The Talking Dog

August 23, 2009, The good war gone bad

The situation in Iraq has apparently improved dramatically via the expedient of the American press by and large refusing to report news from it. Not so the situation in Afghanistan: the American press, alas, is quite interested in it. Not that you want to roll out a new product in August or anything, but it seems that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said to CNN:

I think it is serious and it is deteriorating, and I've said that over the past couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics

Yes, the Bush Administration "neglected" the Afghan conflict for years while it conducted the Iraq debacle, and yes, candidate Obama promised to "get tough" in Afghanistan (because, you see, Americans want their leaders to be imbeciles "tough," particularly when it comes to killing foreigners in other places.)

However, it's 2009; the eighth anniversary of 9-11 is just weeks away, and "victory," whatever that is, is as elusive as ever; OBL, Al-Zawahiri and AQ HQ, and Mullah Omar and the Taliban... are out there, taunting us. We also conveniently forget that the conditions that led to the Taliban's ascendancy in the first place, to wit, the existing government's inability to provide any semblance of order, while the Taliban, though irrationally brutal, provided such order, are by and large not different. In part, this is because of the failure of the "nation-building"project, but I think it's more fundamental. I think it's the very same superimposed hubris that made the Iraq debacle such a debacle, to wit, that without any semblance of liberal Western-style institutions or any semblance of experience in liberal Western-style "democracy," somehow we can magically impose "democracy" through force, and have the society magically transformed, as if corrupt local potentates and warlords will cease operating as corrupt local potentates and warlords just because they were selected "democratically" (as if even this is really possible in the middle of a war zone where "open campaigning" is discouraged by the occasional assassination or kidnapping or the less occasional open intimidation).

Well, at least it makes us feel better about ourselves, and isn't that important? I get the feeling that all of our political decisions are as much about that (particularly, making older, stupider, Whiter people especially, though not exclusively) feel better about ourselves, by telling us often enough that "we are bringing Christianity and civilization freedom and democracy to the heathen oppressed." (And don't get me started on recent attempts to superimpose "the [home] ownership society" as a cure-all for the arbitrariness and unfairness of our neo-Victorian socio-political-economic order, which is just another "feel-good" strategy designed to deflect people from thinking).

Where was I? Oh yes... 44 American troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, and, at least the short term prognosis there looks grim. This might be an excellent time, as my college classmate the President is fond of saying, "to hit the reset button." Maybe some kind of "withdrawal schedule" from Afghanistan might be in order; we're clearly not achieving our strategic goals there, and the question of whether such goals could be better served by a draw-down, if not an abandonment of the Afghan conflict would now seem to be in order.

Just saying.


I am descended from 300 years of hillbillies. If you want a real war, go and get them angry. In the early 50s,I saw my first real fistfight between two men. One's ancestors fought for the north, the other's ancestors fought for the south. This was 90 years after the war ended.

Afghanistan has 3000 years of hillbillies and in a opium pipe dream, they might be beaten, otherwise get out and leave them alone. These are people who a British officer who had gone in undercover in the 19th century wrote to his wife, "these people kill their neighbors for sport."

Posted by evil is evil at August 23, 2009 5:50 PM

Obama is working on repeating LBJ's mistake in Vietnam -- unable to win, unable to get out. Though with an all volunteer Army and less than 50 U.S. dead a month, he might be able to get away with it for a long time.

Oh yeah -- and he also has a more docile press.

Posted by janinsanfran at August 25, 2009 12:39 AM

Just back from 2 weeks vacation. As always your blog keeps offering excellent interviews and commentary. Sure, you're preaching to the choir for the most part, but we in the choir need to keep up our spirits too.

So yes, play with the cats in order to keep the semblance of sanity going, but don't give up on the blog. Here in the choir, we have enough of a problem staying on the same page. We still need the master to keep us in tune.

Posted by Michael L at August 25, 2009 9:43 AM