As War On Terror News pointed out in comments, and I have said in the past, not all of the Obama initiatives regarding Afghanistan are worthy of praise. Undermining President Karzai is not, in my opinion, what a loyal ally does, regardless of how irritating he can be. The Afghan government must not be, regardless of folk lore or propaganda, a puppet. It must be an Afghan government. It must be the legitimate government of Afghanistan, chosen by its people. They have elections; they have the vote. We must respect it as we respect our own if anything we say is to be taken seriously.
So, putting together a dream team must be accompanied by practicing what we preach. Given the President’s “initiative” to unilateral introduce a new office to “balance” Karzai, that remains to be seen. So, good point WOTN, and one we would all do well to bear in mind.
It was interesting to note that on the same day that the House Armed Services Committee was receiving testimony from three wise men, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was having hearings of its own. Titled “Voices of Veterans of the Afghan War,” Committee Chair Sen. John Kerry that the purpose of the hearing was to get the perspective of the Afghan veteran, the soldiers who had experienced the challenges of Afghanistan.
They promptly called forth Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich.
More after the jump
The upshot is that with the eighth anniversary of the Long War now approaching, fundamental questions about this enterprise continue to be ignored. My purpose today is to suggest that the members of this committee have a profound duty to take those questions on. In his testimony before this committee, the young John Kerry famously – or infamously, in the eyes of some – asked: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
So it’s not worth dying for…
The mystical war against communism finds its counterpart in the mystical war on terrorism. As in the 1960s so too today: mystification breeds misunderstanding and misjudgment. It prevents us from seeing things as they are. As a direct result, it leads us to exaggerate the importance of places like Afghanistan and indeed to exaggerate the jihadist threat, which falls well short of being existential. It induces flights of fancy, so that, for example, otherwise sensible people conjure up visions of providing clean water, functioning schools, and good governance to Afghanistan’s 40,000 villages, with expectations of thereby winning Afghan hearts and minds. It causes people to ignore considerations of cost. With the Long War already this nation’s second most expensive conflict, trailing only World War II, and with the federal government projecting trillion dollar deficits for years to come, how much can we afford and where is the money coming from?
It’s not a real threat, and it’s too costly. That, of course, is Bacevich in a nutshell. Always.
There is a simple question that just screams to be asked: What in the hell does Andrew Bacevich have to do with Afghan Veterans? This man is beyond unhelpful in the national conversation regarding Afghanistan, other than to be some sort of straw man. Having him testify with the other four was akin to introducing a blind owl in the middle of the lion tamer routine at the circus.
Performer: “Now I will have Simba jump atop this pedestal and roar!” *CRACK*
Performer: “Look at this rare blind owl. Isn’t he odd?”
Performer: “Simba, roar!” *CRACK*
That wouldn’t even make sense at the circus.
One problem; this is not the circus. It is the United States Senate. This was the day for the lions, not to trot out the embittered owl blinded by loss. This was the day that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee set aside to listen to the voices of veterans of the Afghan War, and 20% of those who testified were not Afghan veterans or even veterans of Iraq, but instead of Vietnam. One out of five. That is a waste of limited bandwidth; a failure of your declared mission that day. Are there so few Afghan Vets that they couldn’t fill five out of five with the real deal?
Bacevich, a professor and no doubt an educated man, served in Vietnam and lost a son in Iraq. He is an outspoken critic of “The Long War,” basically counseling that we should quit and go home, that there is no real “existential” threat here, and he completely separates the Taliban and AQ, as if they have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. When looking for coherent insight into this war, Bacevich should not be on the recommended reading list, because we only have so much bandwidth available. Other than being a strong critic of the war, and being a professor, Mr. Bacevich brings no specific knowledge to the table other than a skewed understanding of the specific situation in Afghanistan. His very presence was such an anomaly to the stated purpose that there had to be some underlying reason for it, relevance being lacking.
Two of these veterans, SSG Chase and SSG(R) McGurk are IAVA members. It is unclear if CPT Moore or CPL Reyes have any group affiliations, but for two of the four to be affiliated with IAVA bespeaks their influence in getting before Congress.
The testimonies of SSG Chase, SSG(R) McGurk, and CPT(R) Moore were interesting reads, and completely contradictory to Mr. Bacevich’s testimony. Each of them, without specifically stating it in such language, asked for a balanced counterinsurgency campaign and a dedication to the mission. I found myself in agreement with much of what they said.
Former Corporal Reyes’ testimony was a case study in a young warrior who idealistically went into a war being very well trained in kinetic operations; and completely untrained in counterinsurgency. His story is the perfect illustration of what I have been telling these officers for months about how we don’t train our young warriors in COIN, and it causes problems not only in their performance but in their heads. This man is completely disillusioned, and that’s what happens when your leadership fails you on the level that he was failed.
I will say this again; when your young warriors talk of, “chasing ghosts,” you are not doing the right things, and your young warriors are not properly trained. This is a leadership failure. If you are a leader, this is the foot stomp. This will be on the exam.
An interesting read is Senator Kerry’s statement about Afghanistan. I’ve kept this link until last, because reading the testimonies of those who spoke without knowing beforehand what Sen. Kerry’s frame of mind at the outset made them more dramatic. It brought the immediacy of the influence that words carry home.
Quite a contrast with the activities of the House on the same day and not so far away.