Friday, March 16, 2012

No One Expects a Model Democracy

Last Sunday's massacre of sixteen Afghan civilians by a disgruntled American soldier has been handled about as I'd have expected. The American corporate media think it's all about us and our mission. FAIR did much of the legwork, citing an NPR story headlined "Afghan Killings Could Complicate U.S. Mission", among others. Says "Rajan Menon, an international relations professor at Lehigh University":
Just about every commander we've had there has said this is fundamentally about winning the confidence of the Afghan people ... When you have incident after incident, you can do that only so many times without wearing out the Afghan public's goodwill.
The same story has a section devoted to "U.S. Public Opinion."
"This is not worth one more American life," says Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been one of the most persistent critics of the war. "This is not worth one more American dollar, to support one of the most corrupt regimes in the world."
American public opinion about the war has been slowly souring for some years now. Public support in the U.S. could go further south if there are reprisals — particularly if Afghan security forces seek revenge against American troops, Menon says.
"Members of Afghan security forces have murdered far more of their American mentors than the number of Afghan civilians this guy killed," says Ann Marlow, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.
But even if most Americans oppose the continuing war, they have mostly been quiet about it. If you ask people their opinion, they'll say we should leave, Biddle says, but they're quiet about acting on such beliefs, in terms of public protests.
I suppose it wouldn't work if Ann Marlow had compared the number of American "mentors" killed by Afghan security forces to the total number of Afghan civilians killed by their mentors, instead of just the victims of this one atrocity. (Alexander Cockburn provided a helpful summary today.)

About Representative McGovern's remarks, I'd like to know where he gets his ranking of the most corrupt regimes in the world. After all, Hamid Karzai is our creature, so the U.S. can't be totally innocent. I'd be surprised if an honest accounting wouldn't find us in the top ten at least. But as I said, for McGovern, it's all about us, and whether this war is worth American money and lives. Whether it's worth Afghan lives is of no concern.

You can tell how advanced American corruption is by the way the U.S. has to keep changing its account of Why We Can't Leave as expediency (or the phase of the moon, I dunno) requires. First we were there in self-defense, because we were attacked, and the masterminds of that attack were (maybe, who knows or cares?) in Afghanistan. The attackers were mostly Saudi, and the planning was done in Germany among other places, but Shut Up! Shut Up! Then we were there because the Taliban oppressed women, something that had never bothered the US government before; and the Northern Alliance, our allies against the Taliban, were also Islamofascists who oppressed women no less harshly, but since they were the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers, and the enemy of our Enemy is our friend, we can overlook such details. Or we have to help the Afghan government become more stable, and the Afghan security forces more capable of defending themselves against ... who, exactly? Big scary Al-Qaeda, presumably. More realistically, other Afghans. Oh, and Iran! Don't forget Iran! Which is just waiting to overrun Afghanistan and turn it into a Muslim state, which it is already, but you know the United States, we won't tolerate foreign armies overrunning other countries; that's why our foreign army has to keep overrunning them.

Listening to Obama and his henchmen tell it, you'd think the US was in Afghanistan purely out of the goodness of our hearts, as if the Afghans had asked us to come over and help them, but our resources of blood and treasure won't endure forever. No, don't cling to our ankles and beg us to stay, our mind is made up ... The Iraqis implored us to stay past December 2011, but we stood firm. That's just how we are. Well, maybe a little longer. If you insist. If you're sure.

Besides, as the New York Times put it memorably (via), "Many observers say, the Americans have had a lot of practice at apologizing for carnage, accidental and otherwise, and have gotten better at doing it quickly and convincingly." It would be a shame to let all that expertise go to waste. As Bill Clinton's Secretary of State might have put it, what's the point of having all this beautiful expertise in apologizing for carnage, if you're not going to use it?

We've been told that the soldier who committed the killings had been deployed repeatedly, and badly injured, in Iraq and Afghanistan. His new defense lawyer "also said the accused had witnessed his friend's leg blown off the day before the killings." His neighbors back home just couldn't believe it, he was just such a nice quiet guy who'd never done anything like this before. Meanwhile, "The US has stressed it remained committed to Afghan reconciliation." And if Afghans don't reconcile, we'll just have to keep killing them.

I sympathize with American soldiers who've been abused by their own government and military. But this soldier went after Afghan women and children. (That's accepting the US claim that he was a lone nut who did it alone, over the villagers' report that there other soldiers involved. I believe the villagers, and I wonder how long it will take for the American story to spring leaks and fall apart, as most of our coverups do.)

More intriguing, but also disturbing, was a segment on Democracy Now! this morning, interviewing Neil Shea, an American journalist who's been covering Afghanistan for years. Shea said, correctly enough, that
When we cycle our soldiers and marines through these wars that don’t really have a clear purpose over years and years...we expect light-switch control over their aggression ... We expect to be able to turn them into killers and then turn them back into winners of hearts and minds. And when you do that to a man or a woman over many years, that light-switch control begins to fray.
That bit about "wars that don't really have a clear purpose" bothered me a bit, though. Aggressive wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and the like probably fall into that category, because the actual purpose can't be admitted, so the invader state has to keep cycling through a list of high-sounding but false reasons. Fighting a defensive war probably produces just as many atrocities. And I think Shea is overlooking the psychological damage done to soldiers even in "good" wars like World War II.

But anyway. Shea seemed a bit uneasy in the interview.
I found that during one of my last trips to Afghanistan, I met up with a group of soldiers who were the first I had ever come across who made me feel pretty nervous about what I was going to see while I was with them. And I spent a few days with them and came to just really understand that they had gotten to the edge of violence, as we understand it, in Afghanistan, and they seemed ready and capable of doing some pretty bad things. I didn’t actually witness them do anything too terrible, but the way that they talked and the way that they acted toward Afghan civilians and animals and property in the country was sort of stunning to me. And that’s what I describe in the article. It’s talking about these—this group of soldiers and sort of their mental state during a multi-day mission in a central part of Afghanistan that was supposed to be a Taliban stronghold. Many of these guys seemed like they had reached the end of their rope in terms of stability and controlling their aggression.

... They’ll insult Iraqis or Afghans behind their backs, and that’s sort of the very mild beginning of it. And then they sort of move up the chain, if we can call it that, into more serious acts of aggression, where they’ll kill animals or they’ll beat somebody or treat them roughly, and it sort of builds up from there.
What I saw with these guys in Afghanistan when I was with them was that several of them had already been through multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had reached a point where they hated Afghans, they hated the country, and they were really not interested in doing any of the hearts and minds stuff anymore that’s a crucial part of the mission. So by the time I reached these guys, they had already been sort of—they had been building up anger and aggression in strange ways for a number of years. And when I saw them, they had just shot a dog that had been a pet in an Afghan home that they had confiscated during the mission, and they treated Afghan civilians fairly roughly, and they took a few prisoners and treated them very roughly, as well. Nothing that would rise to necessarily the—sort of a crime at that time, but the way that they talked about things and the way that they sort of handled themselves was really aggressive. And it was only—it seemed to me only to be barely kept in check.
Now, imagine that Afghan forces invaded the US and occupied us for a decade. Imagine that the invading soldiers treated American civilians fairly roughly, and took a few prisoners and treated them very roughly as well. Imagine that they shot animals, including pets but also farm animals needed for part of our food supply. Imagine that this sort of thing only rarely rose to "crimes" in the sense Shea means, presumably massacres like the one in Kandahar last week, and that when it did, the Afghan government and military brass issued prompt apologies and monetary compensation. Would Americans under occupation feel friendly toward the Afghan forces that had come over to help us achieve stability, to keep us from threatening our neighbors, and to defend Afghanistan itself against further attacks from the evil terrorist masterminds based in the swamps of Washington, D.C.?