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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
13 Jul 2012
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29 Jun 2012
The Affordable Care Act: Decision Effects

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Insanity Trumps Common Sense in Afghan Policy Fight


The ripest moment of absurdity last week was the spectacle of Pentagon officials berating The Washington Post for publishing the supposedly confidential assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, prepared by General Stanley McChrystal, America's Man in Charge of that doomed adventure.

The Pentagon asked the Post to cut certain passages on the ground that they would compromise national security.

Since the document is commonly supposed to have been leaked to Bob Woodward by either McChrystal himself or one of his retinue, it seems silly to start whining about the irresponsibility of the press. The record for willful indiscretion is probably held by Henry "Hap" Arnold, the only five-star general to hold the grades of General of the Army and later, during World War Two, General of the Air Force.

Arnold's leak was a famous one. During WWII someone gave a Chicago newspaper the entire order of battle of the U.S. Navy. The newspaper published it in what was undoubtedly one of the most serious security breaches of the era. The identity of the leaker remained unknown for many years. Finally, my brother, Andrew, discovered it a few years ago. It was Arnold, pursuing some ferocious bureaucratic struggle against the Enemy — which was, of course, the U.S. Navy.

Anyone wanting to understand how JFK plunged into the Vietnamese quagmire and how LBJ got in even deeper has only to follow the current fight over Afghan policy. Insanity effortlessly trumps common sense.

By common agreement, the situation is rapidly getting worse. In terms of military advantage, the Taliban have been doing very well, helped by America's bizarre policy of trying to assassinate the Taliban's high command by drones, thus allowing vigorous young Taliban commanders to step into senior positions.

Ahmed Rahid writes in a savage and well-informed piece in The New York Review of Books:

"For much of this year the Taliban have been on the offensive in Afghanistan. Their control of just 30 out of 364 districts in 2003 expanded to 164 districts at the end of 2008, according to the military expert Anthony Cordesman, who is advising General McChrystal. Taliban attacks increased by 60 percent between October 2008 and April 2009. …

"In August, moreover — as part of their well-planned anti-election campaign — the Taliban opened new fronts in the north and west of the country where they had little presence before. On election day in Kunduz in the far northeast of the country, considered to be one of the safest cities in Afghanistan, the Taliban fired 57 rockets. The U.S. military has acknowledged the gravity of the situation. 'It is serious and it is deteriorating. … The Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated' in their tactics, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on August 23.

"Yet if it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistan needs a serious long-term commitment — at least for the next three years. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year's congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable. With Obama's plan the U.S. will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the first time since 2001; if it is to be successful, it will need not only time but international and U.S. support — both open to question.

"After Obama's injection of 21,000 troops and trainers, total Western forces in Afghanistan now number 100,000, including 68,000 U.S. troops. It is likely that Gen. McChrystal will soon ask for more. Obama's overall plan has been to achieve security by doubling the Afghan army's strength to 240,000 men and the police to 160,000; but these are tasks that would take at least until 2014 to complete, if indeed they can be carried out. Meanwhile the military operation in Afghanistan is now costing cash-strapped U.S. taxpayers $4 billion a month.

"Across the region many people fear that the U.S. and NATO may start to pull out of Afghanistan during the next 12 months despite their uncompleted mission. That would almost certainly result in the Taliban walking into Kabul. Al-Qaida would be in a stronger position to launch global terrorist attacks. The Pakistani Taliban would be able to 'liberate' large parts of Pakistan. The Taliban's game plan of waiting out the Americans now looks more plausible than ever."

After months of derision about Iran's "faked elections," President Hamid Karzai's fakery in the recent Afghan election was too blatant to permit even pro forma denial and can no longer be concealed. The corruption of Karzai's regime is the staple of every news report. CounterPunchers should read the admirable dispatch on this site this weekend by Ehsan Azari.

The oft-announced goal of training an Afghan army and police force is faring no better — in fact, considerably worse — than the efforts at "Vietnamization" 40 years ago. Once furnished with a few square meals, some new clothes and a weapon, the recruits — some of them having been sent by the Taliban to get some basic training — promptly desert.

The expedition to Afghanistan is not popular, either here or in Europe. It is also very expensive. But it has powerful sponsors, starting with Obama, who made it a campaign plank and now may or may not be having second thoughts — but who is showered daily with demented counsels to "stay the course" by his secretaries of state and about 80 percent of the permanent foreign policy establishment. So the involvement will get deeper and the disasters will mount and powerfully assist in the destruction of Obama's presidency, starting with major reverses for the Democrats in the midterm elections next year.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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