We officially have no clue what we’re doing in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

By now it should be official: we have no fucking clue what we’re doing in Afghanistan and the Middle East. This became clear last week when Obama announced that we’re going to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017, or the beginning of the next President’s term.

Obama inherited two wars with the promise to end them both. Now we’re essentially in three wars with no end in sight.

This is the work of our Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who – as was ironically noted in social media – is the only Nobel Peace Prize Winner to have bombed another Nobel Peace Prize Winner.[1]

For those of you remember, under Bush I, then Secretary of State Colin Powell formulated what is now known as the “Powell Doctrine,” in opposition to our experience in Vietnam. The Powell doctrine, briefly stated, is that the United States needs to go into military encounters in “overwhelming fashion and only in the service of vital national interests.” That’s what we did during the 1st Iraq war – the one where we pushed Iraq out of Kuwait but did not follow the retreating troops into Iraq, and left Saddam Hussein in power – and what we have really not done ever since.

But to really understand how clueless we are, let’s look at Vietnam and then our more recent experiences.

The Vietnam Experience

The best history I’ve ever read on the Vietnam War is Frances FitzGerald’s brilliant masterpiece, Fire in the Lake. We were in Vietnam, of course, after the French had failed there, and as part of the Domino Theory that if we let communism take hold anywhere in Southeast Asia, like dominos, it would spread everywhere else.

That theory – like the theory that we would be greeted in Iraq as “liberators” – was, of course, nonsense of the first order. A paean to our cluelessness; one of many.

Part of what we did not understand then is that Vietnam was a fundamentally Confucian society. Confucianism, sometimes confused as a religion, is really a philosophy or “way of life.” It is much more about how to organize society than about any kind of theology. It is not about a “God” at all. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. The man himself was a political administrator, as well as teacher and philosopher.

What we failed to understand then, and still fail to understand now, is that Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Việt Minh independence movement was much more in the Confucian tradition than any of the leaders of South Vietnam. The leaders that we backed, on the other hand, were grifters, Narcissists, corrupt to the bone. They did not enjoy the support of the people. They enjoyed the support of a few elites and of members of the South Vietnamese army. And that’s about it.

And our poor soldiers, kids drafted out of Kansas and Pennsylvania and Texas, many of whom had never been abroad before, were dropped into these little villages and expected to be able to distinguish the enemy from supporters of the South Vietnamese government. Of which there were previous few.

Although they had overwhelming firepower, our kids had no chance. And so, the United States got handed it’s ass by this tiny 3rd world country that had nothing but overwhelming commitment to its cause.

The Iraqi Experience

Under Bush I the United States fought the “Gulf War” (codenamed Operation Desert Storm) in the winter of 1991, and kicked the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Not satisfied with what his father had done, Bush the younger had the United States military invade Iraq in the spring of 2003 under the pretext that Saddam Hussein had hidden nuclear weapons in Iraq. Or at least weapons of “mass destruction.” It didn’t take us long to defeat the Iraqi regular army – about six weeks altogether – but we were not, as Dick Cheney had predicted, “greeted as liberators.” [2]

Of course, capturing Iraq turned out to be a whole lot easier than administering it. We proved to be completely incompetent on that front. Ten years after the fact Paul Bremer, our administrator over there, admitted that they (actually he) had made major mistakes in Iraq, although he claimed that Iraqis were still better off. Yeah, maybe. We could catalog all of Bremer’s mistakes, but Frontline has already done that, and in any case, that would be a whole post unto itself.

It took us until 2011 to get most of our soldiers out, but we still have “advisors” over there. I’m sure they’re a big help.

What eventually emerged out of Iraq is of course the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS or ISIL or however one wants to abbreviate it. This is a group of motherfuckers like no other, specializing in Internet videos of the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers; the group is also known for its destruction of cultural heritage sites. Are these guys better than having Saddam Hussein around?

I don’t know.

Do you?

The Syrian Experience

After our experience in Iraq, Barack Obama was understandably reluctant to put ground troops into Syria to go after another dictator, Bashar al-Assad, the son of Hafez al-Assad. In the Middle East, the “presidency” of Arab states sure runs in the family. Even after Syria crossed the “red line” of clearly using chemical weapons on its own people, we still did not put boots on the ground.

Syria is a quagmire now, one where we have no idea which side to back. There are the Syrian rebels, who want to bring down al-Assad, but some of those are in alliance with ISIL, or some of them may even be ISIL. There are the Kurds, who want to break away from Syria, but our allies in Turkey are completely opposed to that because they have their own Kurds, and the last thing the Turks want is a Kurdish state carved out of both Syrian and Turkish borders.

Now the Russians are also in the game, as they want to exert their influence and prop up their client regime, which is, of course, the al-Assad regime.

What a clusterfuck.

The Afghan Experience

It was not Afghanistan that harbored Osama bin Laden. That turned out to be Pakistan. But nonetheless, Afghanistan had harbored al-Qaeda and sponsored terrorist training camps, and unlike Iraq, those were at least a semi-legitimate targets after the September 11 attacks.

Of course, if we had taken a closer look, we would have known that the Afghans had kicked the asses of the Soviet military, just as the Vietnamese had kicked the asses of the French. But we never learn from that stuff. We always think that our military is going to do better.

Have we done better than the Soviets?

Hamid Karzai is now the President of Afghanistan. I don’t think he’s of much use to us. He’s probably more of a saboteur than an ally to the United States.  The Taliban are still hugely popular in Afghanistan. And the state itself is an Islamic Republic.

What have we achieved? You tell me.

We have no idea what we’re doing in our Military Adventures

Ever since World War II – when we really did save the world – we’ve had this savior complex. As if all the world was ready for “Jeffersonian” democracy. It is not. We just have no understanding of how the rest of the world operates.

Take modern Vietnam. The country, although ostensibly “communist” is doing fine. We’re one of its biggest trading partners now. It didn’t cause any other Southeast Asian country to fall like a domino. Remarkably enough a lot of the Vietnamese like Americans and welcome us over there, as tourists and business partners.

Its’ time for us to stop thinking that we can be the World’s policeman. We can’t. We’re not up to the task. Not because we don’t have enough military might. We have plenty of that. What we lack, completely and absolutely, is any real knowledge of other people’s cultures. Not in Vietnam. Not in Iraq. Not in Syria. Not in Afghanistan. Not anywhere, really, where we’re involved military.

It’s time for us to give it a rest.


[1] The United State military recently bombed the hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors without Borders, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Of course, Obama did not personally direct the bombing of the hospital, but his military did it for him.

[2] The number of times that Dick Cheney has been wrong about things is almost too long to count, but the Daily Banter has counted up at least nine things he was wrong about on Iraq.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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3 Responses to We officially have no clue what we’re doing in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

  1. A useful analysis – the real tragedy is why we (humankind in general) haven’t done more to develop the United Nations. Nato is outmoded and we need a proper platform for international co-operation. The big five’s veto is a nonsense these days, anti-democratic and a block on progress. It’s going to be hard, but we should start campaigning to give the UN teeth. End of sermon. For more, go to https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com – cheers, DK.

  2. Militarism and arms production is a high profit-making enterprise. Their market place are war zones. As long as their are people willing to kill other people for whatever reasons and there are people profiteering from suffering and slaughter, there will be wars. I can’t see an end to it.

  3. Pingback: More thoughts in the wake of the Paris attacks | A (or One) Skeptic

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