FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

"This is What Success Looks Like"

The last American combat brigade in Iraq has left the country, so the Pentagon announced this week. The 40,000 personnel from 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division began crossing into Kuwait August 19. The US combat mission in Iraq – Operation Iraqi Freedom – is scheduled to end on August 31.

The least credible human in America is a president or a general guaranteeing imminent victory, plus withdrawal of troops from the quagmire of the day.

The rhetorical embroidery decorating this pledge changes little from decade to decade. In 1970, President Richard Nixon declared that the Vietnam War was proceeding so auspiciously that he was planning to pull out 150,000 American troops. The South Vietnamese forces, he asserted, were now of sufficient military competence to carry the brunt of the fighting.

The truth was that the South Vietnamese forces were ill-trained, averse to battle and led by corrupt officers booking their flights to America. The war was lost, but it dragged on for another five years.

In Iraq in 2007, General Petraeus famously announced his “surge” strategy and confided to visiting journalists that the strategy was working well, with “astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad. Monica Crowley of Fox News nominated Petraeus for the “most honest person of the year”.

The truth was that in substantive terms, for reasons entirely unrelated to the fictive “surge”, the Sunni had given up fighting the Americans. Baghdad was in ruins, the war, in terms of the objectives declared in 2003, was a disaster.

In 2008 Obama campaigned on pledges of withdrawal from Iraq and escalation in Afghanistan. At the start of this month, addressing cadets at West Point military academy on August 2, 2010, the president  said that the war in Iraq had been won: “This is what success looks like.” Departing US troops will leave behind a “democratic” and “sovereign” Iraq, one that is now “no haven” for “the kind of violent extremists who attacked America on 9/11.”

It’s a bizarre definition of success and furthermore  the U.S. State Department, also General Odierno and others feels it necessary to emphasize that US involvement in Iraq is far from over.  More on that here next week.

What about Obama’s pledge, when he was selling his Afghan surge last year,  that withdrawal there would begin in 2011? Here’s where serious domestic politics – always the driver of foreign policy – takes over. The Democrats feel they cannot go into any election in either 2010 or 2012 and be accused of “losing” in Afghanistan. This, unlike Iraq, is Obama’s war.

The Obama administration has said the US would begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. But last Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Petraeus, now in command of US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, said the withdrawal date was “conditions-based” and that it was possible it could be pushed back further.

“Conditions-based”, cynically but accurately defined, means what Obama can tout as “mission accomplished”. That’s a tough sell for the foreseeable future, since there’s zero evidence that the US-led coalition is achieving anything that can be sold as “success” in Afghanistan.

But the Pentagon is trying to push “success” nonetheless. In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said “everybody – all of our partner nations and I think everybody in this government – would agree that two things are central to success. One is building up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which is going pretty well, and governance, which is going, but not as well. It’s still moving in the right direction, but a lot slower than we would like.”

No credible reporter would endorse Gates’s opinion on the zeal and efficiency of the ANSF and every credible reporter notes the utter corruption of “governance” in Afghanistan. In terms of domestic politics here in the Homeland, the US cannot quit – and will not do so by 2012 because there is zero evidence for any substantive achievement. Unlike Iraq, a victorious “surge” is not a saleable proposition as Petraeus acknowledges.

The Afghan war, launched covertly three decades ago, will be with us for at least two more years, and maybe several more , the need for protraction  buttressed by such shock tactics as the picture of an Afghan woman with her nose cut off by the Taliban, featured on the cover of Time recently. It was certainly a horrible piece of barbarism, inflicted because the woman had breached the Talibans’ concept of moral propriety.  The message was that with premature US withdrawal a lot more women’s noses will  be sliced off, or women lashed and then shot for imputed “adultery” years after their husbands had died. I did feel all the same that balance should have required Time also to feature bits of human flesh strewn around after a Predator missile had landed on yet another Afghan wedding party, an inevitable feature of what happens so long as  the US stays.

The only reliable definition of “success” in any of the United States’ martial enterprises is the effective destruction in economic, social and environmental terms of the target country. That certainly happened in Iraq and is a process far advanced in Afghanistan.

The Extreme Action Hero

The best laid plans don’t always work out. In the wonderful slice of her book How to Become An Extreme Action Hero, featured today on our site, Elizabeth Streb describes what happened

“when my life partner, Laura Flanders, [AC: niece of yours truly] turned forty … I  wanted to give her a supreme and symbolic gift. I conceived of a fire dance, a conceptual one. I named it ‘BlazeAway.’ It was performed to a Melissa Etheridge song with the lyric, ‘I’m the only one who’d walk across the fire for you.’

“A fire was lit as large as the square my hips outlined. The idea was to walk up to the fire along a narrow lane, just long enough so that by the time I got to the blaze it would be quite large. I crouched down and flew into the air, making a very large horizontal X with my body, arms, and legs, and landed dead center on the flame. It was supposed to go out. But when I looked under my stomach and stood up, I realized that I was on fire, fully ablaze…”

You can read the rest of the story here on our site. I strongly recommend Elizabeth’s book, decorated by a truthful blurb by Mikhail Baryshnikov, “Fearlessness and intelligence combined – that is what makes Elizabeth Streb’s work so potent and beautiful.”

Up or down? Meet the Amarnath Shivalingam

Our latest newsletter is choc a bloc with terrific pieces. Peter Lee reports on the ghastly ongoing struggles in Kashmir, and the enormous tensions caused by the Hindu shrine of the Amarnath Shivalingam. This is a large ice spike displaying the lingam shape, formed by water dripping on the floor of the immense Amarnath cave in the remote high mountains of Kashmir. In 2006, disaster struck.  Climatic conditions caused a failure of the Shivalingam and it did not form at all. A crude and clearly-handcrafted snowman pinch-hitting for the Shivalingam outraged the Hindu faithful. Lee’s story lays out the macabre saga and the overall political tragedy.

Meet the women trying to reform America’s insane sex offender laws.  JoAnn Wypijewski talks to them, describes their struggle.

I urge you to subscribe now!

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com.

More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Bach-A-Doodle-Doo
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail