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Paul Rigby
03-25-2009, 07:14 PM
On the train to work this morning I opened the paper & suffered a powerful dose of deja vu:


At last we get it - this war is Vietnam for slow learners.

Eight years of fighting has made no difference to the balance of power in Afghanistan. Only one word makes sense: exit

By Simon Jenkins

The Guardian, Wednesday, 25 March 2009, p.31

One word shines through the spin surrounding this week's Barack Obama policy review on Afghanistan. The word is exit. Before he became president, Obama was much taken by the idea that Afghanistan was a good and winnable war, a usefully macho contrast to his retreatism on Iraq. But in a military briefing at the time, he asked what was the exit strategy from Kabul and was met with silence. He has got the point.

In Britain, Gordon Brown too has no answer. Whether speaking to troops in the field or to the House of Commons, he incants the unconvincing line that the war he is waging, and plainly not winning, against the Taliban is about "terrorism on the streets of Britain". He cannot believe this any more than do his listeners. His platitudinous references to Afghanistan in the counter-terrorism strategy launched yesterday are evidence of this, complete with its absurd insistence on "poppy eradication".

This war remains what it was from the start, aggression against a foreign state intended to punish it for refusing to hand over the perpetrators of 9/11. It was later sanitised (largely by the British) as a liberal intervention to bring democracy and gender awareness to a poor people. The American architect of the war, Donald Rumsfeld, had no such lofty ambition. He just wanted to hit hard and get out. It was Tony Blair and the neocons who saw the country as a testbed for their new philanthropic imperialism.

After nearly eight years of fighting, the original objective - to find Osama bin Laden - has eluded the strongest military coalition on earth, while liberal intervention is ever further from success. A British government has again sent an army to get stuck in a senseless war against Pashtuns. It never learns.

If Britain has forgotten, at least Obama appears to be learning from America's equivalent example, Vietnam. The drift to a repeat of that catastrophe is the last thing his presidency needs just now. He can see that the occupation of Afghanistan has made every mistake in the invader's handbook. It has been Vietnam for slow learners.

There was the insertion of too many troops to make the invasion not an occupation, but too few to suppress the insurgency. There was the concept that aid could install democracy faster than occupation would create antibodies. There was the naivety of planning to wipe out Afghanistan's source of national income (opium), transform its political culture (bribery and corruption), reform its social mores (the role of women), reorder tribal power and ignore the threat from bordering states.

The Pentagon's use of the war to test its latest military kit, notably pilotless bombers, has been a disaster, ensuring that gains by soldiers on the ground are wiped out by aerial massacres that act as recruiting sergeants for the enemy. As for the anti-opium campaign, master-minded since 2001 by the British, it was well described this week by Richard Holbrooke, Obama's "Af-Pak" aide, as "the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years". It was little more than a western taxpayer subsidy to the Taliban.

The good news from Washington is that Obama seems determined to stop all this. Under cover of a boost of 17,000 troops to Helmand, he hopes to suppress the violence for long enough to reach ramshackle deals with the Taliban, giving cover for withdrawal - first to Kabul and then out altogether, leaving local leaders to make some sort of peace with themselves, their insurgents and their neighbours.

This policy has mountains to climb. Any visitor to Kabul sees the air-conditioned edifices and entrenched interests of the new interventionism. Office blocks are filled with military advisers and NGOs, driving out Afghans and raising rents to the sky. Most foreigners are marooned with little to do, as few dare venture outside their compounds, let alone Kabul - a glaring deterioration of security since a year ago.

The politics swirling round Hamid Karzai, the elected Afghan president, are so fraught that he is reportedly on the brink of being toppled in all but name by a "chief of staff" compliant to American policy. Karzai, a wily survivor in a snakepit of feuding warlords, druglords and Taliban, is unlikely to go quietly. Why Nato should thus want to destabilise this last shred of Afghan democracy under the guise of seeking to root out endemic corruption in Kabul is a mystery. The parallels with America's last years in Saigon are foreboding.

Nor has the bombing by pilotless Predators ceased. Last week, America's CIA "militants" were leaking proposals for bombing the Taliban-friendly Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan. The inability of Obama or his military chief in the region, David Petraeus, to stop these ventures by subordinates is a most ominous development.

By carrying operations from the border area deep into Baluchistan, America is further undermining the internal politics of Pakistan - and "defeating our objective of countering terrorism", as Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, bluntly described the strategy. It has been so counterproductive as to suggest an al-Qaida mole embedded somewhere in Washington's high command.

Any long occupation by an invader eventually leads to a rough equilibrium of power, each component inevitably feeding the others. UN figures suggest that barely 10% of outside aid reaching Afghanistan - including £1.6bn from Britain - goes to its intended use. Most vanishes into the same power melting pot as the opium harvest and the Taliban's sources of cash in the Middle East. The idea that eager ingenues in NGO Kabul will ever create their new Sweden is fantasy.

The old maxims remain true: getting into a war is easy, getting out is hard. Obama seems to realise that the fate of America's Afghan adventure has come to depend not on what Nato does or does not achieve, but on the good offices of the emergent Taliban and the stability of the currently shambolic regime in Islamabad. In other words the balance of power rests roughly where it was before this wretched business began in 2001.

As with the Russians so with the west: this poor, intensely private country will one day see off another invader who sought to reorganise its history with guns, bombs and money. It has not worked. It was never going to work. Oh so painfully, we are now beginning to understand.


New York World-Telegram & Sun, 21 January 1966, p.21

Solution for the War in Viet Nam: Get Out

By Richard Starnes

A wise friend and valued critic writes as follows: “I am writing you as a newspaper editor, and am asking you to consider a question.

The question comes after reading your column on the Mansfield Report, which left me in a state of darkest gloom and hopelessness. I am sure that thousands of our readers had the same experience as they started their day.

I am not questioning the validity of your argument. Nor am I challenging your right to present the story as you see it, no matter how deeply it pierces the reader’s heart. Facts and measured judgments must have their way.

But I do raise this question: Are you best pursuing your job as a writer when column after column, as in the case of Viet Nam, you chill your reader with frustration and despair without once suggesting a possible solution? Are you being fair to him? Are you not failing to recognize his character and aspirations?

The greatness of the American spirit is that it always has believed that something can be done about every obstacle. It never has accepted the inevitability of failures. Your readers would be relieved, I think, to hear you suggest a way out of the morbid morass of Viet Nam – even if it meant the recommendation of surrender. At least that would be action.”

It is a good question, and a reply is not easy.

But for a beginning, let’s consider some facts. The United States has gone half way around the world to make war on a primitive country of 18 million souls. Our intervention has never been invited nor recognized by any legally organized government.

Our adventure in Southeast Asia began under the cover of the “government” of Ngo Dinh Diem, it is true. But Diem was almost wholly a creation of Washington, and particularly of the CIA. There has never been any shred of credible evidence that any significant numbers of South Vietnamese ever vowed allegiance to Diem. The public relations buildup of Diem (wholly financed by United States dollars) convinced a great many Americans that Diem was a champion of democracy, but it convinced remarkably few Vietnamese.

Moreover, the fact is that a substantial North Vietnamese intervention did not take place until after the Diem regime refused to hold the elections that had been the bedrock of the Geneva accord that ended the war between the Viet Minh and the French, and after the United States had made it clear it intended to underwrite Diem with unlimited economic and military aid.

The State Department’s white paper of February 1965 tried to prove that there had been significant North Vietnamese intervention, and failed signally. The white paper, for example, undertook to prove that North Vietnamese infiltrations made up a large percentage of the Viet Cong (which at that time probably numbered more than 200,000). But it could cite only 19 “cases” as proof, and of these 16 turned out to be natives of South Viet Nam.

The white paper also failed to prove any massive infusions of Communist-made war material, although it tried valiantly to do so. The State Department document listed an inventory of all Communist weapons captured from the Viet Cong in an 18-month period from June 1962 to January 1964 – and the list contained only 22 crew-served weapons (mortars, recoilless rifles, etc.) and 155 hand-held weapons.

The Mansfield report was, indeed, a despairing document. It showed that a year of escalation had changed nothing, except the rate of killing. United States forces control no more territory, no more people, than they did a year ago. The bombing of North Viet Nam has not reduced the rate of infiltration, and cannot do so in the future. The Mansfield Report made it clear that the war the United States undertook to prosecute a year ago has already been lost.

Now the question boils down to whether we will continue, whether we will fight yet another war in an attempt to frustrate the Geneva accord of 1954, which, imperfect at it was, did promise to bring peace and stability to Viet Nam.

The United States can stay in Southeast Asia for as long as it wants to pay the price. To do so will require at least 10 American soldiers to each one of the enemy. It will cost a great deal of money, perhaps enough to threaten dangerous inflation here at home. It will continue to erode the faith in America that is held in the rest of the world.

A solution? Unless we agree to an Orwellian solution of eternal war, then the solution is painfully clear: We move out. We ask the United Nations to send a truce-keeping force and to supervise the elections that should have been held 10 years ago. In short, we decide that the United States is great enough, big enough and strong enough to admit that it has made a historical mistake of dreadful magnitude, and we get out.

David Guyatt
03-25-2009, 08:41 PM
If one wishes to see a salutary YV documentary series about Afghanistan, then I argue that "Ross Kemp - Return to Afghanistan" is that documentary. The series show the forays of British units from their fortified camps into the field to engage the Taleban. What comes across quite strongly is the almost utter uselessness of these missions. The British troops are watched every step of their mission as the exit their base and ambushes are prepared for them. The troops in turn listen to the mobile phone sigint and are aware that an ambush is being prepared for them. Then there is shooting on both sides. Sometimes there are casualties on both sides. Once over the British troops return to base and take a shower and the Taleban return to their homes and have a meal.

It's utterly bloody reckless and cloaks an abundance of covert greed. Good men of good intentions are being killed and maimed in the name of this bloody atrocious war - the only point of which is to protect the planned oil and gas pipeline and to reap the ever growing opium harvest.