Soap Opera Over Kabul
by Fred Reed:
The Eye of Sauron
Oh lordy, lordy,
how I love the Afghan war: It just goes on and on, without end.
By comparison death and taxes seem long shots.
In the latest
episode of this long-running sitcom, the Afghan army is killing
GIs. Yes. Blowing them away right and left. In Washington, the Five-Sided
Wind Tunnel is in shock and maybe awe. It has stopped training Afghan
troops because it is scared of them. It has ordered our soldiers
to stay armed to protect themselves against our devoted allies,
to whom we are bringing democracy, because they want to kill us.
How can this
be, you ask? The brass are puzzled too. The reason cant be
that Afghans dont like night raids, torture, GIs going house
to house and shooting women and kids, drone strikes blowing up weddings,
and other routine mechanisms of democratization. Instead, it must
Taliban infiltrators. Yes. This being decided, all
is now well. Just as the military calls routine atrocities isolated
incidents, it attributes Afghani hostility to Taliban infiltrators.
Problem solved. In the modern marketing military, you dont
need a solution, just a saleable explanation.
OK. In the
Guardian, I learn that actual Pentagonal military psycho-wonks
have done a study on what Afghans and gringos think of each other.
Saith the Guardian:
sees the other as a bunch of violent, reckless, intrusive, arrogant,
self-serving, profane, infidel bullies hiding behind high technology;
and the other group [the US soldiers] generally view the former
as a bunch of cowardly, incompetent, obtuse, thieving, complacent,
lazy, pot-smoking, treacherous, and murderous radicals. Such is
the state of progress in the current partnering programme. Over
a decade of fighting shoulder-to-shoulder had created mutual loathing
that was impossible to camouflage.
have thought it?
the slightest acquaintance with reality. Tell you what, brothels
and cisterns, I could have written every word of it, and Ive
never been to Afghanistan. Its Viet Nam all over again. Which
means that its all over, again. GIs and Afghans hate each
What do you
expect when you put combative, not too bright, half-educated, unsophisticated
lower-middle-class guys into an illiterate thirteenth-century culture
with a history of detesting invaders? I know, I know: you figured
it would spark a love-in, koom-bah-yah, Oprah as featured speaker.
occurs because the military inhabits a parallel reality. In its
experience, you tell a thing to happen, and it does. If the base
commander decides that all dumpsters should be painted Day-Glo chartreuse,
he issues orders, paint crews go out, and three days later the dumpsters
glow sort of greenly. The military also believes that things work.
Put 6000 sailors and a hundred airplanes on an aircraft carrier,
obviously an unworkable idea and it works. It works because
everyone wants it to work and does what he is told.
isnt an aircraft carrier. It has a different shape, it isnt
as flat, and it is full of Afghans. These are important distinctions.
military thinks that policy determines existence. American policy
is that Afghanistan is an allied country like Germany, which it
isnt, that Karzai is chief of state like Angela Merkel, which
he isnt, that the Afghan population are our allies, which
they are not, and that if you train Afghans who hate us to say Ooo-rah!,
they will want to kill other Afghans that we dont like which,
obviously they dont.
Add to the
militarys eternal misunderstanding of the enemys motivation
a matching underestimation of his capacity to fight, plus hypertrophied
self-confidence, and you get an overarmed, under-brained, excessively
ooo-rahed pack of losers. Dont think so? How is it that a
trillion-dollar military with fighter-bombers, helicopters, armor,
electronics, drones, and such cant beat pissed-off goat-herders
with rifles? What do you think would happen if GIs had to fight
on equal terms sandals and a smoke pole, no PX?
send me growly mail about Our Boys and their courage, training,
sacrifice, honor, and the rest of that string of beads. For one
thing, there is no honor in going to someone elses country
and butchering people you dont know because some political
general, which is to say some general, told you to; A hit man for
the Mafia is exactly as honorable. For another thing, an armys
job is not to be brave, selfless, yada yada, but to win wars. Look
at the record:
Viet Nam, Cambodia,
Laos: Dead losses. Underestimated the Vietnamese, the AK, the RPG,
the IED. By policy the Pentagon said the war was about communism,
while the Viets thought it was about getting invaders out of their
country, which they did. The GIs hated the Viets as they always
hate their allies. The Pentagon left with its tail between legs.
Dead loss, 241 Marines killed versus one Arab. Underestimated the
enemy and the truck bomb, had amateurish security, and misunderstood
local motivations. Left with tail between legs.
ashore in the Root. I had never seen worse security. They didn't
understand where they were. Boom. Phredphoto.
1993: Dead loss. Underestimated the enemy, the AK, the RPG. Left
dead GIs being dragged through the streets. Tail between legs.
Gulf I: Victory.
Enemy tried to fight Pentagons kind of war with fifth-rate
forces. Tail high.
loss. Did not get the oil, permanent bases, or docile puppet government.
Clueless about politics, urban war. Underestimated the enemy, the
IED, the AK, the RPG. Left, tail high, fooling few.
Dead loss, as yet unadmitted. Underestimated enemy, IED, AK, RPG.
Clueless about politics. Tail in default position.
explain this Gilbert-and-Sullivan performance. Since 1945 the Pentagon
has never fought a war it had to win. Nor will it. The possession
of nuclear weapons by the First World ensures that no seriously
dangerous country will attack any other seriously dangerous country.
This leaves the Pentagon and its suppliers free to buy phenomenally
expensive weapons of no purpose. The B1, B2, and Airborne Laser
come to mind and, now that pilotless airplanes are coming into their
own, the US spends hugely on the piloted F35, for which there is
But what the
military seems particularly not to grasp is that the nature of war
has changed. The day of massed armor roaring across deserts under
gorgeous sunsets, of fighter aircraft duking it out gloriously at
Midway, of huge formations of Marines storming ashore, is over.
In Afghanistan there are no targets of high value to destroy, no
clear lines of supply to be cut, no cities whose capture means you
win, and no concentrations of enemy to be easily killed. World War
Two ended a long time ago.
be obvious, but militaries dont do obvious. They run on the
hormonal aggression built into men males, grrr, bow-wow, woof which
is why all of history roils with pointless wars and slaughtered
innocents. Herd combat is as biologically determined as a teen-age
boys newfound interest in girls. Oh good.
on these same channels: Days of Yemen, a heartwarming series
about a handsome young GIs illicit love affair with his aging
Ma Deuce. Brought to you by the New! New! Tide, with three special
antioxidants that work together to remove all trace of rationality.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au
Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet
Nam, and A
Grand Adventure: Wisdom's Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about
Mexico. Visit his
© 2012 Fred Reed
Best of Fred Reed