Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wars of Choice

"Even by conservative estimates, the War on Drugs now costs the United States $50 billion each year and has overcrowded prisons to the breaking point — all with little discernible impact on the drug trade."Old article, but still worth a read.

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.


  1. In the short run you are undoubtedly right, Chief. I've got more hope for the longer run as the crimes our government and people have committed against themselves become blindingly self-evident.

    That moment will undoubtedly come too late to save the current incarnation of the US government but there's still a pretty chance that things will get better after the next 30 years or so.

    The period from 1570 to 1670 is a period sometimes known as the Iron Century because it was so hard on common people around the world.

    The European population was soaring to the point where famine was feared, the industrial revolution was just beginning to get into gear, most non-Europeans people were being introduced to slavery, disease, or conquest, and the European leaders of the era were just beginning to realize what modern armies and nations were capable of and using them clumsily across the world.

    I'd say we are in a similar period right now. This sort of time is usually when victory frequently goes not to the most organized or best led forces but to the most ruthless in the area.

    Fortunately the wheel that got us to this stage never stops turning and someday things will swing the other way. Hopefully things will right themselves within our lifetime.

  2. Chief,
    Rangers rule for building an army. First you must have a country. 2nd rule- no paratroopers unless you have airplanes.

  3. Yeah, the whole "country" thing - kinda gets stuck there.

    In theory the Afghans should have no problem fighting this - it's just their sort of war. In practice, trying to get the various factions to cooperate is ridiculous. I can't imagine what its like trying to run this from Kabul: it must be like 12 monkeys fucking a football.

  4. P.J. O'Rourke, a pretty smart fellow who started out with the Lampoon at Harvard, wrote a few books back in the 80s and early 90s, is a guy I always liked. In one of them—perhaps "Parliament of Whores, which referred to Congress—he discussed the "War on Poverty."

    Twenty years ago, after crunching the numbers, O'Rourke found that if we were to dismantle the entire federal and state apparatus taking care of po' folk—defined as those below the poverty line—and send each of those folks a check for $30K at the beginning of each year, we would be billions ahead. That was a lot of years ago, and even with inflation, ain't no po' folk getting that kind of money today from the Fed. We get fucked and they get fucked.

    The corollary here is that if we were to buy up all of the illegal drugs produced everywhere in the world, we would undoubtedly save billions and billions of dollars. But what would DEA do?

    And of course, you can take that on to the logical conclusion about the "War on Terror."

    The only real downside I see to any of this is that a whole lot of folks now on the government payroll would have to find an honest way to make a living. Soldiers? Well, soldiers shouldn't be doing such shit anyway. Soldiers should be sitting around at Fort Bragg or wherever, waiting for the big one. Many of our problems can be traced to civilians thinking those GIs ought to be out there doing something, no matter whether it makes sense or helps the nation.

    AS I see it, our entire military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq really has to do with keeping the troops busy. Otherwise, they might be drinking too much, or catching the clap, or just having fun. Can't have that.