Friday, June 18, 2010

Removing the Teat

Sorry if I got anyone excited for the wrong reasons. It's just more foreign policy.

Interesting post over at Spenser Ackerman's place here about the whole "COINdinista" trope and the question of whether we are really thinking through what we're doing in Central Asia.

Jason at Armchair Generalist discusses it - and the Cordesman piece that set the discussion in motion - and he is somewhat skeptical of Cordesman's unwillingness to come out and flat say "this isn't do-able with the resources we're willing to commit and the political capital we have to spend".I'll go further than that. The problem with the way Western nations - or at least the U.S., does foreign internal defense and rebellion suppression (which is all this is - it's trying to gut a slave revolt, same-same as in Cicero's time.) is that by our very nature we infantilize and marginalize the local proxies we adopt. We make them into little local copies of ourselves, or as close as we can. I don't know why, but it probably has a lot to do with our incapability to imagine a better way to fight war than the American way - lots of firepower and mechanization, lots of dead stuff, the liberation-of-Metz kind of war.

But this kind of war - and this kind of government, since we tend to do the same thing to the local political elites - takes an obscene amount of jack, cash which these crappy little countries don't have. So essentially these supposed foreign proxies get locked on to our military and economic teat and neither want nor try to let go. We end up with a crippled proxy run by a kleptocratic parasitic elite whose "army" is a little Mini-Me, a U.S. Army minus the air, armor, and artillery support, minus the trustworthy officer corps, a brutally incompetent bayonet-prop for the Quisling throne.We've been here before, remember?

The U.S. Army has always sucked at this. You could trace it back to George Washington's day, when the "lesson" he learned from Braddock's defeat wasn't that low-tech irregular soldiers do better in low-intensity guerrilla wars than expensive, foreign regulars, but that you just have to be more...regular. The last chance we might have had to produce genuinely effective foreign proxy armies - the sort of thing that people like "Chinese" Gordon used to do for the British - vanished some time in the middle Nineties when the Charlie Beckwith/SAS/Ranger faction captured the U.S. Army Special Forces and turned them into a glorified SWAT team. We haven't managed to create an effective foreign armed force - particularly one that can stand on its own for more than the time it takes to load the swag into the trunk of the Lexus, huck the door keys at the maid, and grab a hat - since the fucking Apache Scouts.

And they were pretty much "trained" when we got 'em.

So I'm not sure why we suck so badly, but we do. Think about it. The Americas? Africa? Asia? Where has a large American maneuver Military Assistance Command produced a local military that successfully resisted a truly popular local guerrilla movement - none of this crappy fake-ass MRLA stuff like in Malaya - serious, hard-core G's like the Shining Path or the Tamil Tigers?

We just don't have the right stuff. We're shitty colonialists. That'd be a good thing except we've apprarently decided to pick up the White Man's Burden in central Asia.

Look at what we're doing now in Afghanistan in "going after corruption". Think about that. Let's say that American culture was permeated with a tradition that put family loyalty first, that rewarded compliant and sycophantic servitude with largesse and the dibs of the public purse, where bribery and kickbacks were an accepted part of doing business.

Yeah, right, like the Bush family, right, you get it.

So along comes the foreigner with a poker up his ass and says "No more fucking baksheesh, Ali, get it? No more mordida. Get you fucking hand out of the till and get your fucking cousins off the payroll most rikki-tik."

Would that make you happy? Would you want to be like the foreigner - even if the defenestration of the insiders made it easier for you, the outsider? Or would you be irked because it meant that when you got a shot at being the insider you'd miss out on on the lovely lush? Would you want the irritating bastard to go home and leave you to the ways you were used to?

Thought so - might be why the Indians and Pakis and Kenyans never invited the Brits back...


In my opinion the problem is even simpler than Ackerman or Exum or Cordesman lay out. After eight years we've done nothing but create a self-licking ice cream cone. Every "victory" we shoot out over the locals makes our local "allies" weaker, more dependent on us. We can't "win" because the longer we stay the worse we'll be for our Afghan proxies. We've given them eight years of "breathing space" and so far they've sucking in Sammy's teat and are giving it all the tongue love they can manage.

It's time to wean this monstrous infant.Before its habits of sucking cash out of the government teat begin to spread even further.

(Cross-posted to GFT)


  1. Story today in the WaPo says that Congress is upset that the DOD is buying Russian Mi 17 helos for the Afghan Air Force instead of US Blackhawks. Let's forget the part where the Russian helos are what the former Afghan military trained on, what they're comfortable with. No, they need to be reliant on US products, just like the Iraqi security forces. Makes me furious, this blind profit hunger. No interest in efficiencies, just make their soldiers like ours. What could go wrong?

  2. That story about US military corruption was in today's Wichita paper.

    Remember the security group parties?

    The good stuff starts at around 3 mins. It seems we're in a mess of troubles. With that corruption story was one about Bluefin Tuna, each one of which can go for 20K dollars apiece. They are big, and they breed in the Gulf of Mexico.

    So who needs tuna? They're full of mercury anyway from our coal-fired power plants.


  3. How much of the money spent for Afghanistan "settles" in Afghanistan. I'll bet not very much.

    The whole point of the self-licking ice cream cone, is in fact, the self-licking ice cream cone.

    Everything else is noise.

    Once you factor that into the analysis a lot of the "how could we be so stupid?" questions simply go away as they become inevitable consequences of the intended ice cream cone.

  4. Amen Chief. We're past the point of a simple weaning. What we need is a complete cold turkey to the entire affair. Retro the people and the most valuable/precious equipment; destroy in place everything else. Line up the 747s at Bagram and GTFO ASAP.

    Too bad the ice cream cone we've made there is but one scoop in a ginormous treat known as the MIC. We're so addicted to the sweetness of its taste that even a cold turkey withdrawal seems unlikely at this point. No, the likeliest course ahead probably involves deprivation by an outside force. Perhaps Beijing refusing to finance our addiction any further? That might do the trick. Traumatic as it will be.


  5. Cordesman writes,

    "The fact is, the strategic case for staying in Afghanistan is uncertain and essentially too close to call. . ."

    He can't turn around and say now that there is no strategic argument to stay in Afghanistan, let alone that the war is unwinnable . . . because Cordesman was one of McCrystal's "whiz kids" who traveled around the country and then filed a "report" when Stan the Man took over the job . . .

    How can he come out now and say that there is no strategic argument for remaining and that btw, we've already lost the war strategically anyway . . .

    Expect yet another round of spin, smoke and mirrors and in the end Obama will come out and proclaim that "we must stay the course" . . .

  6. The thing that infuriates me about this is that this isn't goddamn rocket science. The Great Powers, Britain and Russia, have been intervening in Afghanistan for centuries. The methods that work - and the ones that don't - have been pretty fucking well smoke-tested.

    Send in a conventional army and the Afghans will kill you if they can and submit if they can't. Until your army leaves. At which point they will either kill or suborn your proxy until everything is just the way they want it.

    Send your "advisers" gone native, your warrior leaders, your spies, your provacateurs, your bribe-carriers, and your assassins, and you stand at least half a chance of ending up with a useful scoundrel on the gaddi.

    It's not so much that we're spending a lot of blood and treasure on this latter-day Battle of Algiers. It's just that:

    1. It accustoms the public to military fuckery in the hustings, a prerequisite for Empire.

    2. Since we can't seem to get the hang of imperialism, it also tends to put our society on a permanent "war footing". Imagine, say, a Nineteenth Century Briton accepting the notion that he needed to show his "papers" and take his shoes off to board the 4:58 from Islington because somewhere in the Dominions imperial troops were bashing the demmed Fuzzy-Wuzzies again. Yet we seem to have slipped into a state of semi-permanent hysteria about "security". I won't bother to quote Franklin on the whole liberty-vs-security question.

    3. It distracts us politically and diplomatically from genuine existential threats. The danger to the public weal from unchecked financial shenangains, aggressive Central and South American narcos, assorted megacorporate fucktardry, and badly educated, poorly informed, easily riled U.S. citizens is several orders of magnitude greater than anything Osama & Co. can arrange...and yet we're sent into a chair-climbing, skirt-flapping, heel-stamping tizzy everytime some goddamn Azeri lights his Fruit-of-the-Looms on fire.

    The damage and danger in the actual foreign adventuring is slight; the same to the domestic polity, however...

  7. Christian Bleuer over at gets it;

    Here’s your formula, in 10 easy steps:

    1. Get Taliban to be jerks to locals.
    2. Get Taliban to kill some locals.
    3. Get Taliban to try to extort $24K from locals.
    4. Get Taliban to kidnap some angry dude’s family.
    5. Special Forces with ZZ Top beards.
    6. Get locals to go crazy on Taliban.
    8. Australians.
    9. ?????
    10. Profit.

    Oh sure, this can easily be replicated elsewhere in Afghanistan, no problem."

    Read the whole thing:

    Oh, and as Jason reminds us, the whole "Afghan-motherlode-of-minerals" thing? "...using the NYT graphic here, I notice that if we drain every rock out of the mountains, we just might, might recoup American costs of war. Barely." (

  8. Well, it looks like McChrystal finally succeeded in shooting himself in the foot. Wonder who will replace him.