23 December 2014

GWOT: A Prologue to a Farce, a Tragedy, or Both?

The American global war on terror (GWOT) has devolved into a bi-partisan foreign policy shambles. The U.S. government careens from one crisis (usually of its own making) to another, without any introspection into the reasons why its policy is creating enemies faster than it is killing them.  
At the same time, on the home front, the political leaders of both parties have exploited the politics of fear to (a) debase civil liberties (b) condone the use to torture and arbitrary incarceration in a network of secret prisons, and (c) incite a compliant mass media to propagandize and traumatize the people, and thereby suppress demand for a coherent political debate at home.  
The result is an insecure, tuned-out, and dumbed-down public, together with its corollary, the absence of a corrective feedback loop to place a dysfunctional political decision cycle on a salutary pathway into the future.  A fearful, tuned out, and dumbed-down public is exactly what James Madison feared in his famous letter to W.T. Barry dated 4 August 1822, when he said: 
"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
A few grisly beheadings by ISIS this summer succeeded in triggering yet another crisis distracting attention and provoking another flailing war in yet another direction.  Almost unnoticed are events in Afghanistan that are returning that war-torn country to the disastrous conditions that led to civil war and the rise of the Taliban in the early 1990s.  
Two recent reports shine a light on the developing situation in Afghanistan:
  1. Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition– II: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence. Written Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, this is a mind-numbing compilation of data describing accumulating violence in Afghanistan. Think of it as a military SITREP.
  2. Afghanistan’s Still-Broken Government: The Kerry-brokered Afghan power-sharing agreement hasn't resolved any problems, or appointed any ministers. Written by Kelley Vlahos, an independent investigative journalist, in a 23 December 2014 posting for the American Conservative Magazine.  Think of this report as a companion political SITREP.
Both are well worth careful reading — because forgotten Afghanistan is where the two fundamental grand-strategic⁠1  mistakes of the GWOT — (1) treating a horrendous crime by a group of suicidal fanatics as an act of war and (2) the forging of a “you are with us or with the terrorists” policy to shape a military strategy2 to guide operations and tactics — were the definitive missteps in America's March to Folly.
In a saner world, the kind of information produced by Cordesman and Vlahos and others would be used to arm the public with 'the power that knowledge gives' to insist on a national referendum aimed at determining the efficacy America’s policies at home and abroad.  
But that kind of corrective is not to happen in a country where a criminal and probably insider hack attack by a disgruntled employee on Sony Pictures, perhaps aimed a stopping the production of another silly and dumbed-down movie, quickly becomes confused with an act of war by a country warmongers and the media love to hate.

The criteria for a sensible grand strategy can be found at this link.
There is considerable circumstantial evidence (e.g., read link 1link 2, and link 3) to support an argument that the Taliban considered Osama bin Laden a liability even before 9-11. Treating the 9-11 attacks as a criminal conspiracy might well have created an alternative legal pathway to bring Osama to justice, without triggering the unfocused GWOT, which has metastasized into attacks on Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and most recently ISIS in Iraq in and Syria, as well as Afghanistan.  We will never know if the legal alternative was a real possibility, because the opportunity was never explored.