The American Empire Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes in the Mideast
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This is a classic Washington example of moving the goalposts. What our two experts are really announcing is that, even if all goes well in our Afghan War, 2014 will not be its end date. Not by a long shot.
Of course, this is a position that Petraeus has supported. Four years from now our “withdrawal” plans, according to Nagl and Fick, will leave 25,000 troops in place. If truth-telling or accuracy were the point of their exercise, their piece would have been titled, “The ‘Long War’ Grows Longer.”
Even as the Middle East explodes and the U.S. plunges into a budget “debate” significantly powered by our stunningly expensive wars that won’t end, these two experts implicitly propose that General Petraeus and his successors fight on in Afghanistan at more than $100 billion a year into the distant reaches of time, as if nothing in the world were changing. This already seems like the definition of obliviousness and one day will undoubtedly look delusional, but it’s the business-as-usual mentality with which Washington faces a new world.
2. Or consider two striking comments General Petraeus himself made that bracket our new historical moment. At a morning briefing on January 19th, according to New York Times reporter Rod Nordland, the general was in an exultant, even triumphalist, mood about his war. It was just days before the first Egyptian demonstrators would take to the streets, and only days after Tunisian autocrat Zine Ben Ali had met the massed power of nonviolent demonstrators and fled his country. And here’s what Petraeus so exuberantly told his staff: “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go.”
It’s true that the general had, for months, not only been sending new American troops south, but ratcheting up the use of air power, increasing Special Operations night raids, and generally intensifying the war in the Taliban’s home territory. Still, under the best of circumstances, his was an exultantly odd image. It obviously called up the idea of a predator sinking its teeth into the throat of its prey, but surely somewhere in the military unconscious lurked a more classic American pop-cultural image -- the werewolf or vampire. Evidently, the general’s idea of an American future involves an extended blood feast in the Afghan version of Transylvania, for like Nagl and Fick he clearly plans to have those teeth in that jugular for a long, long time to come.
A month later, on February 19th, just as all hell was breaking loose in Bahrain and Libya, the general visited the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul and, in dismissing Afghan claims that recent American air raids in the country’s northeast had killed scores of civilians, including children, he made a comment that shocked President Hamid Karzai’s aides. We don’t have it verbatim, but the Washington Post reports that, according to “participants,” Petraeus suggested “Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.”
One Afghan at the meeting responded: "I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."
In the American echo-chamber, the general’s comments may sound, if not reasonable, then understandably exuberant and emphatic: We’ve got the enemy by the throat! We didn’t create Afghan casualties; they did it to themselves! Elsewhere, they surely sound obtusely tone deaf or simply vampiric, evidence that those inside the echo chamber have no sense of how they look in a shape-shifting world.