Rules of Engagement

On July 2, 2010 the US Senate 99-0 voted to spend $37 billion more dollars to fund the war in Afghanistan.  Not long before that vote, the US House Appropriations Subcommittee announced that it would cut off $4 billion in US aid to Washington’s client regime in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The reasons cited for this decision center around the widely publicized corruption of that regime.  For some reason, the subcommittee’s action was met with cheers from some elements in the moribund US antiwar movement.  It’s as if this attempt to blame the US-sponsored Karzai government for the corruption endemic in Afghanistan is the beginning of the end of the US assault on the Afghan people.

Of course, the exact opposite is the more likely truth.  Obama’s dismissal of McChrystal does not seem to be about admitting a failed policy as much as the appointment of Petraeus appears to announce that the US military plans on ramping up its bloody assault.  One can call it a surge or one can call it something else, but what occurred under Petraeus’ command in Iraq was simple.  First, the US rules of engagement were relaxed.  Then, the US provided support–tacit and active–to certain armed political factions within Iraq.  These factions in turn attacked their enemies, killing thousands while dividing the nation along sectarian lines that continue to simmer.  Meanwhile, US forces assisted in these endeavors by putting up concrete barriers dividing neighborhoods, and arresting and killing Iraqis who opposed the factions favored by Washington.

According to a paper published by the Afghanistan Analysts Network, some key support for the Taliban and other resistance groups in Afghanistan comes from communities “who have prisoners in the Guantanamo system.”  If this is the case (and it makes perfect sense), then it is also fair to assume that the upcoming escalation of the war and the accompanying increase in the arrest of insurgents will enhance this type of support, as well.  Still, when one reads the current scenarios about the next few months in Afghanistan, it seems as if the war planners believe that, yes there will be an upsurge in resistance at first but that the US and its escalation will prevail.  It’s as if they believe the military might of the US-led forces will prevail over whatever the insurgency can put up, despite the fact that the insurgency has been able to stalemate all of the forces arrayed against it for almost ten years.

In recent weeks, the call to relax restrictions on the US military’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan has crescendoed.  What began as articles in establishment papers and on television quoting various officers lamenting the requirement that they ask for permission before they bomb villages has now become a general assumption that that and other requirements will be gone soon.  According to Petraeus and his cheerleaders in Congress and the media, this change in policy will make the war “safer” for US-led forces by “refining” current tactics.  How exactly is not really clear.  After all, if more Afghans are being killed by the occupying forces, then it seems only reasonable to assume that more members of the occupying forces will end up dead and wounded, also.

There’s an argument I have had repeatedly with retired military officers who fought in Vietnam that goes something like this.  If you disconnect the politics and the morality of the war from its military aspect (a feat that I am unable to perform), then you have to admit that one of the primary reasons the US lost the war there was because virtually every air strike had to be approved by someone in a higher command.  The men on the ground, goes the argument, did not have the leeway that they needed to perform their task at hand.  The most obvious response to this fallacious argument is –are you trying to tell me that if US forces had killed four million Vietnamese instead of the two million they killed that the US would have won?   Occasionally, the answer to my question is yeas.  Most of the time, however, the conversation ends.

How long will it be before there are similar conversations about Afghanistan?

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net




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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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