Been re-reading Peter Braestrup's indispensable Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington (more on that later), and something in the way Braestrup characterized the "pacification" program in South Vietnam caught my eye.
It first comes up on early in the book (p. 28 of my Anchor Books paperback edition) where Braestrup is analyzing what he came to understand as the limitations and fallibilties of the press corps in Vietnam, his own included. (Braestrup had left the New York Times to become Saigon bureau chief for the Washington Post before Tet.) Discussing the program of "pacification," he writes: "It was the U.S.-South Vietnamese response, often shrouded in the Great Society rhetoric of social uplift ("winning hearts and minds"), to the Vietcong effort to "control" the rural population" (emphasis added).
"Great Society rhetoric of social uplift": what a felicitous phrase. And it rang a bell. We may not talk about winning hearts and minds anymore (at least not much), but that is precisely our mission in Afghanistan. Braestrup's Great Society reference to the concept anchors our own current strategic predicament to this significant, and significantly misguided, historical mindset.
In a section headed "What Was `Pacification'?" Braestrup quotes the official in charge of the program, Robert W. Komer, as saying: "Some call it chiefly a matter of providing protection or continuous local security in the countryside. Others call it the process of `winning hearts and minds.' "
Pacification had been blessed by President Johnson as a kind of extension of the Administration's domestic `Great Society' program to Vietnam. It was to embrace refugess resettlement, education, IR-8 "miracle rice," land reform, good roads, health care, hamlet elections, even rural electrification....
How about total judicial and prison overhaul? Whoops, wrong war (see below).
Braestrup goes on to explain how the "translation of all these efforts into the spread of government `authority,' " -- which he notes was "one of the ultimate allied goals" -- depended on local militias, who in turn depended on "allied regular forces to evict the enemy's main force battalions."
But McNamara noted that in 1967 enemy guerillas persisted even then. Newsmen did not have to travel far to find Vietcong-controlled hamlets; some were in Long An province, a half-hour's drive of downtown Saigon.
While there are differences between Vietnam and Afghanistan, there are similarities, too: "Winning and hearts and minds" is eating "lots of goat and drinking lots of tea" by another name. But the real point here has to do with understanding that Great Society notions -- Great Society notions that we know didn't work in our own country and indeed created a domestic catastrophe -- necessarily underlie American-style "limited war," from the one US fought then in Vietnam and the one the US has been fighting in Iraq and fights now in Afghanistan.
If you want to think it over, read this July 20 story from the New York Times and see if what passes for US military strategy doesn't sound an awful lot like Great Society addle-pated liberalism. Add in total ignorance of Islam, and this is what you get:
"Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan"
A sweeping United States military review calls for overhauling the troubled American-run prison here as well as the entire Afghan jail and judicial systems, a reaction to worries that abuses and militant recruiting within the prisons are helping to strengthen the Taliban.
Remember, Taliban appeal has nothing whatsoever to do with Islamic appeal.
In a further sign of high-level concern over detention practices, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a confidential message last week to all of the military service chiefs and senior field commanders asking them to redouble their efforts to alert troops to the importance of treating detainees properly.
Tea, crumpets ... Korans?
The prison at this air base north of Kabul has become an ominous symbol for Afghans — a place where harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used routinely in its early years, and where two Afghan detainees died in 2002 after being beaten by American soldiers and hung by their arms from the ceiling of isolation cells.
Bagram also became a holding site for terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan and Iraq.
But even as treatment at Bagram improved in recent years, conditions worsened in the larger Afghan-run prison network, which houses more than 15,000 detainees at three dozen overcrowded and often violent sites. The country’s deeply flawed judicial system affords prisoners virtually no legal protections, human rights advocates say.
Especially "apostates" from Islam, who must be spirited out of Afghanistan to avoid death, either inside or outside prison. Not that that necessitates reform.
“Throughout Afghanistan, Afghans are arbitrarily detained by police, prosecutors, judges and detention center officials with alarming regularity,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report in January.
To help address these problems, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone of the Marines, credited with successfully revamping American detention practices in Iraq, was assigned to review all detention issues in Afghanistan.
General Stone’s report, which has not been made public but is circulating among senior American officials, recommends separating extremist militants from more moderate detainees instead of having them mixed together as they are now, according to two American officials who have read or been briefed on his report.
Under the new approach, the United States would help build and finance a new Afghan-run prison for the hard-core extremists who are now using the poorly run Afghan corrections system as a camp to train petty thieves and other common criminals to be deadly militants, the American officials said.
The remaining inmates would be taught vocational skills and offered other classes
and they would be taught about moderate Islam
Oh, goody -- could they teach me, too?
with the aim of reintegrating them into society, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the review’s findings
... were so stupid ... no, my mistake--
had not been publicly disclosed. The review also presses for training new Afghan prison guards, prosecutors and judges.
New "training," huh? Sounds more like a whole new legal system to me. And, as Rogers & Hammerstein might have put it: "What Are We Going to Do About Sharia?" It is, after all, enshrined as supreme law of the land in the US-fostered Afghan constitution.
Admiral Mullen felt compelled to issue his message last week after viewing photographs documenting abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by American military personnel in the early years of the wars there, a senior military official said.
Mr. Obama decided in May not to make the photographs public, warning that the images could ignite a deadly backlash against American troops.
The admiral urged top American field commanders to step up their efforts to ensure that prisoners were treated properly both at the point of capture and in military prisons.
He told the service chiefs to emphasize detainee treatment when preparing and training troops who deploy to the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
“It is essential to who we are as a fighting force that we get this right,” Admiral Mullen said in the message. “We are better than what I saw in those pictures.”
We sure are dumber.