On April 23, 1971, John Kerry, speaking as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and famously posed the question “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”. On December 2, 2014, Kerry, in his capacity as US Secretary of State, convened a meeting of Foreign Ministers of countries allied against ISIS. Sadly, the wisdom of 1971 John Kerry was completely lost on 2014 John Kerry, as the meeting in Brussels was aimed entirely at making war on ISIS without regard for the residents of the region who will bear the brunt of the new violence and who have faced severe hardships for years as a result of US meddling in the region. Kerry’s plan shows no regard for the hard evidence that exists showing that the approach being taken by the US has failed many times over since the failure in Vietnam which he so forcefully described.
Kerry’s description of the shortcomings of the approach in Vietnam resonates with the current failed approach by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and beyond:
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese or American.
Kerry pointed out in 1971 that residents of an area under siege by invaders often choose to side with whatever force is there in order to survive. But in 2014, Kerry is pushing the US effort to “vet“, train and equip “moderate” fighters to take on ISIS while the US provides air support. How long will these fighters be on “our” side?
And, of course, a very distorted view of the effort gets presented at home, then as now:
We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs and search and destroy missions, as well as by Viet Cong terrorism – and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
If we look just at Syria, it is clear that those outside the US see US meddling behind the “uprising” against al-Assad. From a 2012 Christian Science Monitor article:
In an empty coffee house in Antakya, local tradesman Ahmet Sari’s face crumples in anger as he speaks about Syria.
“What’s happening in Syria is all part of America’s great project to reshape the borders of the Middle East. America and its allies don’t care about bringing democracy to the Syrian people. Look at what happened to Iraq!” he fumes. “The imperialist countries are only after oil and mineral resources.”
And many say that all of these problems can be traced back to the US, who they are convinced got involved with, and perhaps even fomented, the Syrian unrest to loosen up regional powers’ grip on oil, enlisting Turkey as a pawn in the process. It had little to do with support for democracy, they believe.
People in Turkey, who already were dealing with the influx of refugees two years ago, clearly saw a very similar situation in Syria as Kerry saw in Vietnam in 1971. And now, the problems in Turkey are much worse, as the needs of refugees have completely overwhelmed the capacity of relief organizations to help.
We know for a fact that funding and arming rebels almost never works, as the CIA found when reviewing its own efforts on that front. Rather than taking that clear piece of information and trying a new approach based on directly helping the people of the region rather than destabilizing it, the US chose instead to grasp at the last straw from the CIA study that said those few times arming rebels works it has been with “direct American support on the ground”. So rather than accept that their approach is a failure, the warmongers in Washington now think that US air support for the anti-ISIS efforts is a bare minimum and that “boots on the ground” will be needed for a “win”.
And when it comes to “training”, of course the US has failed miserably on that front every time it has tried. But we will just keep on doing it, because that’s all Washington can come up with.
And even if we should “win”, holding onto ground gained is impossible, as Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis has so devastatingly noted in his piercing of the myth of US superiority in its counterinsurgency program.
The contrast of 2014 John Kerry with 1971 John Kerry is brought into clear view with this part of Kerry’s opening statement to his war council yesterday: Continue reading
Today marks the launch in London of a book titled “An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012”. The book’s author is Dr. Mike Martin. Until Monday, he was known as Captain Mike Martin. In order to publish the book, however, he resigned from the military when it refused to grant him permission to publish the book, which the military ironically had initially commissioned from Martin.
From the Guardian:
A captain in the Territorial Army has resigned after a dispute with the Ministry of Defence over a book he has written that is critical of the conduct of the campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The MoD commissioned the book by Dr Mike Martin, but took exception to parts of the account. The dispute has gone on for more than a year.
In a statement, the MoD said it “has a strong record of learning from previous campaigns and encourages its officers to challenge existing norms and conventional wisdom. However, the publication of books and articles by serving military personnel is governed by well-established policy and regulations. When these are breached, the MoD will withhold approval.”
We get more from BBC:
Mr Martin studied Helmand for six years and completed an Army-funded PhD at King’s College in London.
He told the BBC Nato troops did not understand the “complexities” of Afghan tribal conflicts and were “manipulated” by tribal leaders fighting over land and water.
“This meant that we often made the conflict worse, rather than better,” he wrote in the study.
Mr Martin said he was originally told his final thesis could not be published as a book because it made use of secret cables published by Wikileaks and classified materials.
But for now it looks as though his resignation will make it possible for Martin to go ahead with the book launch:
But he denied the book contained any intelligence material that was not in the public domain.
Last week, he was then told by his commanding officer that he was “not authorised to published the book”.
He resigned on Monday and will launch the book in London on Wednesday night.
The MoD said the department had accepted the material in the book did not contravene the Official Secrets Act.
More information on the book and Martin’s research for it is found in the King’s College announcement for a seminar tomorrow:
An Intimate War tells the story of the last thirty-five years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In theWest, this period is often defined through different lenses—the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.
This book—based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pushtu—offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the mainstream. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent—precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.
Dr. Mike Martin is a Pushtu speaker who spent almost two years in Helmand as a British army officer (covering Operation HERRICKs 9-16). During that time, he pioneered and developed the British military’s Human Terrain and Cultural Capability—a means to understanding the Helmandi population and influencing it. He also worked as an advisor to several British commanders of Task Force Helmand. His previous publications include A Brief History of Helmand, required reading for British commanders and intelligence staff deploying to the province. He holds a doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London.
Well, at least Martin didn’t have to leak his book to Rolling Stone to get it published. Informing the military of its own mistakes and hubris never seems to go well. As we are seeing now with Mike Martin in the UK and saw previously with Daniel Davis in the US, the military takes active steps to block such publications. And then sometimes it even goes so far as retroactively classifying material that is found to be embarrassing. I hope to get a chance to read Martin’s book. From the description, it sounds as though it may well take a similar cultural approach to the analysis of green on blue killing that lead to the retroactive classification of “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf).
Is there any higher heroism than disrupting one’s own career in the spreading of truth?
At long last, after over twelve years of war in Afghanistan and nearly eleven years since the invasion of Iraq, the majority of citizens in the US admit that the vaunted US military failed to achieve its goals in either effort. A Pew poll released yesterday showed that in nearly identical results, 52% of Americans feel our goals were not met in either country, while 14 to 15% fewer felt we had met our goals.
Back in August, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis had one prescription for addressing these failures when he argued that it is time to “Purge the Generals“. I quoted extensively from his analysis in a post shortly after it was published, but one of the primary points from Davis is that for too long, military leaders have lied about the status of military missions and never faced any consequences for their false claims of success.
We have seen a partial purge of higher military ranks lately, but these removals have been primarily for offenses that have caused acute embarrassment to the military, such as being caught using counterfeit poker chips in a casino. Congress also plays a huge role in the promotion of lies about success in military missions. As I noted last April, Armed Services Committee member Jack Reed delighted in getting Dunford to enter into the record a statement that we were “winning” in Afghanistan at the time.
The Pentagon and other inhabitants inside the Beltway would benefit greatly from some soul-searching into just how these two misadventures were allowed to start in blind rage and then be so badly mismanaged for so long. Of course, that will never happen, but we now have reached the stage where the folks who have paid the bill for the fiasco realize that the lives, money and effort have all been wasted. With public opinion running so strongly against the two latest high-profile wars, our politicians and the Pentagon will have to content themselves now with more clandestine actions using the Special Operations Forces that are deployed in over 100 countries around the globe.
Reuters is carrying a remarkable article today on an interview conducted with the current US Commander in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford. I say the article is remarkable because it is a perfect embodiment of the extreme dishonesty the military has used so that it can continue to convey the message that we are “winning” in Afghanistan. Neither Dunford nor the Reuters reporters or editors appear to catch the glaring contradiction inherent in Dunford’s statements and the current situation in Afghanistan.
Reuters has titled the article “Afghanistan’s future depends on foreign soldiers: US commander” and opens with this paragraph:
Afghanistan’s future security will remain dependent on international troops for many years after most foreign combat forces leave by the end of 2014, the U.S. commander of the NATO-led force in the South Asian country said.
Okay, so the future security of Afghanistan depends directly on the presence of foreign (that is, US) troops after 2014. But aren’t we handing over security responsibility? Oh yes, see the next paragraph:
With the formal security handover to Afghans closing in, intense debate is underway about how many troops the United States and its mainly NATO allies should leave behind to conduct training, support and counter-terror operations.
Which is it, then? Are we handing over security responsibility to Afghanistan or is security dependent on US troops remaining there? Dunford can’t have it both ways, but he is caught up in the dishonesty that the military has used in order to claim it is making progress in the training of Afghan security forces. When training had been ongoing for many years without any Afghan units getting to the point that they can function entirely on their own, the military simply removed that category from their reporting on training. Now, the most advanced category is “independent with advisors”. The tenacity with which the military is hanging onto its desire to keep those “advisors” on duty in Afghanistan beyond 2014 suggests to me that the military has stretched a long way to put Afghan units into this category and the lie will be exposed when US troops leave for good and the dysfunction of the Afghan units becomes clear.
Dunford’s dishonesty here is hardly unique just to him. One of my favorite figures in the military, Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Davis, has come forward with a proposal aimed at ridding the military of its current penchant for lying in order to claim success. Writing in the Armed Forces Journal, Davis tells us to “Purge the generals“: Continue reading
Speaking truth to power is a brave act wherever it is carried out. But when that power is the strongest military force on earth and the one speaking truth is coming from within the ranks of that force to point out blatant lies promulgated at the very top of the organization, then it is indeed a rare form of bravery.
Earlier this week, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis published a short report in the Armed Forces Journal and coupled that with discussions with the New York Times’ Scott Shane for an article hitting on the same subject area. In those reports, we learned that Davis had prepared much longer reports, both a classified one which he shared with several members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a non-classified one which he intended to publish. In the Armed Forces Journal piece, Davis noted that he intended to publish the longer report at his afghanreport.com website, and in an editor’s note, it was pointed out that “At press time, Army public affairs had not yet ruled on whether Davis could post this longer version.” In a very interesting twist, Davis’ long report now has been published, but not at his website. Instead, Michael Hastings, whose The Runaway General article at Rolling Stone eventually resulted in the firing of Stanley McChrystal, has posted Davis’ report (pdf) at the Rolling Stone website, along with a brief introduction from Hastings. There will be a post soon from bmaz addressing Davis’ approach to whistle-blowing and his treatment of classified information.
Davis’ thesis in the longer report remains unchanged from the original. He maintains that despite persistent claims by top military brass that progress is being made in Afghanistan, there is in fact no progress. Violence continues on a steady increase and Afghan forces are nowhere near a point where they can maintain security in the absence of ISAF forces. On the final page, he has this to say about his “final take-away” from the report. He prepared a graphic based on the one reproduced above:
If there were only one thing I could ask you to take away from this rather lengthy brief, it would be this one page. Below you see charted over time, the rising violence from the end of 2005 through the first quarter 2011 (chart source: ANSO, 2011). All spin aside, you see regardless of who was in command, what strategy they used, or what claims they made, nothing impacted the rising arc of violence from 2005 through today. The one thing, however, that has never changed: the upward arc of violence, which continues its rise and is expected to continue at least through this summer. Continue reading
When separate classified reports casting doubt on the military’s claims of progress in the Afghanistan war were discussed in the New York Times on January 20 and then by BBC (and Times of London) on February 1, my response to both incidents was to blame upper-level military figures for releasing the damaging information in order to reach the higher goal (for them) of maintaining the war effort in Afghanistan beyond the planned hand-off to Afghan forces. The timing seemed to fit well with a hope on their part that Republican presidential candidates would grab onto a campaign promise not to end the US war effort. However, after the second leak, I did receive one third- or fourth-hand report suggesting that it had been leaked by senior military officer upset by the lack of progress in Afghanistan who most definitely did not aim to prolong the war effort there.
With the publication of a story about him in today’s New York Times and publication yesterday of his own statement in the Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis becomes the first mid-level officer willing to speak out about the lack of progress in Afghanistan and the military’s insistence on painting a false picture of success. [It should be noted up front that it seems quite unlikely Davis is behind either of the earlier leaks, as evidenced by the steps he has taken to separate public from classified information in the actions he has taken.] The Times article, titled “In Afghan War, Officer Becomes a Whistle-Blower”, describes the actions Davis has taken:
Since enlisting in the Army in 1985, he said, he had repeatedly seen top commanders falsely dress up a dismal situation. But this time, he would not let it rest. So he consulted with his pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he sings in the choir. He watched his favorite movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” one more time, drawing inspiration from Jimmy Stewart’s role as the extraordinary ordinary man who takes on a corrupt establishment.
And then, late last month, Colonel Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one unclassified and the other classified, summarizing his observations on the candor gap with respect to Afghanistan. He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general — and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so.
The statement in the Armed Forces Journal opens in this way:
I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.
What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Continue reading