FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Losing the War

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

The US and NATO have begun an ambitious counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan that places great importance on winning the support of the Afghan people. But there is a rarely-considered corollary in the counterinsurgency effort: Afghanistan must win the support of western publics. Thus far, Afghan politicians and officials and other power holders have been steadily losing western hearts and minds. The Afghans may soon face the withdrawal of western forces.

Support for the war has sagged badly in the United States, where military ventures are more admired than they are in Europe. Since last May, support for the war has fallen from fifty percent to thirty-nine percent; opposition has risen from forty-eight percent to fifty-eight percent. Eight percent of recent respondents thought the war was showing progress; twenty-six percent thought it was getting worse. Twenty-nine percent support sending more US troops; twenty-seven percent thought troop levels should remain the same and thirty-two percent favored decreasing troop levels.

Many in the public are reluctant to respect the oft-heard admonishment that present wars must not be compared to a previous one, yet comparisons are inevitable. The public sees a self-aggrandizing mandarin atop a corrupt and feckless government, a spineless military leaving the fighting to others, and a largely indifferent if not hostile population. Why, Americans are asking, should more of their soldiers be sent half way around the world to do a job that Afghans should be doing?

The administration’s statements on the war are strangely bereft of the confident and hortatory tones that any policy matter, foreign or domestic, usually enjoys. Congress shows little support for sending in more troops. General Petraeus, who pressed for his surge policy in public hearings and whose prestige rose with the turn of events in Iraq, is silent on the war to the east, even though he now oversees it.

Reversal of these trends is unlikely to come from other western political leaders, none of whom is especially supportive. Nor is it likely to come from events in the field. Counterinsurgencies are painfully slow. They often last ten or more years and do not have pivotal battles that bolster public opinion. Counterinsurgencies have only thousands of parleys, engineering projects, skirmishes, and roadside bombs – the Afghan insurgents’ weapon of choice today. The petty pace will wear on public support, and the higher casualties from the recent order to rein in air strikes will wear harder.

The revival of support in the West can only come from political events inside Afghanistan. The Afghan president must find a way to build an effective government, one capable of dealing with disparate peoples, especially in the Pashtun regions, and also capable of providing an attractive alternative to the insurgents. The Afghan army must become an effective organization that can work along with local populations and detach them from supporting the insurgents. The Afghan people themselves must build, in conjunction with counterinsurgency forces, intelligence networks and village militias to identify and wear down the insurgents.

Failing that, European countries will shake their heads at the war’s cost and begin to withdraw their troops within a year. The American public might be unlikely to support fighting and dying there much longer than that. Thus far, many Afghan political figures have behaved like black marketeers and con men in a devastated postwar country – grabbing as much as they can while they can. It is they who are losing the war.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail