The Next Lost War

Ben Cohen
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Rethink Afghanistan: Cost of War by Brave New Films.

by David Glenn Cox

Never has Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn analogy been more apt than in
the next lost war, Pakistan. In our quest to strike down radical Islam,
we have done so like an angry housewife chasing a mouse with a broom,
and in the process done more damage with the broom than the mouse ever

I recently listened to Ray McGovern speak about Iraq, Iran,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the third rail of American foreign policy,
Israel. McGovern, a life long security analyst for the CIA, explained
with true emotion about the effects of the fabrication of intelligence
for the war in Iraq and what that did to the intelligence community as
a whole. 

Just as the legal community and civil libertarians decried the
fabricated legal theories of John Yoo, so too did the intelligence
community. Events such as the yellowcake incident, that were created
out of whole cloth, had the same effect as a second set of books would
have on an accountant. To a community trained in factual analysis, now
they had to wonder what is true. If I can’t trust your work, can you
trust mine? Are these figures real or false? Accurate or generated?

McGovern then used the example of the Pentagon Papers in comparison
to Afghanistan. In 1968 General Westmoreland asked Lyndon Johnson for
an additional 208,000 US troops. What the Pentagon Papers showed was
that Westmoreland was fudging on the numbers of North Vietnamese troop
strength by 100%. General McKrystal is asking for an additional 40,000
troops for Afghanistan, but where is the independent analysis? We have
only the military’s analysis, the rosy analysis, the cake walk
analysis, the flowers and candy analysis. 

We stormed into Afghanistan with too much faith in high tech
weaponry and too little understanding of our enemies, a tribal society
with cross-flowing allegiances, religious, tribal and political. The
money and arms that had flowed into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in
the 1980s came through Pakistan. Those networks were still alive and
the Pakistani intelligence service is as much responsible for the
Taliban in Afghanistan as is Islam.

Since the Taliban are a product of the Pakistani ISI, it is only
logical to assume that once the bombs started fall in Afghanistan they
would return to the place of their birth, Pakistan. The Taliban was
created to rule Afghanistan, to protect and secure the border region of
Pakistan. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was bad news for Pakistan
and likewise is the American invasion of Afghanistan. 

Pakistan is a country of crossroads. The product of a former British
colony, it has strong judicial roots and an educated middle class in
the cities. Outside of the cities it is more Islamic and the people are
poorer and loosely educated. There are three power bases in Pakistan:
the civilian government, the military, and the ISI, the Pakistani
intelligence service.

The civil government and the military are the public face of the
government, but the ISI is the power behind the throne. When General
Musharraf took over the government in a bloodless coup, he did so with
the acceptance of the military and the ISI. Civilian government be
damned; after all, how many troops did they have? When Benazir Bhutto
was murdered in her run for the Presidency, no one knew for sure if the
blame lay with the military or the ISI. But when Musharraf lost the
support of the military and the ISI, it was time for him to go. 

These groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan hold allegiances to
different parts of the Pakistani government and to different parts of
Pakistani politics. Some are the same groups set up by ISI to funnel
arms into Afghanistan; some are useful and in sway of the Pakistani
military. The tribes in the Punjab have been the eyes and ears in the
long running semi-cold war with India. These groups are funded and
supported by the three branches of the Pakistani government. They are
as their children. Can you imagine asking the US Army rangers to attack
a CIA listening post in Alaska? Or the Air Force to launch a drone
attack on a CIA training base?

We are storming in without understanding what it is that we are
breaking. We are eating a tiger, tail first. We haven’t gotten to the
part with meat and claws and teeth yet, and when we do it will be too
late. "You break it, you own it." The recent attacks this week on the
Pakistani military headquarters makes clear what it is that we are
hitting with the broom as we swing for the mouse. 

Tribal groups once separated by politics and religion have united to
send a message to the capital. This was a shot across the bow by the
ISI; these groups in South Wazeristan and the Punjab are not so naive
to believe that the destruction of one won’t mean the crippling of the

We are picking at a splinter in a finger. The more we pick and
squeeze and push, the deeper the splinter becomes imbedded. The sorer
and more inflamed and infected the region becomes until it begins to
affect the whole hand. 

40,000 more troops? Where is the independent analysis? What will we
buy with those lives and that much treasure? A way home or just a way
further in? The militants and people we seek to destroy will evaporate
into the ether and move on to their next base of support and leave the
wreckage behind. Like Vietnam there is no military answer. The more we
bomb the more we turn the population against us and destabilize the
very governments which we are trying to defend.

Name your poison, extremists in the Pakistani hinterlands or a
destabilized Pakistan. There are extremists' views in every country and
we depend on local governments to keep them in check. In many cases we
don’t understand the dynamics of the problem, the history of the
problem or the relationship between the people anymore than you could
expect Arab troops to understand the religious schism in Northern

If you ask a weatherman about the problem he’ll tell you about the
rain. If you ask a carpenter about the problem he’ll tell you how much
lumber he needs. If you ask a general about the problem he’ll tell you
how many troops he needs, but it doesn’t mean that he is right anymore
than the weatherman or the carpenter. We must understand the problem
first before we ask those who only know their specialty. You will never
kill the mouse with a broom; you must depend on the cat for that.
Pakistan is the cat and we must stop hitting it with the broom!

(photo from Brave New Films)