Coop Scoop: Can We End Our Addiction to U.S. Military Power?
So far just one former senior U.S. officer has come clean on the lies that fueled the Afghan war.
By Marc Cooper
Eight days after the fall of Kabul these are this Monday morning’s headlines from Google News:
As a journalist for last 50 years, I reject out of hand any and all conspiracy theories about the media. They are false. That in no way means the media is always telling you the straight story. It does not conspire as much as it panders to false patriotism.
So here’s a little quiz for those of you who are news hounds and have been following this closely. What major salient fact is missing from all these headlines, and frankly, from all these stories?
Here’s the answer, written in headline form:
EIGHT DAYS AFTER FALL OF KABUL U.S. FORCES EVACUATE 38,000 AMERICANS AND AFGHANS.
Yet, turn on the noise machine known as broadcast news and the coverage becomes even more errant with the now ritualized script of Biden failing to “get everybody out” while “chaos” ensues around the Kabul Airport.
Who does that mean when people say everybody?
A handful of weeks ago, the number being floated of Afghan allies who would eventually need to leave was 40,000. That number, including something like 10-15,00 American “civilians,” has subsequently grown to 80-100,000. If the high figure is accurate and if the current figure of 10,000 a day are being rescued continues, simple math tells you that by August 31, the U.S. will have evacuated something like a remarkable 100,000 from Afghanistan, a figure for which we should feel some pride, rather than disgust.
We continue to be shown the images of anxious and desperate crowds pressing up against the airport perimeter while anchors and reporters suggest these are the masses we are leaving behind that should instead be boarded onto US planes.
I have reported from around the globe for decades and in many hot spots like this. Let me make it easy. Open up a US base with an ongoing airlift to the United States anywhere in the undeveloped world and you will instantly have tens of thousands of desperate locals trying to get on board. Try it in Mexico City or Tegucigalpa and watch what kind of “chaos” and “tragedy” ensue.
One issue that the media itself has not bothered to clarify —mostly because they could not be bothered to find out— is just who exactly we should be morally bound to extricate.
Biden has said “any American who wants to get out we will get out.” When asked about the Afghan allies, he said, the same applies. That second promise might be generous but perhaps not operationally feasible. There’s a reason why everybody made such a big deal a few days ago when a couple of American choppers ventured a grand total of 500 yards to rescue some people. Hey, gronk it. The US Army is a politically if not militarily defeated force penned up and surrounded in the airport.
The media’s conflation of the crowds in front of the airport and who knows who else into “everybody” who wants to get out, would probably total in the millions. In any war, the civilians who backed a losing side wind up in very deplorable conditions with few options.
Meanwhile, we have Boris Johnson and a battalion of American talking heads demanding that Biden extend the U.S. mission past August 31, the date the US agreed to leave. As if this was Biden’s decision alone. As if the U.S. forces could just leave the airport and wade into a sea of armed Taliban without provoking a fresh outbreak of total war. As if it is a detail that we would probably have to deploy yet another 5,000-10,000 troops to Kabul to move that perimeter a few hundred yards. To paraphrase Barack Obama when asked if he would go with Mitch McConnell to have a beer, I say to Boris Johnson, why don’t YOU put on a flack jacket and YOU can go and extend the deadline and the airport perimeter, and while you are at it, Boris, please evacuate the 19 million Afghan women threatened by the Taliban. Ditto Bush poodle and multi millionaire former PM Tony Blair who was also beating war drums again this week. We had already forgotten about you, Tony. Please go away again. This denialist line was also taken by the myriad American TV talking heads, many of them on the dole of military contractors and deep state think tanks.
What world are these jokers living in? Why such a disconnect between elite opinion and the ground reality?
I think we are experiencing the pain and chaos of withdrawal…not withdrawal of the troops. But withdrawal from the toxic, decades-long fantasy, that the U.S. is invincible, that it is all-powerful, that we are the Indispensable Nation and that, as much as a burden as it might be, we are, indeed, the Cops of the World.
It’s hard for anybody to accept their personal shortcomings. Just ask me. Much harder for an entire nation. Nobody likes to lose. But the U.S. is showing the enormous capacity to keep losing while trying hard to learn nothing.
Twenty years after the commencement of the Global War on Terror, the U.S. has gone 0-for-2 in its major wars. And Jihadist groups, like the Taliban seem to remain fairly healthy. And 62% or more of Americans have rightly concluded the Afghan war was not worth it. For that matter, they are sort of finished with the moral panic of the Global War on Terror.
The good news is that the American people by a decisive 2 to 1 margin are finished with these miserable and useless and bloody imperial adventures. A bipartisan truth, if you will.
The bad news is that American political and media elites remain wholly addicted to the fantasy that America can do anything it wants anywhere always and you are a quitter and perhaps a traitor if you are not on board. And that there is always a solution at hand when we send in the troops.
The thrashing pain, the howls, the cries, the supplications staged by reps of the national security blob and their hallelujah choir in the media this past week, is the same sort of panic, despair and denial you can hear any day of the week inside any drug rehab center when the addict begins to understand there just might be no more dope.
Cautious kudos then to General Mike Mullen (Ret) who commanded US troops in Afghanistan under Bush and Obama and who on Monday became the first and only senior American military official to admit that he, and everybody else, was WRONG about the war. I repeat, he is the only one. Sort of amazing, no?
“It’s hard to deny the evidence in front of you,” he told Slate in a phone interview this Monday.
“Mullen acknowledged that, back in 2009, he and all the other top officers and officials advised Obama to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan and to adopt a nation-building strategy. Biden was alone in calling for merely an extra 10,000 troops and to restrict their activities to training the Afghan army and fighting terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistani border. “He got it right,” Mullen said of Biden. “It would be hard to argue that [Biden’s proposal] wasn’t the right way to go,” he said. In the conversation with Slate, Mullen referred to the rest of his fellow senior officers during the Afghan period as “the silent crew.”
Good for Mullen. Read the Slate piece for more detail.
The other egregious element missing from this blanket coverage can be hinted at in the demand that we get everybody out, not bring everybody home.
Republicans, aided by a whole lot of Democrats, have taken a position saying bring them all out but please don’t bring any of those raggedy-ass towel-heads here. This is now a given, reflected in U.S. policy itself. Look at the acrobatics that Biden has gone through to get third countries to allow the dumping and processing of refugees on their lands.
If you want to demand something of Biden in this crisis, demand that refugees be brought directly to the U.S. where they will be processed and quickly settled. Expedited, please.
Not gonna happen. Biden knows very well that this is a political third rail because so many Americans, just like what is happening this week in the EU, do not want refugees to enter the U.S. (If you are old enough you will remember the fierce hostility with which Vietnamese refugees —*boat people* as they were branded- were met in the US forty years ago).
Leading the anti-refugee charge, are, of course, Biden’s most vocal critics on the withdrawal. Enter Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, the pro-fascist agitators on Fox News. Said Carlson a few days ago:
“If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions,” Carlson said. “So first we invade, and then we are invaded.”
These are the same assholes who a couple of weeks ago were claiming, with a straight face, that the current COVID wave of Delta infections was caused by diseased illegal aliens crossing the southern border.
I don’t say this glibly or recklessly, but this perfectly mirrors Nazi propaganda about dirty Jews in the 1930’s.
One area where U.S. policy makers did succeed in Afghanistan was in persuading a swath of public opinion that the invasion and occupation was staged, in great part, to liberate Afghan women. A very clever ploy by those world-class feminists George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and then, sadly, endorsed by Barack Obama along with legions of comfortable Democratic women who knew nothing about ground realities.
As I remember it, Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban govt that sheltered them. After less than 2 months, at the end of 2001, the Taliban offered to surrender. Bush said no, the occupation began in serious, and so our fate was sealed. Once again we plunged neck deep into a foreign land where we didn’t speak the language and where we understood even less.
That a small percentage of mostly urban professional women did, in fact, see their positions improve with the Taliban gone is a fact. But that was a by-product of the invasion, hardly its goal. And yet, what an absurd wash of news stories over the last 20 years with media using a telephoto lens to zoom in on this or that new beauty shop or other woman-run business in Kabul, creating the illusion that the U.S. had turned Afghanistan, or at least Kabul, into a massive Berkeley-esque women’s resource center and bookstore.
Only the most delusional can believe that the US Army spent its time opening abortion clinics, founding women’s CR groups, and “bombing” villages with thousands of translated copies of Our Bodies Our Selves. Even most of the schools opened US occupation were found abandoned and run down several years ago by correspondents.
The reality is quite different than the cheery propaganda. U.S. forces spent years sweeping through remote villages, kicking in doors and rousting and terrifying rural families (men and women) in the middle of the night. Women stood by after being shoved to the floor and watched their husbands, sons and brothers carted off blindfolded by American troops. And God Forbid if any of these villagers retaliated by shooting at American troops. That would only produce more aggressive action by the occupiers. Like massive and indiscriminate bombing.
Meanwhile, the systematic torture and renditions conducted at the American-run Bagram base and other U.S. sites were a secret to nobody (except the U.S. congress of course). Indeed, that U.S. base became known by Afghans as their own local version of Guantanamo.
The obsessive, heavy use of American air power (to spare American lives on the ground) wiped out countless families and ordinary Afghans wondered when the next drone strike would blow apart their village or home. The drones. Drones and more Drones. None of them were painted pink. None of them knew who they were killing. Nobody looked to find out.
As late as 2019, the U.S. dropped more bombs (7500 of them) on Afghanistan than in any other year since tracking began in 2006. Where did they fall? Who did they kill? Is it possible that some liberated Afghan women were also scared stiff by this death from the air? Or did they stand and cheer the bombing holding up their hands in the shape of a uterus? Somehow, I don’t think so.
The American war caused the displacement or exile of more than 6 million Afghans…something that has little to do with rescuing women and girls unless you define liberation as barely surviving in a freezing tent in a Pakistani camp.
You can look at any source that pleases you because nobody really knows the real civilian death count. The U.S. pointedly kept no reliable tally of this “collateral damage.” And what does that tell you?
Most reliable sources estimate that about 250,000 Afghans were killed during the war. Just who was a “civilian” and who was a “terrorist” remains as blurred and dubious as in Vietnam. The most conservative estimates say that “innocent” civilian deaths at the hands and bombs of US forces is about 100,000. This also assumes that a passive villager who might express some sort of sympathy for the Taliban was taken out as a presumed “terrorist.”
In a country eight times as populous as Afghanistan we are still mourning the 55,000 soldiers lost in Vietnam 50 years ago and the 3,000 civilians on 9/11/. Draw your own conclusions.
Just what political impact has mass death in Afghanistan affected the local consciousness. We will never know because, remember, we don’t even speak or understand their language!
The mythology that the U.S. occupation saved and liberated Afghan women over the last 20 years has turned out to be, well, mythology. Time magazine dispatched that fantasy back in 2018 with a couple of short paragraphs highlighting a miserable situation persisting after 17 years of U.S. occupation and one that nobody would argue has improved since.
I am one hundred percent in favor of rescuing and improving the lives of the 20 million Afghan women and their children and maybe even their husbands and brothers. But OK let’s stick with just women for the moment.
I am also in favor of liberating the women of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (who both supported the Taliban) and let’s throw in Mynamar. While we are at it, how about the million or so uighur women currently in Chinese prison camps? Oops, I almost forgot the several hundred million rural Chinese women who have been forced into hunger and homelessness that nobody reports on.
Do we have any room left on the plane for, say, Indian women who suffer extreme sexual harassment and rape? Yeah, why not. Maybe, Boris Johnson can provide the planes for that one after he’s done expanding our Afghan airlift. After all, India is a sad reminder of British colonialism rather than US imperialism.
Look. I am not being sarcastic or snide. I do care about all those folks and a lot more. Just as any other decent human would. It’s just that at age 70 I have firmly concluded that for better or worse, the exercise and deployment of hard U.S. military power is NOT the solution to any of these frightful issues. I don’t blame you for yearning otherwise, let’s just not continue more warfare on that mistaken notion.
OK, if you have read this far you might be snickering that I am a devious and clever guy by avoiding the Big Question of whether or not Biden screwed this up and if he could have done more earlier on to make this a much cleaner exit.
It’s a legit if secondary question and one that nobody can really answer, sorry. I maintain my view that once it is was clear the US was *really* leaving, this sort of ending was inevitable.
The paltry number of troops still in Afghanistan when Biden came to office was hardly enough to hold a country of 40 million, where the Taliban already had a massive footprint and where the population was sick of endless war.
The only mistake Biden made was to trust the “consensus view” of the national security and Pentagon blob that he probably had 2 or 3 or maybe 6 months of margin before the Afghan government fell and the Taliban took over. On that latter point of inevitable Taliban rule, everybody knew it was a certainty. Just like Kissinger and Nixon knew in 1973 that they were making way for the insurgents to take power.
I think Ryan Grim of The Intercept has summed up this “tragedy” as well as anybody:
“The only way for there to have been an orderly transfer of power in the wake of the U.S. departure was for the process to have been negotiated as a transfer of power. And to negotiate a transfer of power requires acknowledging — and here’s the hard part for the U.S. — that power is transferring.
“Therein lies the contradiction: An orderly exit required admitting defeat and negotiating the unutterable: surrender to the Taliban.”
“Instead, the U.S. preferred to maintain the fiction that it was handing over power to the Afghan government, whatever that was, and to former President Ashraf Ghani. We would rather risk the chaos we’re now witnessing than admit defeat. After all, it’s mostly not our lives on the line anymore, but rather the lives of Afghans who helped us over the past 20 years.”
“And no amount of time and preparation would have fully resolved that problem, because the U.S. immigration bureaucracy, in league with the State Department’s special visa program, is not designed to work. It can take an average of 800 days for an application to process, by which time Biden may no longer even be president. And those are the successful applications. We are not a country that places any value on helping desperate people migrate to our shores, and to paraphrase Rumsfeld again, you retreat from war as the country you are, not as the one you might wish to be.”
Joe Biden is catching hell over this politically and that might increase the already excellent chance of the Trumplicans taking back the House next year. So it goes in the politics of empire. Sad.
I, for one, am pleased that Joe Biden of all people took the enormous risk of ending this war. I am also proud of the ongoing airlift that has rescued tens of thousands with more to come.
In the meantime, welcome to Withdrawal. It’s a tough time but you eventually ride it out and get past it. +
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