And now, the Afghanistan Study Group

Let’s not waste more lives and treasure on another doomed misadventure

General James Jones says “we will not be defeated” by the Taliban. Of course, we weren’t defeated in Vietnam, either.

General James Jones says “we will not be defeated” by the Taliban. Of course, we weren’t defeated in Vietnam, either.

Illustration By Jason Raish

It took a blue-ribbon commission of boldfaced white people with zero expertise to convince us that our war against Iraq was unwinnable. “When we act, we create our own reality,” a Bush aide said in ’04. Thank God the truth is out: Reality creates itself.

OK, so we’re half a million lives and half a trillion dollars short, and pointing to the midterm elections as proof that the system works would go way too far, but let’s take a collective national bow. We get it.

Finally, the United States is of one mind about Iraq. In the new reality-based reality, the difference between anti-war radicals and rabid neocon warmongers is that the latter would rather wait 18 months—as opposed to, say, an hour from now—before getting the hell out. Only 9 percent of the public still thinks we can pound the resistance into submission, but who cares? Anyone that dumb is likely to die in some Darwin Award-nominated accident before he gets a chance to express another opinion.

Now that we know what works, let’s stop deluding ourselves about the other unwinnable war. That’s right—it’s time to create an Afghanistan Study Group.

“Popular support for the central government is faltering, and Western military allies are deeply divided over how best to combat the [Afghan] insurgency,” reports the Los Angeles Times. As in Iraq, the brutal and incompetent American occupation has unleashed and fed a violent and increasingly popular Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan. “On the other side of the fight, the Taliban has regained the strength to dominate large swaths of Afghanistan; government control is tenuous at best in at least 20 percent of the country.”

“I think we are approaching a tipping point, perhaps early in the New Year,” a Western diplomat based in South Asia said, describing an “inexorable upward trend in violence that includes suicide attacks, roadside bombs and border clashes.” Sound familiar? According to the Afghan regime, attacks have increased 400 percent over 2005, claiming at least 3,700 lives so far this year.

As in Iraq (and Vietnam), American generals don’t understand their situation. “We will not be defeated militarily by the Taliban,” brayed General James Jones of the Marines. Indeed, as many as 7,000 Talibs have died in clashes with occupation troops. But guerilla leaders understand history. The United States never lost a battle in Vietnam. For every soldier we lost we killed more than 20 of theirs. By the standards of conventional warfare, we won—but it wasn’t conventional warfare.

The Taliban know that each fallen fighter leaves behind dozens of friends, relatives and neighbors eager to avenge them and carry on the struggle. “Recruitment is not a problem for them—not a problem at all,” said Pakistani security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

Taliban forces have seized control of Zabol, Kandahar, Helmand and other large provinces. Seth Jones, a counterinsurgency expert at the Rand Corporation, says that United States and NATO forces have been forced to flee vast areas of the country: “The Taliban have created a shadow government in a number of provinces—people going to Taliban governors rather than centrally appointed governors on rule-of-law issues.”

“In Afghanistan,” I wrote almost three years ago, “Bush traded in the world’s worst government, the Taliban, for something still worse—anarchy and civil war.” What was, at the time, prima facie cause for right-wing ridicule has become conventional wisdom. “[Afghans] previously were repelled by the fanaticism of the Taliban, but anger at Americans is growing,” said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general. “And, ultimately, they would prefer that their lives be secure. It’s a survival instinct.”

Like Iraq, Afghanistan is a classic blueprint for a failed state, an artificial creation of British cartographers motivated by a divide-the-tribes-and-rule approach to empire. The witches’ brew left behind by the Brits has the perverse effect of uniting these inherently unstable countries under the banner of ad hoc nationalism whenever a foreign power attempts to dominate them. As long as the British or the Soviets or the Americans or whoever remain in charge of southwest Asia, these occupiers quash the struggle between ethnic minorities for unachievable national dominance. True, we’re lousy colonizers. But we’d still lose in Iraq and Afghanistan if we weren’t.

To paraphrase the report of the Iraq Study Group, the situation in Afghanistan is “grave and deteriorating.”

Describing a hopeless situation, Jason Burke of the Observer in the United Kingdom wrote from Afghanistan that, “We can struggle on, as in Iraq, losing men and money for years until an Afghan version of the James Baker report tells us to change tack.” If we do, our losing war against Afghanistan will go from worse to disastrous. The New York Times quoted a Kabul-based diplomat: “We have to assume that things will be bad again [during next year’s fighting in Afghanistan], because none of the underlying causes are being addressed.”

Let’s not waste more lives and treasure on another doomed misadventure. Don’t believe the latest hype: As anyone with the slightest knowledge of 9/11 knows, Afghanistan had nothing more to do with the attacks or the war on terror than Iraq. Unqualified white notables of the Afghanistan Study Group, please get to work on your PowerPoint presentations.