Sunday, July 06, 2008

Channeling Rudyard Kipling

From Kipling's poem The Young British Soldier:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut what remains,
Jes roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Michael Scheuer, the CIA man formerly in charge of finding Osama bin Laden was in a Kipling frame of a mind recently:

Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, made this statement at a recent conference at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC: "Afghanistan is lost for the United States and its allies. To use Kipling's term, 'We are watching NATO bleed to death on the Afghan plains.' But what are we going to do. There are 20 million Pashtuns; are we going to invade? We don't have enough troops to even form a constabulary that would control the country. The disaster occurred at the beginning. The fools that run our country thought that a few hundreds CIA officers and a few hundred special forces officers could take a country the size of Texas and hold it, were quite literally fools. And now we are paying the price."

Scheuer added, "We are closer to defeat in Afghanistan than Iraq at the moment."

But Scheuer is hardly alone in his bleak assessment:

Scheuer's pessimism is widely shared among military and political elites. The situation on the ground is hopeless; there is no light in the tunnel. Author Anatol Lieven put it like this in an article in the Financial Times, "The Dream of Afghan Democracy is Dead": "The first step in rethinking Afghan strategy is to think seriously about the lessons of a recent opinion survey of ordinary Taliban fighters commissioned by the Toronto Globe and Mail. Two results are striking: the widespread lack of any strong expression of allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership; and the reasons given by most for joining the Taliban -- namely, the presence of western troops in Afghanistan. The deaths of relatives or neighbors at the hands of those forces was also stated by many as a motive. This raises the question of whether Afghanistan is not becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the US and Nato breed the very "terrorists" they then track down. "

Lieven is right. The occupation and the careless killing of civilians has only strengthened the Taliban and swollen their ranks. The US has lost the struggle for hearts and minds and they don't have the troops to establish security. The mission has failed; the Afghan people have grown tired of foreign occupation and support on the homefront is rapidly eroding. The US is just digging a deeper hole by staying.

And it's not like we've turned Afghanistan into paradise in the meantime, either:

By every objective standard, conditions are worse now than they were before the invasion in 2001. The economy is in shambles, unemployment is soaring, reconstruction is minimal, security is non-existent and malnutrition is at levels that rival sub-Saharan Africa. Afghanistan not safer, more prosperous, or freer. The vast majority of Afghans are still living in grinding poverty exacerbated by the constant threat of violence. The Karzai government has no popular mandate nor any power beyond the capital. The regime is a sham maintained by a small army of foreign mercenaries and a collaborative media which promotes it as a sign of budding democracy. But there is no democracy or sovereignty. Afghanistan is occupied by foreign troops. Occupation and sovereignty are mutually exclusive.

And you don't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out that things generally don't go well for would-be occupiers in Afghanistan. Kipling was writing about the British experience there; the first Anglo-Afghan War was an especially gruesome example of how it is much easier to invade Afghanistan than it is to hold it. Philip Hensher wrote a fictionalized account of the this war between the Brits and the Afghans that preserves the essential historical details; it is titled The Mulberry Empire.

And who could forget, boys and girls, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan? They had a lot more troops than NATO does now; a fat lot of good it did them:

To better understand the reason for the Soviet invasion and failure, first one must understand the geography and culture in Afghanistan. The land is mountainous and arid. Jagged, impassable ranges divide the country and make travel difficult. Due to these physical divisions, the people are extremely provincial, with more loyalty to their specific clan or ethnic group than to a government or a country. The people are Muslims, and extremely religious and conservative. The majority ethnic group is the Pashtun, but there are over ten minority groups.

Spot remembers what his Pop always told him:

Spot, it's tough to beat a dog in his own back yard.

Or an Afghan in his.

Update: A thump of the tail to the incomparable Arthur Silber for the link to the article about Michael Scheuer; not that Silber need a link from the likes of Spot.

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