Thursday, September 08, 2011

September 11 retrospective: Start of the Afghanistan War

The Afghanistan War was a necessary response to the 9/11 attacks: in the beginning.

Since the official beginning of that war on October 7, 2001, it has been taken over by massive mission creep. It has become a full-blown counterinsurgency and nation-building mission. And it will surely end eventually, years from now, in essentially the same way the Soviet war in Afghanistan ended. American leaders at some point will decide it's no longer worth it, declare Mission Accomplished and leave. Given the Pentagon's fixation on maintaining military bases forever in places we have wars, the practical end of the war may come before all American troops are withdrawn. And, if the neoliberal/austerity/privatization/"free-market" dogma continues to increase its stranglehold on American policy, in 10 years from now we may be fielding only mercenaries rather than soldiers on the US armed services payroll. But at some point, the US will decide to quit the war.

It's worth recalling how the flawed conception of the Afghanistan War at the start contributed to the current non-ending-mess situation of the war.

Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay wrote in America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (2003) that on 9/11, the Pentagon had no plans for invading Iraq. Apparently they had current plans ready for invading just about anywhere else! As Dallder and Lindsay put it, "The U.S. military, which had contingency plans for virtually every conceivable eventuality, had no plans on the books for going after Afghanistan."

But the Cheney-Bush Administration was never especially interested in the Afghanistan War. They were focused on getting up and war against Iraq. And using the 9/11 attacks as a reason to shred the Constitution and to implement their cowboy foreign policy more generally. So not only did they have to come up with military war plans and get the soldiers, spies and equipment in place. They had to come up with a real strategy for the war in Afghanistan. And they did a slapdash job of it. As Daalder and Lindsay write:

But the real problem was in many ways more fundamental than the lack of adequate capabilities. The military operation lacked clarity of purpose. Was it to get Osama bin Laden? To destroy al Qeda? Topple the Taliban? Ensure Afghanistan would never again be a terrorist haven? Send a message to other terrorist supporters? All of the above? Bush's war council had not given definitive answers to any of these questions. Bush and his advisers agreed that after the horror of Sep­tember 11, some form of significant military action was necessary. "We're steady, clear-eyed and patient," the president told King Abdul­lah of Jordan in late September. "But pretty soon we'll have to start dis­playing scalps." However, there were many different objectives aside from revenge - and all of these permeated the design and execution of the military strategy in Afghanistan.
Displaying scalps. I haven't heard of any cases of Our Side literally taking scalps as trophies. Photos of prisoners being tortured, yes. But killing lots of foreigners and Muslims and A-rabs, we've done that. Under the Obama Administration, we even killed Osama bin Laden himself.

But the war in Afghanitan goes on. And on. And on.

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