31 October 2004

Explaining the remarkable ineffectiveness of the war America is waging

Active senior CIA officer and former head of the agency's Osama bin Laden unit has written a lucid book titled Imperial Hubris that details how badly botched the "war on terror" has been carried out by the U.S..
I believe the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but is being lost because of our hubris. Those who failed to bring peace to Afghanistan after 1992 are now repeating their failure by scripting government affairs and constitution-making in Kabul to portray the birth of Western-style democracy, religious tolerance, and women's rights -- all anathema to Afghan political and tribal culture and none of which has more than a small, unarmed constituency. We are succeeding only in fooling ourselves. Certain the Afghans want to be like us, and abstaining from effective military action against growing numbers of anti-U.S. insurgents, we have allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to regroup and refit. They are now waging an insurgency that gradually will increase in intensity, lethality, and popular support, and ultimately force Washington to massively escalate its military presence or evacuate. In reality, neither we nor our Karzai-led surrogates have built anything political or economic that will long outlast the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces. Due to our hubris, what we today identify and promote as a nascent Afghan democracy is a self-made illusion on life-support; it is a Western-imposed regime that will be swept away if America and its allies stop propping it up with their bayonets.

On Iraq, I must candidly say that I abhor aggressive wars like the one we waged there; it is out of character for America in terms of our history, sense of morality, and basic decency. This is not to argue that preemption is unneeded against immediate threats. Never in our history was preemptive action more needed than in the past decade against the lethal, imminent threat of bin Laden, al Qaeda, and their allies. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not preemption; it was -- like our war on Mexico in 1846 -- an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages. "Disclaimers issued by the White House notwithstanding, this war has not been thrust upon us. We have chosen it," Boston University's Andrew J. Bacevich wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "The United States no longer views force as something to be used as a last resort. There is a word for this. It's called militarism."

Probably the best read of the past six months, a scathing indictment of the U.S. campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq. All concerned Americans should read this book – agree or disagree with his tenets – it is detailed feedback from someone who has served the U.S. as an intelligence operative and has great knowledge and background regarding Afghanistan and the Muslim world.

One question that immediately popped to my mind was why on earth would the U.S. intelligence brain trust allow him to publish such classified research. But there are no classified documents revealed, and the author repeatedly pounds the point that all of this data is readily available in your local public library and much material is accessible in online repositories. And as part of his agreement to get published, the author was required to not publish under his own name, though I believe he's been outed since.

For lack of a coherent schematic on how to arrange these items, here's a short list of some of the salient points made:

  • The silliness of the notion oft repeated by the administration and its apologists how "they hate us for our freedom and way of life". No, bin Laden has made quite clear his grievances, and they have been available to anybody with access to a web browser dating back many years. In short, they amount to demands that (a) U.S. quit occupation of Muslim lands, (b) cease propping up despots and other non-Islamic, non-popular mandate regimes in the Muslim world, and (c) end support for Israel. Whether these are valid or just mularkey may or may not be open to debate, but to say blindly that they hate us for "our freedom" does a grave disservice and hampers our war effort.

  • In corrolary, the painting of him as a deranged lunatic or an absurd madman foists dangerous misunderstandings. The author illustrates clearly the shrewdness and the high level of strategic savvy bin Laden has employed in carrying out his campaign of worldwide holy Islamic jihad.

  • Treating the "war on terror" as a police manhunt exercise instead of war.

  • As stated, both campaigns have been badly botched – borders were not sealed, buckets of money have been poured over warlords who've taken the money and not acted in contract, al-Qaeda fighters permitted to flee with their armaments to return to fight in guerilla fashion, and focus placed on capturing cities and issuing PR releases boasting victory instead of destroying the enemy. Parallels are drawn with Union civil war commanders Grant and Sherman who recognized that the goal of conquering cities was secondary to crushing the enemy armies.

  • The preoccupation of military planners to fight a "safe war", where keeping U.S. force casualty counts low is given undue importance.

  • The invasion of Iraq was a gift to bin Laden, the second holiest land in Islam where order was kept only by the Baathist barbarity that prevented a long overdue civil war. It would sharpen and consolidate anti-American sentiment as massive numbers of innocent civilians are slaughtered in efforts to root out insurgents. Muslims would see each day on television that the United States was occupying a Muslim country, insisting that made-man laws replace God's revealed word, stealing Iraqi oil, and paving the way for the creation of a "Greater Israel"

  • Expression of intelligence operative backlash against the frequent "leaks" that serve the administration as chest thumping exercises, but severley hamper and handicap the job intelligence agencies are doing.

  • The toady manner of which senior military officials stay mum and refrain from commentary, and blindly follow civilian instruction. This is not so much directed at active officers who, it is acknowledged, must obey orders, but to those stepping out or retiring. The author claims that instead of speaking the truth on matters, many opt for the cushy confines of corporate munition makers, to serve as executives and use their history of interpersonal contacts to secure financial windfalls for new employer suitors.

Read Imperial Hubris.