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How the Debacle in Afghanistan Disgraced its Cheerleaders

For those of us who have been protesting the Afghan war, the sickening collapse of the American-led effort in Kabul is a bitter, disgusting sort of vindication.

The stunning murders of two senior American officers within the high-security command and control center of Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, followed by the wounding of other American soldiers by a grenade thrown into a camp in Kunduz, is a bitter disgrace for the counter-insurgency strategy that Gen. Stanley McChrystal brought there in 2009. 

It's an even more bitter disgrace for that strategy's "useful idiots," propagandists such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and David Brooks of Nowhere in Particular.

And for those of us who protested these people's strange combination of credulity and duplicity three years ago, the sickening collapse of the American-led effort in Kabul is a bitter, disgusting sort of vindication.

In 2009, as I noted  then, McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan overturned many doctrines the United States had brought to Iraq in 2003, and it expanded others developed after 2006. The strategy's celebrants, like Brooks and Boot, might as well have been wearing pom poms as they jumped out of their Army Humvees to "report" on carefully choreographed displays of the civic training and trust-building that buzz-cut G.I.'s were supposedly bringing to Afghans. In truth, they were recycling premises and policies that had failed in Vietnam -- "strategic hamlets," "Vietnamization" of the war. They had failed even in the top-down art of America's own "War on Poverty" -- which Brooks and Boot had always disdained.

The biggest obstacle to the strategy in Afghanistan wasn't American liberals' failure of nerve, as conservatives seldom pass up a chance to insist. The biggest obstacle was the delusion that Americans could do for Kabul and Kunduz what we refuse to do for New Orleans or Detroit.

McChrystal's 2009 "interim assessment" for the White House and his "counterinsurgency guidance" for American troops rightly rejected what Boot called the "conceit that an army can defeat an insurgency simply by killing insurgents." That had long been precisely the conceit of the neo-cons, but McChrystal and his apologists wanted to transcend both the war-mongering right and the social-welfare left by expanding a strategy to "embrace the people" in Afghanistan and be "a positive force in the community."

The strategy would "use local economic initiatives" to displace the insurgency and to integrate "military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency." But whose government? Anyone who wasn't drinking this top-down, "can do" Kool-Aid knew that Hamid Karzai's government was corrupt and feckless.

Truthful observers also knew that American grand strategists bore more than a little responsibility for the disintegration of democratic nation-building. Indeed, Americans had already experienced such disintegration themselves while seeing New Orleans patrolled by Blackwater mercenaries in a perfect storm of unchecked global warming, failed infrastructure design, corrupt politics, and laissez-faire economics.

But these failures of the Bush administration's militarized, free-market fundamentalism to win hearts and minds, let alone security or prosperity, either at home or abroad, only drove the desperate conservative leap to just the kind of social engineering they'd always warned against, including the lavish subsidizing of dubious characters posing as popular leaders. Remember "poverty pimps"? Suddenly, Boot and Brooks didn't.

So here is Max Boot  writing in the neoconservative Weekly Standard about his trip to Afghanistan in 2009:

"Next to the combat outpost is a brand-new district center built with foreign aid money. Inside we sit down to chat with the district governor, Mohammed Yasin Lodin, a natty man with frizzy black hair and a thin mustache, and the police chief, Colonel Amanullah, who is (unusually for an Afghan) clean shaven. Yasin is overflowing with praise for the improvements wrought by the Americans.

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