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October 01, 2010

Magical Military Thinking About Afghanistan - The Iraq Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

I'm a bit late to this one, but Kimberly Dozier's interview with General David Petraeus from a few days ago is incredibly eye-opening . . . and depressing:

When pressed about the dour headlines of diving public opinion polls back home, he turns to his computer and digs out the latest statistics on violence in Iraq -- only six incidents thus far that day, compared to roughly "220 a day back in 2007," which is proof, he says, that his counterinsurgency strategy worked once and will again.

There is something oddly pathetic about this. It's sort of like an over-the-hill boxer showing someone a video of his title fight from when he was a younger man: "look how good I was back then . . . I can do it again."

I don't think it can be properly overstated how incredibly destructive the "surge narrative" has been on American foreign policy - but this is yet another excellent example. We have convinced ourselves that US arms turned around the situation there (not really true) . . . and thus the model can be replicated in Afghanistan.  And it is precisely this sort of magical thinking about Iraq's success that is directly informing our military strategy in Afghanistan. "It worked in Iraq; it can work here."

It seems almost incomprehensible that smart military leaders would make such direct comparison between political environments and military situations that are so extraordinarily different - but yet here we are. Seemingly, the tragedy of Iraq is the gift that keeps on giving.

By the way, did you hear that Iraq today broke a world record: it's now "the country that has gone the longest between holding parliamentary elections and forming a government, experts." If only we can repeat that success in Afghanistan.

Of course when it comes to magical military thinking about Afghanistan there is perhaps nothing more magical than the belief that the Afghan government can be something it's not. Consider this passage from Dozier's article:

Petraeus said it was too soon to guess how much progress would be made on security, or governance, over the next year.

A member of Petraeus' staff explained the thinking -- that they were "hunkered down," in "fingers-crossed" mode, because the whole plan's success depends on the Afghan government doing what now seems unthinkable: rooting out graft in a country where every level of government subsists on a latticework of bribes leveraged against impoverished Afghans. And the decision to do that is in the hands of an Afghan president whose own family is accused of benefiting from corruption.

The staffer spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the strategy debates within headquarters.

 

Ignoring the fact that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Afghan government will do the unthinkable and be less corrupt, less incompetent and less ineffectual than it has been for the past nine years . . . how have we gotten to a point where THIS is our strategy: crossing our fingers and hoping that the Karzai government cleans up its act. And what if this doesn't happen; what if the Karzai government continues to turn a blind eye toward the corrupt practices in its midst? What then?

This all reminds me of a Simpsons episode and Homer's ingenious method for passing an exam, "I'll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out."

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Comments

They can't tell the truth about Afghanistan and Iraq wars, because it is just as strange as this "magic thinking" you have exposed.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the IRAQ government will do the unthinkable and be less corrupt, less incompetent and less ineffectual than it has been for the past seven years.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the AMERICAN government will do the unthinkable and be less corrupt, less incompetent and less ineffectual than it has been for the past nine years.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the GREEK government will do the unthinkable and be less corrupt, less incompetent and less ineffectual than it has been for the past nine years.

We could go on.

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