One of my biggest issues with our persistent fiddling around in central Asia is not the cost in money or lives. For an imperial state - which is what we are, in effect, even if we don't acknowledge it directly - both are relatively insignificant. And the greater "cost" were we to fail to impose our will on the locals, assuming we can ever figure out what that will is, is negligible.
No, the real cost of the ridiculous wars to impose Six Flags over Nothing is the inflation of what should be a peripheral, economy-of-force operation to the main effort of our foreign policy to the detriment of all else.
John Robb has talked repeatedly about the likely breakdown of the socially and politically fragile states to the south; I have linked to him before over at GFT. We have a real problem developing right next door, and meanwhile the Obama Administration is hearing that we need to throw more uniformed Americans into a strategically peripheral, crucially impoverished part of the world known for hating foreign armies.
And we persist in the moron-level stupid that is the "War on Drugs" - given that humans have been drugging themselves since the first Sumerian got high-schooled on a clay pot of piss-weak barley beer - whose primary side-effect so far continues to strengthen groups like the Zetas, who are more dangerous to our domestic stability than the Taliban if the Taliban had a goddam fleet carrier.
I honestly have nothing more to say. I don't have an answer; if the smart people in the government can't figure out that big battalions won't work in the places in central Asia where central Asians have been succeeding for generations through craft, bribery, threat, assassination and subversion, what the hell can I say?
I don't know what will make American politics, or the American People, smarter about their own governance, their own economy and their own security. I suspect that nothing will: the combination of poor education, inequity of wealth, wretched public information sources, and now-deeply ingrained corruption in most levels of government (and by this I don't mean the usual "folded hundred dollar bill" corruption, I mean the prostitution of American politicians for the largesse of the immensely wealthy corporations and individuals who actually wield the power of the state) conspires to intensify the widening gyre. We are, simply, fucked.
"Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain."
Update 8/26: Here's a good example of what I mean.
I believe strongly that a vital society, especially a vital republic, depends on the open, honest, powerful exchange of, and debate on, the ideas that form the bedrock of public policy. To that end, I would argue that no one - or at the very most, a handful of people - can and should be excluded from the debate.
But if there is a poster child for the sort of person who was so utterly, catastrophically, criminally wrong - wrong for all the wrong reasons, too, like a foolish incapacity for forethought, partisan greed, disregard of the most simpleminded bases for intellectual effort - on the subject of U.S. foreign policy that in order to even BEGIN intelligent discussion he must be bound, gagged, hooded, thrown into a tiny cell, sleep-deprived, bombarded with white noise, and sprayed with a hose at random intervals, then Paul Wolfowitz is that person.
And yet...and yet...here is the editorial board of the respected journal "Foreign Policy" giving Wolfie, the second stupidest fucking guy on the planet, a forum to air his idiot opinions. It's like giving a place on the podium at the national pyschotherapist's convention to an undermedicated-to-the-point-of-pants-pissing whacko.
But this is what passes for "informed foreign policy opinion" in the 21st Century United States.
Re-updated 8/26: Here's a fairly good discussion going on over at Matt Yglesias' place on the whole issue of "Why Our Afghans Can't Seem To Beat Their Afghans". Yglesias quotes Shuja Nawz answering his (Yglesias') "why can’t the Afghans fight their own war?"
"Probably because we won’t let them. All the talk about the strategy for the war comes out of American mouths. We never hear the Afghans talk about how they hope to conduct the war or how they hope to defeat the Taliban. If the United States and the coalition own the war, they will fight it their way."Didn't we do this forty years ago with the ARVN? Marvin had a lot of other problems, but one of the biggies was that we trained him, to the extent we could, to be a little G.I. Joe, with all of our strengths and our weaknesses. But we couldn't MAKE the Marvins into GIs, with our ability to take heavy losses, regroup and drive on (at least the pre-1972 Army could do this), with solidly professional officers who were not more than marginally corrupt and decent NCOs able to shoot, move and communicate. And, especially, we couldn't make the RVNAF into the USAF and the ARVN artillery into the USA field artillery. Without the fire support, the U.S. tactics - which amounted and often still do to "find, sorta fix, back off and call for fire" - we taught them fell apart.
Not having a - or having a poor - geopolitical strategy for central Asia is irking but neither surprising nor particularly frustrating. Lots of empires have had that problem. But teaching tactics to foreign troops is not that difficult. All you have to do is understand the kind of war you're teaching them to fight. The fact that we seem to be unable to teach this to the ANA is just...ridiculous.
We are STILL so fucked.