U.S. Folly in Afghanistan and Media Complicity

Gen. Mark Milley argues America’s Afghan War has been “successful to date”

W.J. Astore

On NBC News today, I came across the following, revealing, headline:

The U.S. is eager to end its longest war. In interview, Taliban gives little sign it’s ready to change.

Aha!  The U.S. military is allegedly seeking an end to its Afghan war, but it’s being stopped in its tracks by stubbornly uncompromising Taliban forces.  So, it’s not our fault, right?  We’re trying to leave, but the Taliban won’t let us.

I’ve been writing against the Afghan war for a decade.  It was always a lost war for the United States, and it always will be.  But the U.S. military doesn’t see it that way, as Andrew Bacevich explains in a recent article on America’s flailing and failing generals.  These generals, Bacevich notes, have redefined the Afghan war as “successful to date.”  How so?  Because no major terrorist attack on America has come out of Afghanistan since 9/11/2001.  As Bacevich rightly notes, such a criterion of “success” is both narrow and contrived.

So, according to Mark Milley, the most senior general in the U.S. Army, soon to be head of the Joint Chiefs, America can count the Afghan war as “successful.”  If so, why are we allegedly so eager to end it?  Why not keep the “success” going forever?

Back in November of 2009, I wrote the following about America’s Afghan war.

We have a classic Catch-22. As we send more troops to stiffen Afghan government forces and to stabilize the state, their high-profile presence will serve to demoralize Afghan troops and ultimately to destabilize the state. The more the U.S. military takes the fight to the enemy, the less likely it is that our Afghan army-in-perpetual-reequipping-and-training will do so.

How to escape this Catch-22? The only answer that offers hope is that America must not be seen as an imperial master in Afghanistan. If we wish to prevail, we must downsize our commitment of troops; we must minimize our presence.

But if we insist on pulling the strings, we’ll likely as not perform our own dance of death in this “graveyard of empires.”

Pulling out an old encyclopedia, I then added a little history:

Some two centuries ago, and much like us, the globe-spanning British Empire attempted to extend its mastery over Afghanistan. It did not go well. The British diplomat in charge, Montstuart Elphinstone, noted in his book on “Caubool” the warning of an Afghan tribal elder he encountered: “We are content with discord, we are content with alarms, we are content with blood; but we will never be content with a master.”

As imperial masters, British attitudes toward Afghans were perhaps best summed up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition (1875). The Afghans, according to the Britannica, “are familiar with death, and are audacious in attack, but easily discouraged by failure; excessively turbulent and unsubmissive to law or discipline; apparently frank and affable in manner, especially when they hope to gain some object, but capable of the grossest brutality when that hope ceases. They are unscrupulous in perjury, treacherous, vain, and insatiable in vindictiveness, which they will satisfy at the cost of their own lives and in the most cruel manner …. the higher classes are too often stained with deep and degrading debauchery.”

One wonders what the Afghans had to say about the British.

The accuracy of this British depiction is not important; indeed, it says more about imperial British attitudes than it does Afghan culture. What it highlights is a tendency toward sneering superiority exercised by the occupier, whether that occupier is a British officer in the 1840s or an American advisor today. In the British case, greater familiarity only bred greater contempt, as the words of one British noteworthy, Sir Herbert Edwardes, illustrate. Rejecting Elphinstone’s somewhat favorable estimate of their character, Edwardes dismissively noted that with Afghans, “Nothing is finer than their physique, or worse than their morale.”

We should ponder this statement, for it could have come yesterday from an American advisor. If the words of British “masters” from 150 years ago teach us anything, it’s that Afghanistan will never be ours to win.

I stand by that last sentence.  Your “successful to date” war has been nothing but folly, General Milley, a reality mainstream media sources are determined not to survey.

13 thoughts on “U.S. Folly in Afghanistan and Media Complicity

  1. I can confirm from personal knowledge and involvement the prescience of your 2009 commentary on the futility of the US military intervention in Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda leadership responsible for 9/11 were long gone from Afghanistan by 2009. The Taliban never was — and never will be – a terrorist threat to America. Obama was elected in 2008 on pledge to get US troops out of both Iran and Afghanistan. But “the generals” (Petreaus, McCrystal, et al.) and neocons wanted to prolong the Afghan War and forced a troop surge à la Iraq. The Afghan mission changed from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency as over additional 70,000 US and NATO troops arrived and over $100 billion was wasted on nation building. Violence increased and the Taliban took over more of the country in its quest to drive out the occupying invaders. For Gen. Milley to proclaim the Afghan War has been a success to date defies reality of this strategic blunder – which history foretold was doomed from the start as your 2009 commentary documented. Such dishonesty is further proof that our military leadership is comprised of narrow-minded “company men” whose foremost loyalty is to the institution they serve and not the great good of our country. Gen. Milley’s elevation to our nation’s highest ranking military officer foretells that more ill-advised wars (including prolonging the pointless Afghan war) are in our nation’s future.


    1. Yes. Thank you. Gen. Milley is being promoted exactly because he’s an apologist for America’s wars.


  2. Now it is not good for the Christian’s health
    To hustle the Aryan brown,

    For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles,
    and he wearth the Christian down;

    And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
    With the name of the late deceased,

    And the epitaph drear: “A fool lies here!
    Who tried to hustle the East.”

    Decline of the West by Rudyard Kipling*
    *This Imperialist wasn’t very ‘politically correct’….or was he? lol


      1. Absolutely right WJA. And you know how cynical I can be. I’m sure my posted poem was about Britain’s 2 failed invasions into Afghanistan by Kipling; a stupid idea(s). He praised other British invasions – but Afghanistan? Why? Obviously a darling of British Aristocracy, I’d love to be a fly on the wall! Hear what really went on…..


    1. Just what the Joined Chefs of Stuff need: a “chairman.” Don’t they already know how to rob the American people blind? They’ve certainly had enough practice.

      Listening to an American general speak gibberish about “counter-insurgency, or “progress,” or “success” in Afghanistan (after seventeen years) always reminds me of my favorite quote from Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam):

      “In early 1967 [General William] Westmoreland gave a most complicated and interesting explanation for the rationale behind the President’s “ceiling” on the number of American troops [in South Vietnam]. “If,” he said, “you crowd in too many termite killers, each using a screwdriver to kill the termites, you risk collapsing the floors or the foundation. In this war, we’re using screwdrivers to kill termites because it’s a guerilla war and we cannot use bigger weapons. We have to get the right balance of termite killers to get rid of the termites without wrecking the house.” To continue this extraordinary metaphor, the American force had managed to wreck the house without killing the termites; they had, further, managed to make the house uninhabitable for anyone except termites. In a different manner, they had made the [American-created puppet government in Saigon’s] house unlivable as well.” (Westmoreland quoted in Newsweek, 27 March 1967 – almost a year before the Tet Offensive of 1968)

      Over half a century later and we’ve still go to listen to complete and utter morons dispensing “expert” drivel from inside a Christmas-tree decoration that the U.S. military calls a “uniform.” What next? Blinking strobe lights for inventing another euphemism for FUBAR and SNAFU?

      I do realize, on the other hand, that as both George Orwell and Michael Parenti have pointed out, the Imperial military has only one mission: namely to squander as much money as possible for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the working class which might use it to better itself educationally, economically, and socially. Viewed in this light, the spectacular failures of the U.S. military since 1945 constitute a “Dreadful Success.” Otherwise, why would the ruling transnational oligarchy insist that this apparent madness continue? They don’t bear the costs. They just reap the profits. And General shit-for-brains Milley and the rest of the big brass helps see to it that they do.


      1. Mike: I’m not sure if this is bug or feature:

        “the Imperial military has only one mission: namely to squander as much money as possible for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the working class which might use it to better itself educationally, economically, and socially. Viewed in this light, the spectacular failures of the U.S. military since 1945 constitute a ‘Dreadful Success.'”

        I agree that’s the effect of prodigal and wanton military spending. And obviously the MI Complex is driven by greed and profit. But I wonder whether it’s the design, the intent, the goal of the Establishment to keep the proles down specifically via unceasing wars and reckless military spending.

        But whether it’s bug or feature, the result is the same …


  3. I’ve got a book of poems by Kipling, more than a few of which I have found both well-written and insightful; some deservedly famous, at least from the enlisted man’s point of view. For example, take the following final stanza from …

    The Young British Soldier:

    “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains
    And the women come out to cut up what remains
    Then roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    And go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

    I reviewed that poem this morning just to see if I had gotten the lines right. In scanning through the other verse stanzas, I came across this:

    “If the wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loath
    To shoot when you catch ’em — you’ll swing, on my oath! —
    Make ‘im take ‘er and keep ‘er: that’s Hell for them both,
    And you’re shut o’ the curse of a soldier…”

    I burst out laughing when I read that and my Taiwanese wife asked me what I found so funny. When I read her the lines she said: “That sounds so Film Noir.” I think she has a point there, probably something along the lines of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), British Imperial version.

    Anyway, the thought of another American general allowed to open his mouth in public got me thinking of a …

    Confirmation Hearing at the Zoo

    This general, upon his chest
    Has rows and rows of ribbons,
    Stars, pins, and medals.
    This general, of course, utters sounds like all the rest:
    Noises resembling real words at times but which put to the test
    Of historic experience reveal just another lack of a plan for escape.
    But since Congress in no way objects
    To bullshit it fully expects,
    It OKs an ape
    Who peddles

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019

    The above makes the third in a series of experimental anti-verse poems, in a deliberately scrambled and reassembled format, a sort of implicit critique of so-called “free verse” which Robert Frost compared to “playing tennis with the net down.” For the U.S. military and their Commander-in-Brief, naturally, this would metaphorically equate to fighting a house full of termites with a stock-market portfolio deeply invested in screwdrivers.

    The first such experiment had to do with the election of that different-looking guy who said he didn’t believe in “dumb wars,” then proceeded to expand two of them into something like seven. You know:

    A Historic Presidency

    A poem doesn’t have to rhyme
    Or march to beats and meters.
    No doubt about it.
    A poem can, of course, straggle about for a time;
    Its discordant noises refusing to harmonize or chime;
    Its arbitrary lineation obscuring precisely those things it values most,
    Until lost for some way to conclude
    Its strutting, fretting interlude,
    It gives up the ghost
    And out it

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2012

    Which led to the second experiment in this anti-verse type:

    An Orangutan in the Oval Office

    A president can watch TV
    And stay up all night tweeting,
    Adrift and lonely.
    A president, no doubt, often fails to look and see
    What matters to lowly proles: for example, those much like me,
    Old veterans of past imperial debacles ignored for many decades now
    Who can see that they’ve wasted their breath:
    Warning countrymen not to make “Death!”
    As both curse and vow
    Their only

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

    More on Kipling and his influence as time allows …


  4. The generals and admirals pay no price for towing the party line. Indeed, it is only in the rare cases of being somewhat off message politically do they pay in the form of a job termination. Only to move on to other jobs, get kicked upstairs, head into lucrative retirement. There is no moral courage but one wonders if that context is even possible given the road/route to the very senior ranks. Moral courage is not just unnecessary it is a career killer. Remember when Peter Pace and Don Rumsfeld were shunted aside when the dissonance between war promotion and war performance became too great after only a few years (as though it wasn’t from the start)? A decade plus down the road, the dissonance is laughable. A truly sick joke.

    To riff Kipling poorly:

    The smart generals know
    To get along is to go
    ‘Long with the two-way joke when
    Damage and death for the men
    Means jobs and rank for the best
    Who know how to hustle the West


  5. Tried to ‘like’ your better Kipling comments than mine, it doesn’t matter – I ‘like’ it! Tried again no dice. We have to realise these “social media” computers/people don’t like Kipling.
    Generalismo Mark Milley is living in a different Era, and doesn’t know it.
    Maybe that was Kipling’s message, even back then.
    People: I live in Europe (France), but what’s going on in UK is frightful. No guns, No problem-knives.
    The country is falling apart. Unlike previous Empires – Portugal & Spain, who got their acts together, “Great” Britain still thinks it’s a world power. Plenty of money to fight failed Iraqi War, and recently robbing a tanker. What would Kipling have thought?!


  6. “… I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people” sounds a whole lot like George C. Scott quoting from his “unofficial study,” World Targets in Mega-Deaths in “Dr. Strangelove: “10 to 20 million, tops. Depending on the wind.”

    I could be wrong of course, but I’m thinking Mr Trump is alluding to “the nuclear option.” After all, who’d really care if we vaporized Afghanistan? No one who matters. An 18-year-old headache would disappear in a heartbeat. And doing so would push him way up the tough-guy scale, far above his Russian & North Korean pals who talk a good game, but haven’t really done anything worth bragging about.

    There are aspects of The Cold War I miss, but egomaniacs claiming to have a simple (nuclear) solution for a war – start with MacArthur and scroll down – isn’t one of them.


  7. I will copy a part of your Blog from the above:

    “Frank and affable in manner, especially when they hope to gain some object, but capable of the grossest brutality when that hope ceases. They are unscrupulous in perjury, treacherous, vain, and insatiable in vindictiveness, which they will satisfy at the cost of their own lives and in the most cruel manner …. the higher classes are too often stained with deep and degrading debauchery.”

    You know this statement reminds me of another quote:
    Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. Friedrich Nietzsche

    The part above about being “affable” and then capable of the “grossest brutality” when you do not get your way, rings a bell for me as our corporate foreign policy as described by General Smedley Butler will attest.

    When sending in the Marines failed to tame those Viet Cong, the Army followed with “Free Fire Zones” and then a brutal bombing campaign. Fast forward to Bush the Younger’s Gulf War 2, and the millions of casualties – Dead, Wounded, Missing and Refugees. You could add Libya and Syria to the list under our Nobel Peace Prize President Obama.

    The monster from the abyss has grabbed us by the throat – We ask, Who are You? The Monster with a smile replies, before killing us – I am You!!


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