Photo: Maj. Jim Gant, proponent of "going native," with the Pashtun tribal chief he dubbed "Sitting Bull." Later, "Sitting Bull" would adopt Gant, which presupposes Gant converted to Islam..
With the appearance of a new book, the abrupt fall from Army grace of SF Maj. James Gant has been in the news. What is worth noting is that he was relieved from his command not for his particularly unhinged version of COIN (described below) but mainly for moral and behavioral infractions of military code. The COIN, presumably, was commendable.
My syndicated column of April 9, 2010:
A reader e-mailed me to comment on a column by David Ignatius, who recently accompanied the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to a shura, or local council meeting, in Marja, Afghanistan.
Ignatius wrote: "Given the weakness of the central government in Kabul, U.S. commanders are working to align American power with the most basic political structures, the tribal shuras. `Culturally, this country works,' says Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the chief military spokesman (in Afghanistan). `People sitting down together can solve almost anything.'"
Slap a happy-face sticker on the man's briefing book to commemorate the dopiest spin ever on the primitivism, violence and misogyny of Afghan culture. My reader, naturally, had a different take from the admiral's: "So that's why we're there, bleeding and dying and spending, to facilitate Sharia law. Great, just great."
I can relate. Of course, there's nothing new here, given that the U.S.-drafted Afghan constitution (like Iraq's) has recognized Sharia law as supreme since ratification in 2004. What seems different now, or maybe just more noticeable, is an unseemly American pandering before such law -- Sharia law, tribal law, any law but our own -- increasingly manifested by official U.S. military policy.
I don't know how else to describe Mullen's decision to plop down, cross-legged, on a rug in a tent in Marja, where, dhimmi-like, he proceeded to take orders for public works projects from a line of Afghan "elders." As Reuters puts it, "From the litany of requests ... from asphalt for roads to fertilizer for fields -- one might think he was a visiting aid worker, not the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
`We want educational centres ... There is no good hospital ... We want all these roads to be paved,' a man with a long black beard told Mullen."
And what did the highest military officer in the USA, as Time magazine reported, tell the turbaned locals? "Inshallah, we will provide the services as soon as possible."
Inshallah -- Allah willing? This is what happens when cultural sensitivity replaces cultural identity, when the effort to win Islamic "hearts and minds" -- or, updated, "the sentiments and perceptions of local communities," as Col. Christopher Kolenda wrote in Joint Forces Quarterly -- ends with us losing our own. Under no other circumstances could U.S. policy continue to "bleed, die and spend" to shore up Sharia-based governments anywhere and at any level.
I recently re-read a paper by a highly decorated special forces officer, Maj. Jim Gant, that is credited with helping to promote the tribal-council option in Afghanistan. Praised by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal on down, the paper is called "One Tribe at a Time," and it describes how Gant and his team in 2003 formed an arbitrary alliance with one tribe, fighting its enemies over grudges, admiring its culture (even rationalizing its misogyny), and developing a bad case of hero worship for its old chieftain whom Gant dubbed "Sitting Bull" (for that perfect touch of cultural self-loathing).
Gant tells a story about the tribal concept of revenge in action. "When at one point, members of Hezb-e-Islami (HIG) accused [Sitting Bull] of letting Christianity be spread in his village, we both knew and understood this was a lie. However, it was the issue of his tribe's honor that caused our combined reaction of violence towards HIG."
In other words, this undoubtedly brave officer took U.S. forces to war for worse than nothing: to avenge the "honor" of an Islamic tribe besmirched by Taliban allegations of Christianity contamination. What Gant describes is the perfect PC battle in a post-modern crusade that can only end in a triumph for nihilism.
Gant's big idea is to insert small teams like his own into other tribes. "They must be able to `go native,'" Gant writes, and "steadily integrate themselves into tribal life and customs." As my reader might say: Great, just great.
Whether Gant's plan for special forces is fully implemented, one thing is as clear as a Joint Chief on a rug: You don't have to be fighting for Sitting Bull to see the horizon through the other's eyes. But that's not how you win hearts and minds; it's how you lose your own.