thrown under Obama’s bus and has no intention of finding tire tracks across his camouflage. McChrystal knows a commander’s declaration of what the mission requires carries enormous weight — for many of my friends on the right, it’s game, set, and match. With McChrystal having made public his expert assessment of what the mission demands, the president, a military novice, must either give it to him or be blamed for the ensuing failure.

The mission, though, must be the one the commander has been given by his civilian superiors, who answer to the American people. It is not the commander’s place to redefine the mission as something the American people never authorized and never would. But that is what McChrystal is endeavoring to do. He describes his plan as “revolutionary.” He’s sure got that right: The proposal would radically alter the understanding most Americans have about why we are in Afghanistan — as he puts it, his proposal would “redefine the nature of the fight.”

NOT OUR WAR
To be sure, a general’s military judgments are owed great deference, particularly by those of us without military backgrounds. But labeling McChrystal’s proposal a “military strategy” doesn’t make it one, and this proposal happens to be short on combat planning and long on sociological theory. On the latter, we don’t owe him any more deference than we do the ineffable Joe Biden.

Up until now, one might have thought our goal in going to war in Afghanistan was to vanquish al-Qaeda, its jihadist affiliates, and the Taliban — the de facto Afghan government we toppled because it facilitated al-Qaeda’s terrorist strikes against the United States from 1998 through 9/11. That certainly is the mission contemplated by the use-of-force resolution Congress passed in September 2001. President Obama seemed to grasp this back in March when he assured Americans that defeating al-Qaeda was his purpose in Afghanistan (and in Pakistan as well).

But that is not General McChrystal’s purpose. In fact, he does not even think this is America’s war. “This is their war,” the general says of the Afghans. “This conflict and country are [theirs] to win — not mine.” And because we are in Afghanistan primarily to make life better for the Afghans, he argues, “our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population.” This, he writes, is a “war of ideas” in which “the key to changing [the Afghans’] perceptions lies in changing the underlying truths.” Good luck with that.

The main underlying truth in this conflict is Islam, a matter McChrystal barely mentions in his 60 pages of politically correct prose. The inconvenient truths are: that the population of Afghanistan is 99.5 percent Muslim; that the Afghans have longstanding alliances with our jihadist enemies, who helped them drive the Soviets out of their country in 1989 after a decade of brutal occupation; that even though a majority of Afghans does not want the Taliban back in power, the group still enjoys considerable support among a population that was largely content to live under its rule; that the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda enjoy enthusiastic support from Pakistan, where the United States is despised and where Sunni Islamism is seen as a useful weapon against India and Iran, which is why Pakistan created the Taliban in the first place. And even if McChrystal is correct that most Afghans do not oppose our presence in their country, many of them do, and many more non-Afghan Muslims view us as an occupying infidel force.

When McChrystal does get around to Islam, on page 38 of his opus, he botches it:

A more forceful and offensive StratCom approach must be devised whereby [the insurgents] are exposed continually for their cultural and religious violations, anti-Islamic and indiscriminate use of violence and terror, and by concentrating on their vulnerabilities. These include their causing of the majority of civilian casualties, attacks on education, development projects, and government institutions, and flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran. These vulnerabilities must be expressed in a manner that exploits the cultural and ideological separation of the [insurgents] from the vast majority of the Afghan population.

This remarkable passage comes after McChrystal repeatedly cautions readers that “We must never confuse the situation as it stands with the one we desire.” He should take his own advice.

There is considerable debate in Islamic circles about whether the Islamists’ rigid construction of sharia contravenes “the principles of the Koran.” Many Muslims claim these principles have been tempered by centuries of practice and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). To claim, however, that the Taliban are “flagrantly” in violation of Islamic principles, and that they will judged to be so by other Muslims, is wishful thinking. So is the suggestion that Afghan Muslims, culturally and ideologically, have more in common with us than with than with the Afghan Muslims we are fighting. General McChrystal should know that global polls show that 75 percent of Muslims want “to keep Western values out of Islamic countries” and endorse “a strict application of sharia,” which includes such time-honored penalties as death for apostasy and stoning for adultery.

Moreover, it is neither “indiscriminate” nor “anti-Islamic” to “use . . . violence and terror” against infidels who take up arms against Muslims and who attempt to sow the seeds of Western governance in Islamic countries. In the days following 9/11, even after condemning al-Qaeda’s mass-murder of innocent civilians, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims to cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan. The sheikh subsequently declared that Muslims enlisted in the American military should refuse to participate in U.S. operations in Islamic countries. In 2004, he added that Muslims should attack occupying American troops in Iraq. If we combine the huge international audience of his weekly al-Jezeera television program and his Islam Online cyber-venture, Qaradawi is the most influential Sunni cleric in the world. He is also the chief theoretician of the world’s most influential Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood (the same Muslim Brotherhood President Obama insisted on inviting to his ballyhooed speech in Cairo this past spring). Given a choice between Qaradawi and McChrystal, many Muslims, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, are going with Qaradawi.

When McChrystal is not getting Islam hopelessly wrong, he makes the fatal error of ignoring it — a mistake that has characterized U.S. strategic thinking for at least two decades. Thus he asserts, for example, that “the insurgents have two primary objectives: controlling the Afghan people and breaking the coalition’s will” — as if there were no rationale (besides the unremarkable tyrannical impulse) for “the insurgents” to behave this way. But the Taliban and its allies want to control the Afghan people in order to reinstitute what they see as the purified Islam of Mohammed’s Companions. They are not just “insurgents,” they are jihadists who see themselves as pursuing a divine commandment to impose Allah’s law. In a great many cases, they are doing so in their own country, and with the support and respect of many of their countrymen.

So while McChrystal is correct that a majority of Afghans (especially those who practice more moderate strains of Sufi Islam) rejects the Taliban, a sizable minority sympathizes. Even if that were not so, rejecting the Taliban’s barbarous methods and austere agenda hardly means that Afghans reject Islamism more generally. And even less does it mean that most Afghans will come to see themselves as more aligned with Americans than with our enemies, their fellow Afghan Muslims. In Islam, there is endless intramural rivalry and discord; still, that is put aside in conflicts with non-believers — the unity of the umma, the global Muslim nation, takes precedence.

BRINGING HOPE AND CHANGE TO AFGHANISTAN
What would bring Afghanistan’s tribal, Islamic population over to our side? Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that McChrystal is right and Afghans uniformly see the Taliban as their tormentors. Are we going to kill or capture all the Taliban? No: not our job; according to General McChrystal, we’re there to convince the Afghans that doing so is their job.

Given all the concern on the right that abandoning Afghanistan would be a propaganda coup for America’s enemies, shouldn’t this be something of an eye-opener? America’s commander in the theater doesn’t think that we’re in Afhganistan to fight our enemies. We are there, he says, to train Afghans to fight America’s enemies. The McChrystal plan anticipates that we will do precisely what McChrystal’s supporters on the right say we must not do: leave Afghanistan with the Taliban and al-Qaeda still causing trouble. All the McChrystal plan does is put that day off for a couple of years, until the Afghan army and police force purportedly are up to the task of doing what we haven’t done. It’s their war, not ours.

So if it’s not our war and we’re not focused on workaday war-making — things like “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces” — what should we be doing in Afghanistan? Well, for one thing, General McChrystal says we should be fostering the “development and use of indigenous narratives to tap into the wider cultural pulse of Afghanistan.” Pretty hip for a military objective. But perhaps not as trendy our primary task: McChrystal says we’ve sent our soldiers to address “a crisis of confidence among Afghans — in both their government and the international community.” How’s that work?

First we have to stop being so “pre-occupied with protection of our own forces.” All that fighting we’ve been doing amounts to the trivial pursuit of “tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage.” We’ve been too distant “physically and psychologically . . . from the people we seek to protect.” We’ve got to get with it and understand that “security may not come from the barrel of a gun. Better force protection may be counterintuitive; it might come from less armor and less distance from the population.”

That may fly at the Kennedy School, and it would make a fine cover essay for Foreign Affairs. It is likely to prove less persuasive to the families of our young men and women in uniform. They read the newspapers, and to them it sure must seem that much of this population that so enthralls McChrystal is working with, and selling our troops out to, the Taliban.

What, in any event, would McChrystal have us do once we get up close and personal with the Afghans? The general posits that, with our “improved and evolved level of understanding,” we can build the Afghans a bigger, better central government: one that is accountable, is able to “raise revenue,” provides better services, takes responsibility for national security, and is a positive force in the lives of remote tribal enclaves. McChrystal grants that this is an uphill climb. “The recent Presidential and Provincial Council elections” — the ones that the incumbents attempted to steal — were “far from perfect,” and Afghanistan’s maze of tribal constituents “have traditionally sought a degree of independence from the central government.” Sounding more like a Democratic strategist than a general in command of a hot war, McChrystal speculates that the country will be transformed by the pioneering “National Solidarity Program,” to say nothing of the “Afghan Social Outreach Program.” Can health-care reform be far behind?

In post-9/11 America, Islam is a “religion of peace,” and that’s that. We’ve learned to say and think nothing further on the subject. What causes terrorism and drives terrorist recruitment is Abu Ghraib, or Gitmo, or unemployment, or anything other than Islam. It might be worth considering a little modern Islamic history. Afghanistan was slow to radicalize. After the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century, Britain was content to influence it but had no appetite to occupy it. Its interaction with the West was minimal. By contrast, Islamism grew like wildfire in what became Egypt and Pakistan. Those Muslim territories had been occupied by Western powers that attempted to plant Western culture, institutions, and governance. This provoked virulent resistance from devout Muslims, who saw the effort — well-meaning or not — as an existential threat to their civilization. Islamism was spawned in the universities but rapidly became a mass movement.

Afghanistan was not radicalized until the mid-Seventies when the imposition of another Western idea — Marxism — was attempted. This sparked an Islamist revolt that sprang first out of Kabul University. The movement metastasized after the 1979 Soviet invasion, which prompted American and Saudi funding of the mujahideen (to the tune of $6 billion), much of which went to the most extreme Islamist elements, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — the warlord and former engineering student who was a key ally of Osama bin Laden, who would later become Afghan prime minister, and who to this day fights alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

This history should give us pause. Let’s say one were inclined to think, as General McChrystal is inclined to think, (a) that we could transform Afghanistan into something resembling a modern social democracy, complete with vibrant educational programs, and (b) that it is appropriate to make doing so the job of the United States military. How is that going to improve American national security against Islamist terror? To the contrary, the likelihood is that the effort will catalyze Islamism. It won’t matter that we think we are helping; we will be perceived by millions in the Muslim world, including in Afghanistan, as infidel occupiers who are trying to undermine Islamic culture. And the opposition’s epicenter will be the very schools we are encouraging the Afghans and our other allies — like the Saudis — to build. Have you seen what Saudi education is like in Virginia? What do you suppose these allies of ours are teaching in Kandahar?

We have only one military mission in Afghanistan, and it is not to protect the Afghan population, who are not properly our concern so long as they don’t allow their country to be a launching pad for attacks on the United States. Our troops are in Afghanistan because we, not the Afghans, are in a war to destroy al-Qaeda and its enablers — the Taliban, Hekmatyar, and the Haqqani network, all of which draw support from Pakistan. Obviously, we should always try to avoid civilian casualties in achieving our objectives. But this is a war, and our objectives take precedence. Afghan and Pakistani civilians will best be protected if we use the back-breaking force necessary to achieve our objectives as swiftly as possible; American civilians and troops will best be protected by making clear that if America is threatened again our troops will be back again — and not to bring hope and change.

A well-meaning social experiment masquerading as a counterinsurgency — oblivious to the unintended downsides and bent on delegating our counterterrorism work to the Afghans a couple of years hence — is not a good reason to have any troops in Afghanistan, much less to send in 40,000 more. The nice, friendly war — in which we pretend that we love the wonderful native people, have a quarrel solely with their wayward fringe, fight only until our enemies scatter but not until they are defeated, and define success (rather than victory) by how much we improve life for the indigenous population — is a delusion. If we’re not up for the real thing, we should leave Afghanistan now. Those who worry that we would give al-Qaeda a huge propaganda victory should consider that we’re already giving them one by hamstringing our warriors and exhibiting a failure of will.

Posted by: mal at October 15, 2009 02:28 PM

McCarthy is wrong here:

The mission, though, must be the one the commander has been given by his civilian superiors, who answer to the American people. It is not the commander’s place to redefine the mission as something the American people never authorized and never would. But that is what McChrystal is endeavoring to do. He describes his plan as “revolutionary.” He’s sure got that right: The proposal would radically alter the understanding most Americans have about why we are in Afghanistan — as he puts it, his proposal would “redefine the nature of the fight.”

This is utter BS.

McChrystal's recommendations are entirely in line with the mission and strategy he was given in March.

It is not only false but reprehensible to rewrite history in this manner and frankly I'm mystified as to what McCarthy is thinking?

My husband has been intimately involved with policy discussions in the Marine Corps on this issue and consequently I'm aware of what was discussed then and now. People can pretend this is "escalation" but the fact is that the CinC asked for an honest assessment and he has gotten an honest assessment of what it would take - bare bones - to successfully implement the mission and strategy laid down by civilian leadership.

There are serious and substantive debates on COIN in the military. Hanging Obama's indecision on Gen. McChrystal is just bizarre. This is even MORE bizarre:

America’s commander in the theater doesn’t think that we’re in Afhganistan to fight our enemies. We are there, he says, to train Afghans to fight America’s enemies.

Ummm... that's the President's strategy. It is also common sense. One may disagree about how we go about that task, but making us primarily responsible for Afghan security is a recipe for a quagmire (and I hate that term).

Personally I think we should be doing both.

And then you have the morons who think we should be bombing Afghanistan back into the stone age by tornado remote control. Yeah, that'll create allies. Nothing warms hearts and minds better than a huge superpower sending remote bombs into a 3rd world country b/c they want to wage war but are afraid to face the enemy man to man.

Anyway, thanks for the excerpt. I think McCarthy's wrong in much of what he says. Certainly he's wrong to blame McChrystal for doing his job.

That's why we have a Constitution: to ensure civilian control over the military. Don't like the leadership?

Don't blame the armed forces.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 15, 2009 02:41 PM

People can pretend this is "escalation"...

Striking back at someone who has started punching you is also escalation. Still another word the Left has co-opted and redefined for its own purpose...

Posted by: BillT at October 15, 2009 02:55 PM

For me at the end of the day" there are moderate muslims but no such thing as moderate Islam". So the General is fighting a war that cannot be won.

Posted by: mal at October 15, 2009 03:14 PM

That may well be :p

However it is not his job to decide which wars we will fight, nor what our goals ought to be. It's his job to provide honest feedback and information to civilian leadership and carry out the policy directives they give him.

Generally (pun fully intended) this Marine wife takes a dim view of Generals. My husband's last boss is a shining exception to that general rule. He has worked for one or two others both he and I admired.

I think highly of Petraeus - his head appears to be screwed on straight and he's smart as hell. From what I've seen to date I'm inclined to like McChrystal as well, as much as it pains me to approve of the Army :p

Posted by: Cassandra at October 15, 2009 03:24 PM

I see what McCarthy's getting at, but I'm more inclined to think that McChrystal is simply proposing the mission that he thinks he can execute with the resources that he can count on, which aren't much. He undoubtably knows that he will get neither troops nor equipage nor authorization for an Iraq-like surge. It will be seen as a retreat because it is a retreat -- but, as Cass pointed out, that isn't McChrystal's decision to make.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at October 15, 2009 04:47 PM

Cassandra have you read this essay

http://warhistorian.org/wordpress/?p=1820#more-1820

Posted by: mal at October 15, 2009 11:34 PM

We're supposed to have known that we were taking our chances when we signed up...

Which is why the reactions of some of the Air Force types here to a *boom* which is obviously over 500 meters away provides a neverending source of amusement to us silverbacked Neanderthals.
We just figger they're NYT readers when they're home...
Posted by: BillT at October 15, 2009 02:48 AM

BillT, my experience with the AF types is that they tend to get really upset when combat operations get close enough to cause ripples in the pool.
Posted by: RIslander at October 15, 2009 11:14 AM

Yes, the Air Force types do have it soft compared to most of us...although in my case (from here in the Military-Industrial Complex™) that would be past tense. About every fourth V22 I work on these days is for the Air Force, though...

Posted by: camojack at October 16, 2009 03:53 AM

I'm inclined to like McChrystal as well, as much as it pains me to approve of the Army :p

Feh. I'll let that pass because you're a Marine by injection.

About every fourth V22 I work on these days is for the Air Force, though...

Well, the Air Force won't use them the way the Marines *say* they've been using them (and haven't), they'll use them the way the Marines actually *have* been using them.

As STOL airliners to flat, paved surfaces.

God help the crews and passengers if they ever try to use them like the Army uses helicopters, though. There's about five pages of single-spaced reasons why we said, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the V-22.

Cass, I wasn't kidding when I told you to advise the Unit to turn down a V-22 ride in AfStan.

Posted by: BillT at October 16, 2009 05:45 AM

Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Global Jihad

By Jim Sauer
There have been some phony arguments put forth for another "surge" in Afghanistan. We need not a surge of troops, we merely need to let our forces there do what needs to be done - kill the enemy.

There is this misconception about Afghanistan in particular (and Islam in general) that somehow we can bring Central Asia (and the rest of the Islamic world) kicking and screaming into the 21st Century through good will. This is simply not the case. There is no amount of money to spend, infrastructure to build, schools to provide, hospitals to heal, or good will that Americans can display toward the Afghan people that will produce a lasting effect. I was once told by an accomplished Afghan intelligence analyst that, "you can rent an Afghan, but you can't buy him."

The hard fact is that the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan "people" are not for sale! The descendants of "The Great Khan" and their tribal cousins have no interest in being Westernized in any way. And, the human sewers that serve as their political leadership can only be rented. Americans are interlopers in a land where interlopers generally have their heads lopped off.

Nobody read their Kipling. (I know, "who or what was Kipling?" Look it up.) Americans do not know their own history (except the spun trash that passes for "social studies" in our heavily leftist high schools) much less the history of Afghanistan. And, this includes our political leadership! Ask an American on the street -- or a congressman in the House -- to point to Afghanistan on a map, and they will probably start with their finger cautiously orbiting somewhere over Rhode Island.

This writer spent thirty years listening to and deciphering military acronyms and idiotic jargon. The catch phrase today is "COIN" -- Counterinsurgency doctrine. Our political and military leadership act like this is some sort of esoteric Gnostic knowledge that is just now coming to light. That is crap. There is nothing new here.

Counterinsurgency predates Rome. In modern times, the first COIN doctrine called Small Wars Manual was written by the U.S. Marine Corps in 1935 with the final edition being published in 1940. The first few decades of the 20th Century saw Marines intervening as "State Department Troops" from Central America and Hispaniola to China and the Philippines. The Small Wars Manual is a compilation of information describing nation building, establishing "constabularies", civil affairs, infrastructure repair, election management, donkey packing and inspiration, river crossing, intelligence gathering, psychology and ethnicity of native peoples, disarmament of the populace, force composition, supply and logistics chains, public image (both in the target nation and in the United States), and everything else it takes to drag a Third-World backwash into the current day and age. There is even a section on inspecting the feet of native troops for bunions, corns, and severe athlete's foot.

The manual is also full of contradictions. If one were to summarize in a sentence or two the center of conflicting mass, one might say, "Try to be nice, but if they don't go along with the program manipulate them. If that doesn't' work, kill them -- every one of them." It reminds one of a quip from Vietnam that went, "Let us win your hearts and minds or we'll burn your damn huts down."

It seems our current crop of political and military geniuses think that COIN can be conducted in a sanitary manner. This belief is insane. The "small wars" of the 20th Century were every bit as dirty and brutal as any conventional war ever fought.

Legendary Marine Corps hero and two time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley Butler wrote of his "COIN" experience a short tome titled "War is a Racket". It spelled out the misuse of American forces and the waste of American lives during the first three decades of the 20th Century. General Butler was an unlikely critic of the use of military force -- the more reason to heed his caveats.

Though published in 1940, the intervening years of conventional war (World War II and Korea) saw the Small Wars Manual fade into disuse.

The formation of the U.S. Army Special Forces in the 1960s led to an attempt to bring COIN doctrine to Vietnam. While this effort met with some success against the Viet Cong, the introduction of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces diminished the strategic effectiveness of the Special Forces effort. Further, as the NVA entered the fray and the war progressed, the Viet Cong themselves, although diminished by the Special Forces effort, became more sophisticated with regard to their remaining cell structures, logistics, and weapons employment.

There are several things to consider:

1. With the exception of Malaysia, there have historically been very few -- if any -- real, long lasting counterinsurgency success stories.

2. Wars are like fingerprints and snowflakes -- no two are alike

3. The sophistication of the insurgency with respect to tactics, weapons, as well as ethnic loyalties to and from the populace, can negate COIN efforts.

4. The subtleties and grace of Tae Kwon Do are nice, but there's nothing like a good punch in the mouth.

COIN may be a legitimate strategy in a limited sense when the "insurgents" are seen as outsiders -- or at least trouble makers with a foreign ideology -- by the native population in a fixed geographic region. However, the insurgency we face is not limited to Afghanistan. It is a global movement. Civilian casualties must be avoided whenever possible -- not at all costs. There is no excuse for the wanton slaughter of innocents. However, if a COIN strategy is to succeed, our political and military leadership must demonstrate the willingness to adjust the tactics used in the battlespace in order to allow our troops to kill the enemy.

When The Great Khan rode through Central Asia in the early 13th Century, he did not take into consideration public opinion. He had lands to conquer, people to rule, and resources to exploit. He spread fear and misery across Persia and into Europe. Whether an Afghan is Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, or Turkmen, some -- the real Afghan warriors -- still have the spirit of the Mongol Horde in their blood.

That having been said, their blood has been thinned by time and centuries of misery. The current crop of Afghanistan's "Warriors" is almost exclusive to the opposition. The true believers are fighters -- cowards too, but fighters nonetheless. By contrast, the bulk of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) are not fighters, nor are they "true believers". They are simply cowards -- frauds -- corrupt to the core by any standard and an apostate to their own faith. They are slovenly, drug-addicted, dimwitted, and totally unreliable at any level. Like the Taliban, they are brutal to their own countrymen. They thrive on their petty powers and refuse to shoulder any burden or responsibility. Does this sound too harsh? Not for the Marines and Soldiers who have been killed by the treachery of ANA and ANP who have purposely led them into ambush. Nevertheless, training and integration of indigenous forces into the fight is critical to the success of COIN.

According to the great military minds of our time, these ANA/ANP forces can be trained and formed to fight their own war. At what cost? How many American lives? How many taxpayer dollars? It would take decades if it were simply a matter of sophistication and military training. However, the obstacle is the way and philosophy of life in the Islamic world.

Iraq is a case study in deception with regard to COIN. You have been told by the media and our politicians that the Iraqi Army is now capable of maintaining order in Iraq with limited U.S. support. Well, read the news. Iraq is still in chaos. As we withdraw it will become worse; Sunni v. Shiite, Kurd v. Sunni and/or Shiite. Arabs are as brutal as Central Asians. However, they are even worse soldiers, and bring new meaning to the term cowardly. An American colonel who tried to train an Iraqi brigade regularly quips that his greatest accomplishment in twelve months was to get the Iraqis to use the toilets. He was not exaggerating. Americans have no idea how screwed up the world is east of Greece. Iraq is not yet a success story. The insurgency is just laying low. The Muslim mind thinks in terms of years, decades, and centuries -- not election cycles. You will hear optimistic talking heads speak otherwise. They will tell you of the great success in Iraq. You will even hear this occasionally from Soldiers, Marines, and "Operators" who have had good experiences with the Iraqi forces. However, their experience is the exception.

For COIN to succeed in Afghanistan, the population would have to share at least some of our values. The fact is they don't! Their "values", whether religious, social, or political, are the same values held by Al Qaeda and the Taliban! Islam is an integrated system! Islam is not just something Muslims do on Friday when it is convenient! The Islamic world is in no way similar to "Christendom" where the faith of many -- particularly in Europe -- has been compromised by progressive secularism. Most Muslims actually believe in the tenets of the Koran. These tenets are not the passive "Five Pillars" and other sanitized junk you read in an English translation. Muslims believe in the tenets that direct that they convert, subjugate, or destroy non-believers -- that means Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and even atheists.

Americans have been conditioned and have become accustomed to tiptoeing about, fearing to offend anyone -- even those who are offensive to the bulk of humanity. Thus, there is not an American politician or a media guru who will speak the truth clearly.

Although this writer has read extracts from the Koran, there is no claim from this quarter to any real Islamic theological scholarship. My understanding from Muslim acquaintances is that a true Muslim understands the Koran as literally as an Evangelical Protestant understands the Bible. Those who do not are apostates. Relying on the New Testament we believe that "By their fruits ye shall know them." This is how we know them:

The takeover of the American Embassy in Teheran and the holding 53 American hostages in violation of all norms of international law - November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981 -- 444 days under President Jimmy Carter -- "0" days under President Ronald Reagan.
Systematic kidnapping of nearly 100 Western hostages in Lebanon with some being tortured and murdered -- 1982 to 1992.
The bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks at the Beirut International Airport killing 241 U.S. Marines -- October 23, 1983.
Hijacking of TWA 847 and the murder of Navy Diver Robert Dean Stethem -- June 14, 1985.
Hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and 400 passengers along with the murder of wheelchair bound 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer who was thrown overboard at sea - October 7, 1985.
The kidnap, torture, and murder of Colonel William Higgins -- February 17, 1988
Dismemberment of American soldiers in Somalia while Somali Muslims danced in glee - October 1993.
The celebrations in "The Arab Streets" (include all of Islam from Gaza to Indonesia) after the bombings of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the downing of United Flight 93, animating Muslims throughout the world to joy and celebration - September 11, 2001 and the weeks following.
Dismemberment of Americans from Blackwater in Fallujah complete with the hanging of burned bodies from a bridge to the delight of the Muslim crowd - March 31, 2004.
Decapitations of Nick Berg, Daniel Pearl, Kenneth Bigley, and others at various times and places.

One could fill thousands of volumes with examples of depravity perpetrated by those who adhere to "The Religion of Peace". Thousands of crimes against humanity have been perpetrated against Israel alone. Most shocking is the unrestrained glee -- the actual dancing in the streets -- that accompanies the murder of Westerners, the desecration of their bodies, and the tears of their families. But, lest we think that this barbarism is reserved for Westerners and Jews, Islam promotes:

Honor killings of girls and women not only in Islamic nations, but right here in the good ‘ol USA.
Child brides.
Conversion killings of anyone even thinking about leaving the Islamic faith.
Child abuse and indoctrination via children's cartoons (Muppets no less!) that make sport of killing Americans and Jews and portray us as pigs and dogs. (You can find them on YouTube!)
Punishing children for petty theft by having their arms broken beneath the wheel of a truck. (You can find this gem on YouTube as well!)
Slavery in all its glory. Both for labor and sexual purposes. This is rampant in the Islamic world particularly among our Saudi "allies". Victims are Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Indian, African, and from any country where one could be lured with the promise of an escape from poverty or snatched from a village or refugee camp. Some victims are from the West.
Cruelty in all its forms to one and all.

Having spent the best part of five years in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel (Gaza/West Bank), I can tell you that I have personally seen an adult man take off his shoe and beat a toddler around the head and shoulders with its heel. The little boy was wearing only a dust soaked shirt that came up above his belly. Yet, not a tear fell on his dirt-smudged cherubic face. He fell down breaking his fall with his tiny hands, but would not -- or could not -- cry. I have seen an adult man suddenly and repeatedly strike a burka-wearing woman with a stick when she tried to exit a compound through a gate without a male escort. I have seen a man beat a donkey on the legs and back with a club until the panicked, pleading, and bleeding animal fell to the ground.

Kabul has astounding traffic tie-ups. Road rage is limited because one never knows if the other guy may have a flamethrower in his vehicle, but the cursing and honking is legendary. In the spring of 2007, during a massive, two-hour traffic jam on Jalalabad Road, I watched as an Afghan driver and his assistant got out of their flat bed truck in an attempt to beat the heat by lying down in the shade under the tires. The truck was hauling two large containers of medical supplies marked with a Red Cross. The driver apparently forgot to put out the tire chalks, and the truck rolled over both men crushing their heads like peas. Nobody -- nobody -- lifted a finger to help them. Their bodies were simply pulled to the side and the honking and shouting went on as usual. Life means nothing.

Apologists will bring up the crimes of the West -- especially the Crusades. The fact is that the Crusades were waged to counter the Seljuk advance on Byzantium and the atrocities inflicted on Christians and Jews in the Holy Land. The Crusades were waged during a period of time when life in general -- not to mention war -- was totally barbaric. That degree of barbarism is unimaginable to modern Western sensibilities, but still considered absolutely reasonable by Muslims. Had the Crusades not been waged; had the Habsburg Monarchy not turned back the Ottoman tide at the end of the 17th Century; had Isabel of Castile not driven the Moors from Grenada, you would not be reading this diatribe. You would be illiterate, ruled by a tyrant, and squatting on the dirt floor of a mud-brick shack picking your nose.

On September 24th, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He basically put the world on notice. Israel will not tolerate any more nonsense from the Islamic world. In contrast to the incoherent rambling of Gadhafi, the rancorous rants of Ahmadinejad, and the lame political oration given by President Obama, Netanyahu made his points with force, conviction, and clarity. Speaking of Islam he stated:

"In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death."

With cessation of the draft in the early 1970s America cultivated a professional warrior class. For over thirty years we have trained and equipped the most lethal fighting force ever known to mankind. They have sworn an oath to our Constitution that they take seriously. The question is whether or not their political leadership takes their own oath seriously. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are worthy of competent leadership that they can trust. Our president has demonstrated his contempt for America on foreign soil. In speeches around the world he has apologized for our history and failed to recognize our contributions. His personal history is littered with questionable personal friendships and professional associations. He has denied our Judeo-Christian heritage and stated that "Victory" is not in his vocabulary. We need to ask ourselves if he is worthy to be trusted with making policy that may mean the lives of our brave Warriors.

President Obama and General McCrystal need to review their history. When you treat the Afghans with kid gloves, they will bite off your hand.

Jim Sauer is a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major and combat veteran with over thirty years of service. Since retiring he has worked in support of U.S. Government efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel.

Posted by: Malcolm Smordin at October 18, 2009 04:39 PM

http://letthemfight.blogspot.com/2009/10/letter-that-started-everything.html#comments

Posted by: ma at October 18, 2009 05:31 PM

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