Saturday, October 24, 2009

That 'pesky' Inconvenient History

The White House has announced - weekly, that it intends to have an answer to the question of what to do about strategy/strategy change in Afghanistan 'by the end of the week'. The latest excuse is that in light of the apparent fraud in the election process, there will be a run-off election. Because it cannot be determined with certainty who will be victorious, President Obama wants to wait before sanctioning any troop increases ('approving' the change to COIN is a certainty). It is unclear what the actual hold-up is but the given reasons change with the calendar starting back in June when the White House announced General McChrystal as the new ISAF Commander. Since then we have heard rumor and innuendo about the General's assessment of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. What we do know is that the White House has linked the opinion of the Afghan people with whatever strategy changes that will be forthcoming. In effect; the security of the United States lies with the desires of the Afghan people.

General McChrystal has staked his entire reputation, not to mention the lives of our men and women in the field, on a counter insurgency strategy that almost exclusively focuses on population protection. His statement that 'success would be defined by the Afghans' harkens back to the Malayan Emergency and General Templer's contention that 'the answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the people'. The problem is, the insurgents in Malaya were different than the Afghan insurgency. Theirs was a political ideology. The 'insurgents' in Afghanistan are hardly an alienated element within the society there. They represent the true doctrine of Islam and, arguably, the hearts and minds of the Afghans in that regard. Success for them is measured in infidels and apostates killed. Yes; they are a mix to be sure with some not much more committed than are common thieves and drug runners but even that number is ideologically tied to Islam. Another thing worth noting is that the combat in Malaysia, while officially over in 1960, never really quelled the hostilities. The insurgents re-emerged in the late 60's and continued in the struggle until 1989. Some might consider it coincidental that the iron curtain fell that same year, but I think an argument can be made that it had a profound effect on the hopes of communists world wide - including Malaysia. If General McChrystal is using The Malaysian Emergency as proof of a successful COIN operation; he has to explain away a lot of inconvenient history.

The Philippine Insurrection (1899 - 1913) causes him yet another problem because even though there are those who suggest it was a counter insurgency, the reality is that it was a declared war by the first 'President' of the Philippines. The war quickly degraded into a war of tribes waging a guerilla style war with many atrocities by the Filipinos recorded. Our response to those atrocities would not be considered 'politically correct' today, but were effective. As the war raged into its final years, the splintered warring factions stepped up their guerilla tactics as well as the atrocities. General Pershing is said to have taken 50 prisoners of muslim persuasion and lined them up for the firing squad. He had the firing squad file by the prisoners, dip their bullets in pigs blood and shoot all except one with those bullets. He then let the remaining prisoner go to warn his brethren. There are also stories of dead Moros (muslim) being buried in pigs skin, face down (so they could not see Mecca) in an attempt to demoralize them and force a cessation to hostilities. I can't imagine the good General is recommending these standards in dealing with the indigenous elements that are the Taliban, in Afghanistan. One must also note that there were several religious ideologies at play in the Philippines and it is not at all apparent that they played a part in the Filipino's decision to declare war on the US or sustain hostilities for fourteen years.

Finally there is Vietnam; the hearts and minds campaign there was an abysmal failure while the chase and kill campaigns were largely successful. This is probably our first literal attempt at a counter insurgency and one of our greatest political disasters. Is the General really taking from the McNamara/Johnson playbook and attempting to 'right history'? There are still many of us with keen memories of that debacle and the shame of Saigon and the horrific treatment our Warriors received when they returned to these shores. The entire political establishment of that decade and a half should have been thrown in prison for letting any and all of that happen!

So if we sum up just two of the three efforts, what we have is a failure of counter insurgency strategy. And with this history, General McChrystal finds solace and hope for success - in a country that is ideologically opposed to us just for breathing the same air?? Even if there was a shred of hope in this strategy succeeding, what gives us the right to interfere in the affairs of another culture that is, by any measure, content with their lot in life? The fact is we don't have the right and, that is not what we went there to do. Again; we went there to chase and kill the enemy that spawned the elements that attacked us on September 11, 2001. In addition we decided to chase and kill those who offered them safe harbor and training bases from which to train and launch attacks. The Taliban, which were the sitting governance at the time, invited Al Qaida into Afghanistan to train and plan. The contention that the Taliban and Al Qaida are somehow diametrically opposed either ideologically or on some other basis; rings hollow in light of the facts. If the Taliban did not want Al Qaida there, they would not have been there. It must have pleased them on some level to have them there because they were there.

This still boils down to whether or not we believe we have the right, duty and responsibility, regardless of international consent, to export violence to deal with a clear and present danger to American property, American citizenry and American interests. As Americans the answer should be a resounding yes. I fully understand that foreign entities and individuals, and those in this country who have not yet felt oppression, death or fear, will say no. I understand there are those who think there has never been nor shall ever there be a justifiable war. I no longer expect you to be a serious part of this conversation. You are living in a land of make believe because I know, and you know how you would react if someone entered your house and threatened your family. You would pick up whatever was available and do whatever you had to in order to secure safety for your loved ones including killing the dirtbags. All you need to do is multiply your family by millions and you might understand the peril that confronts your country.

What we have here is the General involved in a great social experiment, with the plains of Afghanistan as his personal laboratory and our Marines and Soldiers as the rats. History is not on your side General and you are losing time and the support of the only segment of the population of this country who would normally support your efforts.

Admiral Mullen said in a letter to Senators Collins and Snowe (meant for me) that the ROE had not in fact changed with the ISAF Commander back in June 2009; The Rules of Engagement had only been 'clarified'. Ganjgal is but one example of how that 'clarification' is being brought into question. The current investigation, if not buried by the Army, ISAF, SecDef or higher, is going to yield what we already know; that the rules are intentionally vague to offer maximum cover for those who have implemented them while exposing the decision makers on the ground and all at the expense of those prosecuting the war, O-5 and below. It is already painfully obvious to all, especially those on the ground, that before June we were blowing crap up and providing Air and Arty when needed and now; American lives are inferior to Afghan by our own rules and the UN has prosecutors in Kabul, gleaning after-action-reports looking for evidence they can use to prosecute Marines and Soldiers.

What General McChrystal, Sec Def Gates and President Obama need to remember is that they are sworn by oath to defend this country and our people - not protect the civilian population of another country or rebuild their country with our tax dollars and the blood of our children!

Semper Fidelis;

John Bernard