1. Let’s start with a recent New York Times op-ed, “The ‘Long War’ May Be Getting Shorter.” Published last Tuesday as Libya was passing through “the gates of hell,” it was an upbeat account of Afghan War commander General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency operations in southern Afghanistan. Its authors, Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, members of an increasingly militarized Washington intelligentsia, jointly head the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Nagl was part of the team that wrote the 2006 revised Army counterinsurgency manual for which Petraeus is given credit and was an advisor to the general in Iraq. Fick, a former Marine officer who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and then was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul, recently paid a first-hand visit to the country (under whose auspices we do not know).
The two of them are typical of many of Washington’s war experts who tend to develop incestuous relationships with the military, moonlighting as enablers or cheerleaders for our war commanders, and still remain go-to sources for the media.
In another society, their op-ed would simply have been considered propaganda. Here’s its money paragraph:
“It is hard to tell when momentum shifts in a counterinsurgency campaign, but there is increasing evidence that Afghanistan is moving in a more positive direction than many analysts think. It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.”
This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts. What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date. Not by a long shot.
Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported. Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place. If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”
Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing. This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.
2. Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment. At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war. It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country. And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”
It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory. Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image. It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image — the werewolf or vampire. Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Fick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.