Staying the Course in Afghanistan

A report, “Afghanistan: Exit vs. Engagement” released on 28 November 2010 by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an organization biased to advocate the neo-imperialistic policy of “humanitarian intervention,” is very important and should be studied carefully for at least two reasons:

First, and most importantly, the ICG makes a concise, and I think accurate, summary of how badly things have gone wrong in Afghanistan, particularly at the all-important grand strategic level of conflict, where the destructive effects of a military strategy must be harmony with, but subordinate to, the constructive aims of the larger political strategy. The ICG’s devastating indictment reveals in considerable detail the extent to which the United States and its Nato lackeys have thoroughly gomered up their nine-year intervention in Afghanistan.

Second, the ICG report is obviously written to influence the so-called policy review that the Obama administration will make in December. Obama’s review is likely to simply rubber stamp the “stay-the-course” non-decisions made in the recent NATO conference in Lisbon. What is revealing about the ICG report is that, in stark contrast to its detailed analysis of our policy mistakes, it contains no concrete recommendations for evolving a corrective pathway into the future. The overall tone of the report clearly suggests that the ICG favors continued engagement, but with a counterinsurgency strategy that changes fundamentally to place priority on government reform, as opposed to our current course which focuses on military operations, as a first step in providing security to the people. That sounds good and is consistent with the problems identified by the ICG. Such an approach would be consistent also with the ICG’s historical rhetoric in support of other so-called humanitarian interventions. What I find significant in this report, however, is that the ICG report has no discussion of how to go beyond its platitudes. Given the amount of thinking that went into this report, this omission is quite revealing. The ICG — like the Obama Administration — wants to muddle through and thereby reinforce failure, because, as a fighter pilot would say, it is out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas.

Moreover, given the nature of the disastrous state of affairs in Afghanistan, the central question attending to any decision to continue the “engagement” until the problems identified by the ICG are resolved is clear:

Has too much water flowed over the dam to turn the situation around — especially given how our destructive involvement in Afghanistan has shaped the popular psyche, an involvement that reaches back at least to 1979, when we stoked up Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the hope of creating an instability in the Islamic underbelly of the Soviet Union that would trigger a Soviet invasion [see note 1]?

This question is crucially important, because the United States has been working overtime to sow the seeds of mistrust deeply into the collective memory of a proud ancient people organized into what is arguably the most complex, xenophobic, mix of vendetta tribal cultures in the world.

On this central question, which goes to the heart of any question of continued engagement in Afghanistan, not to mention the title of the ICG report itself, the silence of the ICG, like that of the US and its lackeys at Lisbon, is deafening.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at


[1] See Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 15-21 January 1998




Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at