Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Know thy enemy

Last night, I watched a podcast of Democracy Now. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales interviewed filmmaker Oliver Stone and Pakistani British author and activist Tariq Ali regarding their new documentary film South of the Border. In making the film, Stone met and interviewed seven South American presidents. Here is an excerpt from his conversation with former Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner:

OLIVER STONE: Were there any eye-to-eye moments with President Bush that day, that night?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] I say it’s not necessary to kneel before power. Nor do you need to be rude to say the things you have to say to those who oppose our actions. We had a discussion in Monterey. I said that a solution to the problems right now, I told Bush, is a Marshall Plan. And he got angry. He said the Marshall Plan is a crazy idea of the Democrats. He said the best way to revitalize the economy is war and that the United States has grown stronger with war.

OLIVER STONE: War. He said that?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] He said that. Those were his exact words.

OLIVER STONE: Was he suggesting that South America go to war?

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Well, he was talking about the United States. The Democrats had been wrong. All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by the various wars. He said it very clearly. President Bush is—well, he’s only got six days left, right?

OLIVER STONE: Yes.

NÉSTOR KIRCHNER: [translated] Thank God.

For the complete interview, click here.

***

Turning to another relevant story, a remarkable exposé on General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, appears in the current issue of Rolling Stone. Here is described McChystal's new strategy:
From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military's preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his "surge" in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed "COINdinistas" for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

As McChrystal leaned on Obama to ramp up the war, he did it with the same fearlessness he used to track down terrorists in Iraq: Figure out how your enemy operates, be faster and more ruthless than everybody else, then take the fuckers out. After arriving in Afghanistan last June, the general conducted his own policy review, ordered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The now-infamous report was leaked to the press, and its conclusion was dire: If we didn't send another 40,000 troops – swelling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by nearly half – we were in danger of "mission failure." The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president's ass.

Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. "I found that time painful," McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. "I was selling an unsellable position." For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. "The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.

In the end, however, McChrystal got almost exactly what he wanted. On December 1st, in a speech at West Point, the president laid out all the reasons why fighting the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea: It's expensive; we're in an economic crisis; a decade-long commitment would sap American power; Al Qaeda has shifted its base of operations to Pakistan. Then, without ever using the words "victory" or "win," Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, almost as many as McChrystal had requested. The president had thrown his weight, however hesitantly, behind the counterinsurgency crowd.

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