Wrecked on the Afghan Omphalos

The picture is of Pietro Querini, the Venetian captain 'wrecked at the door of paradise' in the fourteenth century.


A read of the Rolling Stone article that got Stan McChrystal, the former US Commander in Afghanistan, sacked makes interesting reading, and I find myself wishing that more commentators had done so. I'd urge interested readers to go and spend some time with the piece.

Quite apart from anything else, the role of European allies in the essentially colonial enterprise is brought home. If M. Sarkozy still thinks that, as Le Monde put it previously, nous sommes tous Americains, I'd direct him to the quote that dinners with French ministers are 'gay'. And Prime Minister Cameron, today protesting that other people whom he has fallen in charge of will stay as long as America wants in the killing hills? Well, he could note that, though members of British special forces can serve under McChrystal, in his tightly-knit team which reminds one of Vic Mackey's Strike Squad in the Shield, British orders are not taken by Americans.

I found this quote, about the US Ambassador and Lieutenant General, Karl Eikenberry, illuminating
He [Eikenberry] is also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO's allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal's influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. "In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight," says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations
I shouldn't need to make the obvious inference about how much British poltical rhetoric and blood count for in that campaign; they clearly don't have 'real weight'.

General McCrystal himself actually comes across in the essay as fitting well within an American tradition; when reading of his counterintelligece strategies, I was reminded of a sort of mix of General Patton, William King Harvey, and Charles Beckwith. Steeped in the freewheeling and very tightly-knit world of clandestine operations, he has about him a sort of mad passion of the sort that John Kennedy seems to have had before he grew up, and like those of whom I was reminded, struck me probably too brusque an example of logically plotted violence for somewhere like Afghanistan at the minute.

McChrystal's main failure there has been, after all, to stop killing people indiscriminately, which has resulted in discontent amongst his own troops, and relief on the part of the mission's defenders. It has done very little about the assorted Taliban, international, and Pakistani forces in Afghanistan--for in truth only a Roman-style extermination campaign of the sort that no sane country would embark upon would. This 'failure' seems to have meshed with the emergence of a series of ongoing strategic threats to the mission, which it makes sense to detail here.

They're a real witches brew. The Kyrgyz violence has weakened the vital supply lines of the Afghan campaign (as I suggested central Asian shenanigans might last year), and Uzebkistan has been responding to Russian isolation in the Eurasian economic community, and the Kyrgyz horrors, by reassessing who its friends can be. In the face of this, President Obama over burgers with President Medvedev last week approved Russia's push for membership as part of a EEC bloc within the WTO, which only really strengthens their hand. The military in the United States is beginning to contemplate forced budget cuts to their Empire, and the Afghan mineral story has fallen flat.

I don't know anybody serious who thinks that Iran or India, or Pakistan, aren't interfering maliciously in the Afghan effort (unlike, of course, our Brave Crusaders), but it's obvious that they can't be confronted at the minute. The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has driven up Russia and China's bargaining power as states able to finance oil companies that can extract Central Asia's black gold, and well, Hamid Kharzai is hardly a sort of Honest Cleopatra when wrapped up in that carpet of his.

In the face of this, why wouldn't the Pentagon have tried laying the groundwork for a dolchtosslegende? I mean, if Hindenburg and Ludendorff could get away with blaming the government for their woes in 1918, why not the Lords of Arlington? And, of coure, it makes sense to have a scapegoat in the lockbox just in case wikileaks actually have anything, anyway.

The problem seems to have been that, whatever else one might think of Barack Obama, he is a superb example of a methodical, streetwise Chicago politican. The Bush White House, replete with powerpoint rangers and chairborne brigades, may well have stumbled in dealing with any revolt from 'brave soldiers', and perhaps the Pentagon thought that Obama would too; but the president and his advisers, from any piece of evidence extant, seem supremely tuned in defending their own prerogatives.

So, Stan's staff speak too freely with a journalist; Stan is exposed; the Pentagon throws him through the White House Window; and they, in a stroke of genius, throw his corpse back, tied to David Petraeus.

Afghanistan, as the article acknowledges, is now going to end at best in 'an argument' rather than victory. I think the road ahead for Petraeus is quite clear. He's become one of a list of obvious candidates for a more serious Republican party, like Jon Huntsman was before him, who've been removed from Washington and put to their mettle in impossible positions. He looks more like Joe Kennedy than Dwight Eisenhower to me, but this mission could well end for him either in ignominy or the Oval Office. The one clear thing, as the gimlet eyes of Defence of the Realm noted immediately, is that the US military now owns the Afghan war and can't escape by blaming Obama.

Readers will know what this blog thinks, for what it is worth. Events have us at their mercy; China has a long plan to float the remimbi and dump the dollar, the Euro is at risk, the UK economy is creaking and the US is drowining in debt. Oil demand is rising and oil, food, and commodity supplies are running down at viable prices. The gulf oil disaster threatens to be as bad as the first part of the credit crunch was, and the second part of financial collapse has yet to happen.

In the face of that, the 'arcs of instability', stretching around the major oil pipelines and cultural frontiers of Eurasia and Africa, are burning. We are at the mercy of events, and an Afghan collapse would be the sort of landslide that could bring the whole thing down.

Was there ever--after the American Civil War, at least--a worse administration than that of George W Bush? He found a country basically at peace, with a pro-active antiterrorism policy, reducing its deficit and in budget surplus, and left a hollow, bankrupt Imperial shell shooting phantoms whose corporeal form he and his commanders refused to crush at Tora Bora. He sponsored torture and was asleep at the wheel on 9/11, and serious people in his party now have to behave like fat fascists or beauty queens to get a hearing. In the meantime, as far as I can tell, the credit cards and unemployment insurance keeping those Americans not being wracked by the oil spill away from bankruptcy are running out, and the student debts that blight ordinary American lives are about to crush recovery. States are beginning to take policies into their own hands, and the blowhards of talk radio actually seem to be setting the Republican direction.

Hold on tight. This is not going to end well.

Comments

Toni said…
Hmmmm, the American century is drawing to an end but like all great empires and heavyweight boxers, the last thing to go is their punch. Afghanistan is a truely irrelevent dustbowl. even if they do have a trillion dollars of mineral rescources, one trillion is little in the scheme of things. The country was important during the great game when India was the jewel in the crown but nowadays it is nothing more than a place to buy cheap chinese made ak47 copies, (I could take you to a place where they have skip loads), but the are even cheaper on the Thai/Burma border and at least drinking isn't haram there. There is absolutely no reason to bother with Afghanistan, I understand why the Americans wanted to invade Iraq, as it is projected to have more oil than even Saudi, (and the Texan mafia knows better than anyone that deep down the Saudis despise America). But America more than any other great nation needs war. I like to think of USA military funding as a hosepipe spilling out cash. It needs to have a target, after world war two and Korea, there was Vietnam, (my father said when he was docked in Shanghai, the American supply ships turned up in Danang three days after LBJ announced the transfer of military advisors and that it was literally impossible to mobilise the ships that quickly). the cold war kept military expenditure going and when that finished in ninety two there was tiny little Grenada and now the middle east. I remember when one of the carrier groups was in Pattaya in Thailand for some R&R being in the Marine Bar, (a notorious dive) and the DJ shouted out "alyone from Alabama here" and the huge roar of people The US military gives people from nowheresville jobs and training.
Martin Meenagh said…
I've always thought of the US as a socialised country, and not just in Tocqueville's sense of a sort of collective mind (the place is very intolerant of uncategorisable eccentrics). We now have a US with banks still failing despite socialised debt; where the government owns car companies; where the engine of 'recovery' is printed money, and where at least 7 states--California, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia--seem to be in different sorts of mortal danger. The businesses wrapped around their throat have bought and paid for huge numbers of federal politicians and their media is something of a joke.

That does not, as you could say, fill a person with anything other than boding.

When you consider that the whole thing is held together by the rest of the world needing to lend them cash to keep up reserves of dollars because, well, thats what everyone does, but that the rest of the world is actually cycling those dollars through commodity markets except where it is undermining the euro with them, you start thinking of a house up a mountain. With a gun, because no one escapes when Empires that size go down.

Still, you have to look on the bright side, don't you? :)
Martin Meenagh said…
By the way--am I right in thinking that debt interest and economic recovery payments are now bigger items in the federal budget than that vast dirigiste industrial programme disguised as a military?
Toni said…
The US debt is something of a cotentious issue, because it is about to overtake the US GDP which more or less has been agreed on as arounf 15 trillion dollars, compared to about 5 trillion for Japan and 3 and a half for the krauts.Is it really that much? No one is sure but one thing is for sure that trying to inflate your way out of debt is a bad idea. Inflation is a tricky beast to contain and anyone who has lived in a true inflationary economy and I am talking about Brasil in the eighties and a brief spell of Indonesia in the late nineties knows how it has a devastating effect on a country. When the Asian crisis was on, I was in a meeting of all the senior creditors to Korea and spoke to Hubert Neiss from the world bank, he said id Indonesia went through its proposed currency board the World Bank and IMF would walk away from them as it was unenforcable.