This week's column takes the lesson Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says that seven years of war in Afghanistan have taught America--namely, that the US must win the "trust" of the Afghan people--and gives the good admiral an "F."
The buzzword on Afghanistan is "trust."
Having routed the Taliban, liberated millions, midwived a (Sharia-supreme) constitution, assisted in elections, propped up a government and routed the Taliban some more, all the United States needs now to win victory in Afghanistan is to win the "trust" of the Afghan people.
So wrote Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in a column appearing in the Washington Post just days before President Obama ordered 17,000 new troops to Afghanistan, nearly doubling the American presence there.
The president's top military adviser explained the policy this way: "We have learned, after seven years of war, that trust is the coin of the realm -- that building it takes time, losing it take mere seconds, and maintaining it may be our most important and most difficult objective."
Sorry, admiral, but if that is what we have "learned" in a war that has claimed more than 600 American lives, wounded and maimed thousands more, and cost billions of pre-bailout dollars, we are practically done for.
Why? The short answer is that in making a primary objective out of winning the "trust" of the Afghan people, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has, by definition, abandoned all rational war policy. Indeed, he has placed the marker for American success not on the ability of U.S. forces to execute their missions, but on the emotional reaction of the average, illiterate, infidel-hostile, modernity-challenged Afghan to those missions.
"Lose the (Afghan) people's trust," Mullen writes, "and we lose the war." I wish I could say I've never heard such fatuous counsel, but the entire so-called war on terror, from start to non-finish, reverberates with this same sort of line. It tends to turn profound Islamic differences from the West into profound Western failings toward Islam. Rather than walk our nation up to the cultural chasm between Islam and the West and show us what it looks like, our leaders have, in effect, made that chasm into their own personal responsibility, something to fill in, paper over and, above all, never, ever mention.
Thus, Mullen blames the Afghan failure to hail the United States as the conquering hero on a purely American failure to maintain Afghan "trust" -- an unfair rap, frankly, on dedicated troops stretched thin by far too many years of deployment. Indeed, Mullen broaches the "trust" topic with a distasteful allusion to Pleminius, a Roman tyrant, who, around 200 B.C., became notorious for his and his soldier's raping, pillaging and plundering of the Locrians, who expected and ultimately received restitution from Rome.
"We are not Romans, of course," Mullen writes.
Gee, thanks a lot.
He continues: "Our brigade combat teams are not the legions of old. But we in the U.S. military are likewise held to a high standard. Like the Romans, we are expected to do the right thing, and when we don't, to make it right again."
And what exactly has the United States done that isn't right?
"It doesn't matter how hard we try to avoid hurting the innocent, and we do try very hard," Mullen writes. "It doesn't matter how proportional the force we deploy, how precisely we strike. It doesn't even matter if the enemy hides behind civilians. What matters are the death and destruction that result and the expectation that we could have avoided it. In the end, all that matters is that, despite our best efforts, sometimes we take the very lives we are trying to protect."
He adds: "You cannot defeat an insurgency this way."
Oh yeah? Betcha could if the "civilians" he's talking about loathed the "insurgents" he's talking about more than the "us" he's talking about. But that never happens in "insurgencies," and Afghanistan is no different. Not even when the new U.N. survey on civilian deaths in Afghanistan reveals that the Taliban and other insurgents are responsible for most such civilians deaths, as The New York Times reports, "primarily through suicide bombers and roadside bombs, many aimed at killing as many civilians as possible."
But all nonrational -- or, more accurately, non-Western -- Afghan reactions to America's best efforts and great sacrifices against the jihadists in Afghanistan are, in Mullen's telling, America's responsibility, if not fault. Mullen goes on to accept, with resignation -- practically with equanimity -- the thoroughly bizarre idea that "each civilian casualty for which we are even remotely responsible sets back our efforts to gain the confidence of the Afghan people months, if not years." The implication is, of course, that we must fight on, and now with twice as many troops, to win that Afghan "confidence."
Frankly, this is cracked. Don't we ever lose patience with Afghanistan? Don't we ever realize that not only is there no "trust" or "confidence" for us to "win" there, but there isn't anything else, either? Because there isn't, and that's the lesson I draw from seven years of war in Afghanistan, not to mention six years of war in Iraq.
This has been a far costlier lesson than we yet realize. That's because in our woefully misguided efforts to establish chimerical Western outposts in these spheres of Sharia on the other side of the world, we seem to have lost sight of the desperate need to fight incursions of Sharia at home in the West.
I am not suggesting that the U.S. remove itself from a "war footing" because we are still in a war, however ill-defined, that is by no means over. But the lessons of six and seven years of fighting should teach us that Afghanistan and Iraq are not defensible fronts in this battle against expansionist, jihadist Islam. The lessons of six and seven years of war should teach us that these countries constitute a pit in which our resources sink and disappear without even the possibility of resurrecting them as a bulwark against jihad in the future.
In other words, it is not regional "trust" that we lack; it is our own common sense and survival instinct to realize that we must redraw the battle line around the West itself to stave off the depredations of Islamization -- the endgoal after all, of all jihadists, violent and not.
What about "Al Qaeda" -- I use quotation marks here because there are many jihadist groups but we persist in branding them all "Al Qaeda" -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? What about Pakistani nukes? I can hear the questions now, and they are good questions. The answer is that there remain potential military targets throughout this violent and chaotic region. That doesn't change.
But remember, it's not as if "Al Qaeda" is neatly confined to our current battlegrounds. What about Al Qaeda in Iran? (What about Iran?) In Yemen? In Gaza? In Madrid? In London? Perhaps in Washington, D.C.? The infiltration of jihadists is as advanced as it is complex, and defeating it requires more than massive deployments of troops abroad. For starters, it requires total reconfigurations of two national policies: our energy policy to decouple us from Islamic oil; and our immigration policy, including travel restrictions, in order to stop any further demographic incursions of Sharia and jihad into the West.
Sadly -- tragically -- such required reconfigurations won't happen in the Obama years. But it is vital, it is urgent, that we plan now for what comes after.