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McMaster’s Civilized War for Civilization

There is idiocy and there is idiocy with a purpose. The recent news stories regarding an escalation of the US occupation and war in Afghanistan describes both. In a bow to the national security adviser and general calling for the escalation, the media is calling this escalation “McMaster’s War.” According to these stories, which one can safely assume are the product of General McMaster’s media office, the numbers of US military forces in Afghanistan are going to increase in the next few months. The reasons for this surge in troops are the usual reasons the warmakers give the public when they want a bigger war. Foremost among these reasons is the Pentagon’s perceived need for a greater fighting capability in the face of battlefield successes by the “enemy.” In this case, the enemy is an apparently growing number of Afghans willing to fight back against the occupying forces. In the parlance of the western media, these Afghans are called Taliban. In reality, they appear to include Taliban and an array of groups and individuals opposed to outsiders destroying their country and killing their relatives.

Of course, General McMaster describes the reason for the escalation of the war differently, telling the media that, “The stakes are high. This is really the modern-day frontier between barbarism and civilization.” This from a man who seems to think dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever made on the mountains of Afghanistan is reasonable and (judging from this comment) even civilized. This from a man who lamented to his audience at Georgetown University on November 11, 2014 that the “warrior ethos was at risk,” as if that were a bad thing. This from a man who wrote a book about the failure of the military to challenge their civilian bosses over the conduct of the US war on the Vietnamese; it was McMaster’s contention that the civilians got in the way and that the military should have been allowed to “fight to win.” As many people know, this contention is about a war that took over 50,000 US lives and over two million Vietnamese lives, yet the US lost. Imagine the toll if they had won. Like most generals, McMaster sees those under his command as pawns in a strategy where winning is the only thing that matters, no matter what the toll. This philosophy was apparent in his occupation of Tal Afar in 2005 Iraq and is apparent in his current call to increase US military strength in a war that the US never should have begun and should have left over a decade ago when it began it anyway.

Currently, there are around 9800 US troops and Marines in country, along with almost 10,000 US mercenary forces/contractors. The initial escalation calls for another 3000 US military forces while there is no mention of an increase in contractors. If one examines McMaster’s rationale for the 2007 escalation (surge) in US Forces in Iraq, is is fair to assume that the role of these extra forces will be to seize and occupy territory in areas of Afghanistan that foreign forces left years ago. As the current situation in Iraq seems to prove, this means that US forces will need to remain in these areas and continue cajoling and coercing the locals into cooperating, at the risk of being killed or imprisoned should they resist. One can also assume that as long as the US and its collaborators want a military solution to the armed resistance in Afghanistan, there will always be a need for occupation forces to be in the country. Indeed, as Marine General Dunford told the press in Jerusalem, the US will remain in Afghanistan “as long as there is a threat — and I am not going to put a timeline on that.” While this is certainly a bonus for the generals and their civilian cohorts (job security), it is a foolish way to conduct policy. McMaster and others who believe in his adherence to a strategy of counterinsurgency—which the US Army pretends is new but is in actuality very similar to the strategy developed by British occupation forces in Malay and then used by US forces in southern Vietnam—argue that this policy of occupation is the only way to win a war like that in Afghanistan. I would argue that such a war is not winnable. The only solution that will bring some kind of peace back to a ravaged people and region begins with a complete withdrawal of all foreign forces, not an escalation of a failed war.

When one researches McMaster, they will find dozens of articles lauding his intellectual capabilities. Other than the observation that in the city of the blind a one-eyed man is king, the only other observation I can come up with is that military strategy  is not an intellectual exercise except in the sense that being a football coach is one. In addition, they will read about his use of counterinsurgency tactics that even got praise from various Iraqis in Tal Afar. What they will not read about is what the true nature of counterinsurgency is. In short, counterinsurgency as practiced by occupying forces means this: killing insurgents and their hardcore supporters, separating civilians from the insurgency both physically and otherwise (in Vietnam this usually meant relocating civilians to fenced-in hamlets, in Iraq this often took different forms which included mass detention of males), rewarding anti-insurgent civilians and informants, and a constant military oversight in the governing of occupied areas. Despite the pretense that counterinsurgency is somehow more benign than standard military procedure, the truth is that it is a deadly exercise used in conflicts that have no military resolution and where the practitioners have no legitimate reason to be, much less be doing what they are doing. Consequently, the only guarantee such a strategy provides is the continued waste of money and lives in the name of Empire. Indeed, the only way to victory in such a scenario would be the massacre of most of the population from which the insurgents come.

Just because a general has a new way to fight a war doesn’t mean that war should be fought. The war in Afghanistan is not being incorrectly waged. Instead, it is the war and occupation of Afghanistan that is wrong. A general or politician truly interested in ending war in that nation would admit this and withdraw their troops. However, that is unlikely to happen, especially since the US population seems to concur with the current policy.

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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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