If you haven’t, you should pick up the latest edition of Rolling Stone, because once again they’ve beat the ‘real journalists’ to a story in Afghanistan. Last time it was about the contempt of a general and his hangers-on for their civilian leaders. This time, it’s in some respects more sinister. Multiple figures in the military stand accused of using a psy-ops team to wage what amounted to psychological warfare, on visiting politicians to manoeuvre them into sending more money and soldiers (this is illegal, given bans on using psy-ops techniques on American citizens). Not only does this move suggest that a wing of the military establishment risks becoming an appendage of the Republican Party, but that it is more committed to making policy than to carrying out orders.
We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the conduct of our wars is characterised by insubordination, incompetence and mendacity, given some of the things we’ve learned recently: about McChrystal’s feelings about his civilian commanders (that they were weak); about a major source of Iraqi intelligence, Curveball (that he lied but that no one thought to look into it); about efforts to recruit Taliban leaders (that we got taken for a ride); and about our secret war in Pakistan (that no one’s willing to talk about it).
And I can already hear the Pentagon’s response to this latest revelation. It will be noted that the officers concerned have been reprimanded. Maybe there will even be a discharge. But we will be assured that they were just a few bad apples, and that like Abu Ghraib, McChrystal’s indiscretions, the Pat Tillman and other cover-ups, the hiring of ex-Blackwater contractors as CIA agents, etc, this behaviour was aberrant.
No matter that the fierce assault mounted by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell (the officer who ordered the illegal operation) on soldiers who questioned the morality and legality of his orders seems all-too typical of the military’s response to critical thinking. Or that in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan too many politician have been prepared to sell their allegiance blindly to the military, embracing whatever strategy the generals propose (Diane Feinstein, for one) in return for the political capital that comes from wrapping themselves in the same flag that drapes the coffins of the soldiers who pay the price for their off-season and off-colour electioneering.
Even California’s more progressive Senator, Barbara Boxer, though willing to use her opposition to the war in Iraq as a selling-point during election season, has been very unwilling to answer requests from this constituent and others for information about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I’ve written to both Boxer and Feinstein (and the departments of State and Defense) on a number of occasions with detailed and specific questions about (among other things) the extent of their knowledge about operations in Pakistan, the levels of accountability they demand regarding such operations from the President and the military, the relationship between U.S. military efforts and national security threats, and their stance on protecting military whistleblowers. And every response is a boilerplate e-mail, expressing the Senator’s solicitous concern for my views, and outlining some absurdly vague statement of principles. The open contempt for constituents and the lack of respect for the duties they owe voters is truly breathtaking.
California should be particularly disappointed in the efforts of our representatives to hold the President and the military to account in where the waging of pointless, bloody and costly wars are concerned. Feinstein (whose husband is helping to sell the University of California down the river) happily turned herself into a cheerleader for the surge in Afghanistan that has seen us supporting warlords (the next generation of U.S.-backed dictators, one wonders), increasing civilian deaths, employing ever-increasing numbers of private security companies with abysmal records, mounting destructive night raids, hiring drug lords, and botching air strikes on Pakistan. She helped General McChrystal and congressional Republicans back Obama into a corner, and pressured him relentlessly to escalate operations in South Asia.
And Boxer, while touting her desire to get the troops home as quickly as possible, has demurred from using her pulpit or her popularity amongst Democrats to raise the profile of one of the longest, sorriest, and most pointless wars that the U.S. has ever waged.
Every twist and turn in Afghanistan suggests that the rot went beyond the Bush administration, that the culture of the military, the condition of our politics, and the flaws in our democracy have created the conditions that allow a President who was elected as a progressive to wind up waging wars in three countries, bullied by a military that wages its own psychological war on both Congress and the population at large, while all parties do their best to keep the public in the dark. It is a sorry state of affairs, and though it shows no sign of changing, we should all do what we can to make it clear that it is a state of affairs which is unacceptable.