Tuesday :: Mar 9, 2010

The Thing About Unwinnable Wars


by Turkana

The thing about unwinnable wars is that they can't be won. It doesn't matter if the war is being run by the worst administration in a nation's history or its best and brightest; an unwinnable war can't be won.

There's been a lot of seemingly good news, lately, with some apparent military success in Marjah, and the capture of some Taliban leaders, in Pakistan. But someone forgot to tell the insurgents that they've been decapitated. A bomb blast in Lahore, killing at least eleven, and wounding scores, including women and children. Across the "border," a pair of bombs kill twelve in Badghis province. Three more dead in another roadside bomb. And at least one of those captured Taliban leaders isn't talking. And that American Taliban leader who was captured wasn't that American Taliban leader, after all.

As for that supposedly good news out of Marjah, well it isn't all that good if you're one of the 24,000 registered refugees who fled the battle, many of whom will suffer from being unable to tend their farms, and most of whom are having to deal with inadequate shelter from the cold. That's a third of the town's population, by the way. And that's only those who have officially registered as displaced. Meanwhile, a civil war seems to be breaking out between rival insurgent factions, which sounds like a good thing, unless you're an Afghan civilian caught in the middle of a civil war.

No matter how many battles are won by the military, there is still no clear goal or end game. What does victory look like? An effective Afghan military? Not happening, and not likely to happen, any time soon. How about a stable Afghan government? Well, Afghan "President" Hamid Karzai, fresh off stealing an election, is now taking full control of a key elections body. Which might not be so worrisome, if he hadn't just stolen an election. And while our troops serve, suffer, and die to protect this fraudulent and highly corrupt regime, Karzai is busy preparing for a state visit from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Counter-insurgencies by foreign powers do not succeed. Unless the goal is conquest and annexation, foreign powers inevitably leave, their political tails between their legs, and nothing but rivers of blood in their wakes. In Fiasco, his devastating dissection of Bush Administration failures in Iraq, Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, who is steeped in military history and strategy, refers to some of the classics on counter-insurgency warfare, particularly Charles Gwynn's Imperial Policing, about the British in Africa, China, and India; David Galula's Silence Was a Weapon, about his own involvement in the criminally brutal U.S. Phoenix Program, in Viet Nam. These are the books the experts still consult. These are the books that clarified what is considered to be the best ideas on counter-insurgency strategy. But you know what the French in Algeria and Southeast Asia, the British in Africa, China, and India, and the U.S. in Viet Nam all have in common? In each case, the occupying foreign power was forced to leave, political tails between legs, and nothing but rivers of blood in their wakes.

It's still not clear what we are supposed to be accomplishing, in Afghanistan. It's still not clear what the goal is intended to be. It's still not clear when or how we are supposed to reach a point where we can declare victory and leave. Which is why now would be as good a time as any. Because the truth is that the war is unwinnable. That's the thing about unwinnable wars: they can't be won.

Turkana :: 11:17 AM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!