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Entries in Rethink Afghanistan (4)


Afghanistan, US Media, and Elections: Marching Orders to Protect the War (Mull)

EA correspondent Josh Mull the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. He also writes for Rethink Afghanistan:

Congratulations US media, you've had a very successful couple of weeks. Your control over the public discourse on the recent Congressional elections is strong. The cretaceous values of Rand Paul, the victor in the Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, are balanced and justified by saying there aren't a lot of black folks in that state. A former Navy admiral and current US congressman, Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania, becomes "a Washington outsider".

Afghanistan: Obama Suspends the Rule of Law (Greenwald)

To complete the hat trick, you have established the narrative of the partisan insurgency. That means you get to portray both parties as going through some kind of ideological purge. Too progressive! Not conservative enough! What does that mean, and what does it have to do with actual issues and real policy? Who cares, right? Bor-ing!

And you have completely blocked the issue of the war in Afghanistan.

Now this is a big accomplishment, for sure. But you've made a lot of good people fighting for real change look like jerks for carrying water for your narrative, so you're going to want to protect it very carefully. Accordingly, here are a couple things you should avoid in your story.

Moving forward with the idea that the war-supporting candidates you choose to cover are somehow against the "status quo" is going to be very tricky, so make sure to follow these instructions explicitly. We can't blow the whole operation and have everybody actually engaging themselves in civics --- it might bring the collapse of Western Civilization. With that, here are your marching orders:

DON'T mention the cost of war is $1 trillion, trillions more in indirect costs, and is a major factor in our economic and debt crises.

You don't want people knowing about all the things that money could pay for. Things are much easier when you tell Republicans that a trillion dollars in debt is actually small government and fiscal conservatism. Democrats need to think President Obama is fixing the economy, not disemboweling it with a massive, off-budget spending spree for war. If you absolutely must discuss the cost of war, please only do it in the stupidest, inaccurate way possible, like complaining that troops get paid too much.

DON'T talk about any of these candidates who oppose the war.
Initial members of the Coalition Against War Spending (being added to at ) are:

Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives:
Nick Coons, AZ-05, Tempe/Scottsdale, Libertarian
Rebecca Schneider, AZ-06, Phoenix, Democrat
Carol Wolman, CA-01, northwest corner, Green
Clint Curtis, CA-04, northeast corner, Democrat
Ben Emery, CA-04, Nevada City, Green
Mark Williams, CA-12, San Carlos, Libertarian
Mary V. Larkin, CA-17, Monterey, Libertarian
Les Marsden, CA-19, Yosemite/Mariposa, Democrat
Randall Weissbuch, CA-26, Arcadia, Libertarian
Marcy Winograd, CA-36, Los Angeles, Democrat
William Hedrick, CA-44, Riverside/San Clemente, Democrat
Ken Arnold, CA-46, Orange and L.A., Democrat
Mike Paster, CA-49, Fallbrook, Libertarian
Tracy Emblem, CA-50, San Diego, Democrat
Michael Benoit, CA-52, San Diego, Libertarian
Gary Swing, CO-01, Denver, Green
G. Scott Deshefy, CT-02, New London, Green
Doug Tudor, FL-12, Riverview et al, Democrat
Marleine Bastien, FL-17, North Miami, Democrat
Regina Thomas, GA-12, Savannah, Democrat
Matt Reichel, IL-05, Chicago, Green
Bill Scheurer, IL-08, Lindenhurst, Green / Independent
Rodger Jennings, IL-12, Alton, Green
Doug Marks, IL-14, Carpentersville, Libertarian
Sheldon Schafer, IL-18, Peoria, Green
John Wayne Cunningham, IN-08, Terre Haute, Libertarian
James E. "Jim" Holbert, KY-05, London, Democrat
Peter White, MA-10, Cape Cod, Independent
Michael Cavlan, MN-05, Minneapolis, Independent Progressive
Kevin Craig, MO-07, Springfield, Libertarian
Thomas Hill, NC-08, Fayetteville, Libertarian
Lon Cecil, NC-12, High Point, Libertarian
Jonathan Tasini, NY-15, New York City, Democrat
Emin Eddie Egriu, NY-28, Buffalo, Democrat
Ebert G. Beeman, PA-03, Lake Erie, Libertarian
Vernon Etzel, PA-05, Oil City, Libertarian
Ed Bortz, PA-14, Pittsburgh, Green
David Segal, RI-01, Democrat
Eric Schechter, TN-05, Nashville, Democrat
Martin Nitschke, TX-23, El Paso to San Antonio, Libertarian
John Jay Myers, TX-32, Dallas, Libertarian
Claudia Wright, UT-02, Salt Lake City, Democrat
Ron Fisher, VA-08, Arlington, Independent Green/Progressive
Larry Kalb, WA-02, northwest corner, Democrat
Diana McGinness, WA-02, Bellingham, Democrat
Roy Olson, WA-09, Olympia, Green

Candidates for U.S. Senate:
Duane Roberts, CA, Green
John Finger, CO, Libertarian
Bob Kinsey, CO, Green
Cecile Lawrence, NY, Green
Mel Packer, PA, Green
Ben Masel, WI, Democrat (2012)

You need to think small. Three candidates last week were a full blown grassroots insurgency to you. These 53 (and counting) candidates would make your narrative look ridiculous. If three people who support the war are anti-establishment, what do you call 53 candidates who oppose the trillion-dollar price tag? If current Congressman Joe Sestak is "the fringe", where do you think any of these candidates will be in your story?

Just think about all the real grassroots movements, the constant, concerted effort it takes to field 53 candidates, across the political spectrum, all focusing their attention on the war. Those thoughts can be ruinous to your control over the debate, so banish them. You don't know what democracy looks like, so keep it that way. Only stick to safe, pro-war candidates (the three or so of them you have).

DON'T talk about the havoc we're wreaking on the military. Don't mention the death toll is at 1,000 (and is skyrocketing), that we're destroying their health, or that they have a terrible strategy and no alternative. Just keep patting them on the head, telling them, "you're doing a super job, buddy," and then sending them off to do a task you know they can't do but will thanklessly die trying to do.

Don't mention that non-military development works, or that even the slightest association with the military in Afghanistan is enough to destroy entire families. And no matter what, definitely don't talk about the suicides - the many, many, seemingly endless suicides. Support the troops, just don't pay any attention to them. It's a real bummer, and you've got a long campaign to cover. Keep happy thoughts ---  they're heroes!

---maybe in this case that isn't strong enough --- never let Afghan voices to be heard. Afghans can be exotic aliens, Muslim fanatics, backwards tribalists, and genetically pre-disposed, xenophobic foreigner-killing machines. But they cannot be allowed to express themselves or have their own voice. They require foreign interference. They can't be trusted to tell their own story.

The same thing goes for Pakistan. Only allow debate to focus on whether we should be more aggressive with Pakistan, more assassinations and kidnappings, maybe some invading troops. Just ignore any notions about democracy. They have nukes and they're Muslim, end of story.

These are massively important foreign policy issues, some of them blatantly illegal, so no way can you let the people most affected by them anywhere near your media. You'll need that airtime to fact-check Stephen Colbert or something (horse race!). And anyway, we need to be able to parachute in un-sophisticated  "Western" journalists to "embed" for like a day and a half and score sweet Twitpics of them posing in flak jackets in front of tanks, and soldiers behind a wall firing and/or reloading their machine gun for the nine zillionth time. That's what war has to look like, otherwise we'll see the icky parts and not want to spend all our blood and treasure on them. And that's bad.

DON'T let people know how much power they have. If they feel isolated and powerless, they'll eagerly swallow whatever pill you're selling. They're an insurgent because they voted for Rand Paul. Good for them. The best way for them to show they're angry at broken government is supporting a trillion-dollar, murderous occupation in Afghanistan. You don't want them to know there is an entire congressional caucus devoted to ending the war. Those are incumbents! Gross!

Don't mention that these slick Washington fat cats are working hard on bills to end the war and return the money to the American people. Don't talk about the Feingold bill in the Senate, the McGovern bill calling for an exit timetable, the impending $33 billion supplemental vote that many members of Congress are prepared to oppose.

Don't mention that pressure works. You can't let people know they have the power to reach out and grab a hold of their elected officials. Grab them and force them to accomplish real change. If they knew they could just pick up a phone and dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to their representative, your entire enterprise of access and privilege would crumble overnight. Maintain that this is impossible.

Finally, you'll want to stay completely away from Rethink Afghanistan's Facebook page. If you were shocked and dumbfounded by health care town halls and the Tea Party movement, the tens of thousands of people working to end the war there on Facebook would just blow your mind. Acknowledging the vibrancy and diversity of the peace movement more broadly would destroy even your strongest efforts at "fair and balancing" the left/right paradigm. There are libertarians and conservatives, progressives and liberals, independents, moderates, and hardliners. All of them working together and working hard across party and ideological lines. Not even the most craven plutocrat lobbyist skulking in the bars and brothels of DC could water down that movement to some kind of partisan fringe.

And there are your instructions. Follow these exactly, and with any luck, you the media will remain stupid and this war will go on, destroying our country and theirs, for years and years to come.

Afghanistan and Beyond: The Wicked Ideology of Counter-Insurgency (Mull)

EA correspondent Josh Mull is the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. He also writes for Rethink Afghanistan:

There's a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You're used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, lesbians-gays-bisexuals-transgenders destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals.

It's not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It's that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn't that immigrants have diseases, so let's try to help them. It's that they have diseases, so they're filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated.

Afghanistan & Pakistan Analysis: Obama on a Road to Ruin? (Englehardt)

The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they're lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It's not just the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos that doubles you over, it's the psychotic undercurrent of suicide bombings that  keeps you awake.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd's "COIN is like Soviet Communism?",  where he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy but an ideology. He's right, but it's not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is "protecting the population."

It's that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it's still war, still violently brutalizing a population --- us and them --- for isolated and selfish political ends.

Much like the hate speech in our political discourse, you only need to scratch the surface of this ideology to see the fascist and criminal tendencies underneath. Here's Ann Marlowe writing in World Affairs:
More and more, I suspect that it’s the brutality that works, not the COIN. It’s moving hundreds of thousands of people across a country, or shooting all the men in a village as a reprisal for terrorism, or taking hostages, or doing extra-judicial kidnappings. Of course, the brutality would work without the COIN, too. Brutality works. But that’s not who we are.

Yes, you really just read that. The problem with our strategy is that it doesn't have enough ethnic cleansing. That's what it means when you shoot all the men in a village --- you wipe them out. I'll let you take a wild guess what happens to the women.

We should just skip all that drivel about development and go for more extra-judicial kidnappings. Because "brutality works". Massive displacements, that' s been awesome for the Israelis, right? Both the countries of Israel and Palestine are peaceful and happy, all thanks to the Nakba.

But the reason we're not using this successful strategy of brutality in Afghanistan is your fault. It's because you're a pillow-biting westerner. Marlowe continues:
COIN makes sense intellectually, especially in the pellucid prose of David Galula, who wrote better in English than Roger Trinquier in French. Part of the reason it makes sense is that COIN is congruent with our culture’s bias toward a perspectival view of reality. As General McChrystal keeps saying, counterinsurgency is a matter of perception.

Right, that little voice inside you that says wiping out entire populations of human beings isn't a good thing, that's just your "cultural bias." You just want to believe in a "perspectival view of reality". Silly wimp, too many blue jeans and diet sodas for you! Big, tough Ann Marlowe knows the truth. War crimes are great:
In Algeria, the French were able to forcibly resettle villagers, build miles-long walls to close Algeria’s borders, and, of course, torture terrorists, or simply toss them out of planes if they wouldn’t talk. And that war didn’t end well. In Malaya, the British achieved success, but also with forcible resettlement of inconveniently located villagers and many other heavy-handed measures that would be completely beyond the pale today. Also, in both of these countries, the counterinsurgents essentially were the government, with long involvement on the ground.

Speaking of which, the Sri Lankan government seems to have succeeded against the Tamil Tigers, but if we could use their measures we would win in Afghanistan too. When the US government fought insurgents in the South after the Civil War, it declared martial law and shot enemy suspects on sight.

Aren't we all pining for the good old days of Blood and Iron, when we had martial law imposed on the South? Probably no innocents --- only the guilty --- were shot on sight, and even if they were, who gives a damn, we won! That sure was a shining moment of military strategy and of American values.

Now if only we could just replicate the tactics of the Sri Lankan government, "we would win in Afghanistan".  (Yep, she said "win," like maybe she thinks there's some kind of prize at the end.) And what did the government of Sri Lanka do to win? Well they just shelled all the Tamil villages. They displaced them into giant, hellscape refugee camps, and then obliterated them with artillery, air strikes, executions, and massacres.

Remember the Superdome during Katrina? Yeah, like that, only add carpet bombing. Murder everyone in their own filth, that's how to win in Afghanistan. Feel good?

Excuse my language, but this is some heavy, disturbing shit. This is sickness, rationalizing crimes against humanity. It's past stealing bread to feed to your family and to the point of justifying genocide. Completely absent are any Enlightenment achievements like rule of law and the value of human life.

But this is exactly what we should expect when we have the obvious, blaring warning signs of COIN. It starts with a little bit of violence, a little bit of war, but it starts expanding (devolving?). We need 30,000 more troops. We need to expand our extra-judicial killings and kidnappings, more drone strikes and more night raids. Is it any surprise that Ann Marlowe says skip the development and "the talking part", and jumps straight to reptilian sins like displacement and ethnic cleansing?

This is not some loose, rhetorical "slippery slope" argument, this is actually happening. Ann Marlowe published this on Thursday.  Thursday, 20 May 2010, almost a decade after the United States of America invaded and occupied Afghanistan, Ann Marlowe said our soldiers should commit war crimes against humanity to win. And she's not just dredging up ancient history from the Civil War, Sri Lanka was ethnically cleansed last year. The annihilation of the Tamil people happened right before our eyes, and we're so poisoned with war that our only reaction was "we need more of that!"

This is why we need to completely remove the military from Afghanistan, bring every last troop home. And more importantly, this is why need to avoid getting sucked into stupid media games. This is why we need to take such a hard line against our politicians. These ideas and debates have real consequences.

Democrats want to look tough on national security, and now 1,000 Americans are dead. We want a fine-tuned, population-friendly counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and now thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis are dead. We so believe in this concept of "victory" in Afghanistan that we have honest, thoughtful discussions on whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic.

Bring the troops home. We have better solutions to the problem, and we have other issues to deal with. Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

Afghanistan Analysis: Diplomatically Clinging to Guns and Counterinsurgency (Mull)

EA correspondent Josh Mull is the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can also read his work at Rethink Afghanistan:

There's been a lot of public debate lately about our counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan. Derrick Crowe looked through the government's own reports and discovered the approach is a giant failure. Steve Hynd wonders if it isn't stratagem at all, but an ideology. I asked if we even had any idea what's going on with the strategy. Gareth Porter finds that Pentagon leaders don't like it, and Nancy Youssef piles on that the military is turning against COIN. And in Youssef's piece, one of the Grand Dragons of the COIN blogosphere, Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama to the cool kids), appeared to distance himself from the strategy. "I can't imagine anyone would opt for this option," he said.

Exum later clarified his statement, sort of, but he had a good point:
If you continue to have a problem with the fact that we are now pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, by the way, you should spend less time whining about the generals and think tank researchers and take the issue up with the president. As the secretary of state [Hillary Clinton] said today at USIP [US Institute for Peace], while holding forth on the strategy reviews that took place in the spring and fall, "the president reached a conclusion [after the reviews of 2009] that should be respected by Americans."

It's a bit of stretch for Exum to throw all the blame on the politicians, seeing as how he and a host of other COINdinistas built their Washington Beltway careers on an aggressive preaching of counterinsurgency religion to those same politicians. But our leaders are primarily responsible for the policy failure.

For instance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai visits Washington with a peace plan, and we just take it as normal that he has to "persuade a sceptical Barack Obama that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban." Skeptical about negotiating? Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize, and he's skeptical?

Exum's quote from Secretary Clinton is equally outrageous. We've so completely lost sight of our peaceful capabilities, so misunderstood the point of our civilian foreign policy agencies, that even our diplomats demand our military occupations be "respected". Our problem is not picking the right military strategy, but picking any military strategy at all.

Why is the Secretary of State out there championing the President's military strategy? Exum pointed out the President's stated objectives in Afghanistan and said he couldn't advocate "in good faith" any other strategy but counterinsurgency to meet those objectives. Fine, no mystery why he thinks that. I'll even accept that Obama is dense enough to reach only that conclusion. But our top civilian diplomat, she's fine with that? She saw those same reports, and she came to the conclusion that we needed more COIN? What is it exactly that we mean by diplomacy, and what is it we think our diplomats are supposed to be doing? Here's Exum again, this time in the Washington Post (h/t Derrick):
Exum, who sensibly proposed that Obama "settle upon one point person for dealing with the Afghan president," asked: "Is either the ambassador in Kabul or the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan an effective interlocutor with Afghan policymakers? Is the U.S. Embassy in Kabul fully supporting the counterinsurgency campaign?"

Is that what our diplomats are for? Supporting the military? Maybe that's why we don't have an "effective interlocutor" with either Afghanistan or Pakistan, because our diplomats are just tool bags for our violent and bloody counterinsurgency. What good is it for the Afghan government to complain about civilian casualties when the people they're complaining to work for the folks causing the civilian casualties to begin with? "Um, can you ask your boss to stop shooting us?" No wonder they feel like they don't have an effective partner over here. Here's more from that WaPo piece:
A pivotal player here is Karl Eikenberry, the retired general Obama appointed as ambassador. Eikenberry's relations with Karzai are bad; his relations with McChrystal may be even worse. Since January a steady stream of stories has documented their clashes over tactics, including Eikenberry's opposition to the formation of local militias and quick development projects in Kandahar. Now they are at odds over how to respond to an Afghan request for an upgraded strategic partnership, including a U.S. security guarantee. Here's another contrast with Iraq: There was no daylight between military commander David Petraeus and then-ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Yeah what contrast, because unlike Afghanistan, Iraq is awesome now.

Why is it bad that our diplomat is "clashing" with the military? Good for him that he's not just rubber stamping whatever the generals put in front of him. Those "quick development projects" are the perfect example of what Eikenberry is supposed to do.

The author portrays it as a disagreement over "tactics," like one wants to zig while the other one wants to zag, but remember, we talked about this before. Eikenberry's plan actually helped Afghans, a lot, by letting them develop energy solutions themselves, while the military's "quick development project" was just a gigantic fuel burden on the locals and a massive welfare commitment from the already retarded central government.

A lesson: our diplomats actually know what they're doing when it comes to development. The military on the other hand, is terrible at it. And more than being terrible at it, the military also harms other development work by experts:
NGOs however insist that the international military by definition cannot be seen as a neutral actor. Many NGOs have also refused to go into areas that have recently been 'cleared' through operations by international military forces. In a public campaign over the past year, Oxfam, Care, Save the Children UK and other international NGOs with long experience in Afghanistan have said the militarisation of aid is putting ordinary people on the frontlines of the conflict.

"Humanitarian aid has to be independent, neutral and impartial" says Hassan El Sayed of Solidarites. "Can you imagine how we would be perceived if we arrive after US tanks?" Most of the principled NGOs would not be able to go into these areas, he says.

But I thought our military was working on security, making it safer to operate?
Laurent Saillard, the Director of Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella body for Afghan NGOs [says,] "What gives the NGOs their capacity to work is the quality of their relationship with the community. What guarantees the security is not the military or their operations. This is a myth. It is complete propaganda. NGOs don't buy it and have never asked ISAF or the US army for their security."

So our military sucks at development aid, they're screwing up development aid that actually works, and the answer to that is? 30,000 more troops, expanding the drone strikes, and night raids, night raids, night raids! Huh? Is the President that ignorant? And more than him, is the military that blind? They suffer enormously for our policy failures, it's not like they pay any less of a price for this mess. Well, just look at what they're saying:
The only feature of McChrystal's strategy which the Pentagon report treats as having proven effective against the insurgents is its most controversial element: the programme of Special Operations Forces (SOF) night raids against suspected Taliban in their homes, which has stirred anger among Afghans everywhere the SOF have operated.

In an indirect expression of doubt about the impact of the McChrystal strategy, the report suggests that the willingness of Taliban insurgent leaders to negotiate will be influenced not by the offensives aimed at separating the population from the Taliban but by the "combined effects" of the high-level arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan and targeted raids by special operations forces against "lower level commanders".

They think the night raids are effective, and very helpful in our negotiations with the Taliban. But how? What exactly do we get from these arrests of Taliban leaders? What does it have to do with negotiations?
[Officials] said [Mullah Baradar] had provided American interrogators with a much more nuanced understanding of the strategy that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is visiting Washington next week.

Mullah Baradar is describing in detail how members of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership council, or shura, based in Pakistan, interact, and how senior members fit into the organization’s broader leadership, officials said.

Oh. It's not the arrests that are so effective. It's talking to the Taliban.

We could skip the brutal special forces raids entirely, given thatAfghans are protesting and getting gunned down in the streets over all the sweet actionable intelligence we're getting. They're angry because we're killing them. There's nothing about a "night raid" that makes it effective, it's just the basic act of talking to the other side that's so successful at creating peace. And yet when the military looks at their own strategy, their only conclusion is that "separating the population from the Taliban," development work, is useless, but the guys bursting into homes guns blazing at 3 in the morning, well they're a big help! It's just baffling.

And our elected representatives, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, not to mention newcomers just running for office, they're getting the same information. They know the casualties they're causing, they know the trillions they're pissing away, yet they cling to these absurd ideas about counterinsurgency. Why? Is it because of people like Exum? Is it because COIN is a religion?

What is so attractive about occupation? It's not going to work. We'll never be able to accomplish any of our goals in Afghanistan so long as the war continues. We have the non-military capability to accomplish both the development and counter-terrorism work, not to mention the countless international agencies providing assistance. But first we have to bring our troops home.

Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

Afghanistan Analysis: Does General McChrystal Have Any Idea of What is Happening? (Mull)

Josh Mull is the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation, and he also writes for Rethink Afghanistan:

Last August, General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry produced a report, "US Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan".  In it they laid out a complete counter-insurgency strategy, including development aid and international assistance, for their mission in Afghanistan. They also provided various criteria to measure success, as well as a requirement for Interagency Quarterly Assessments which would "identify progression / regression, opportunities / obstacles, and course corrections (adjustments to policy, activities, planning or resourcing)".

Afghanistan Report: Losing Hearts and Minds (Mercille)

I certainly haven't seen any of these progress reports from McChrystal, not to mention anything resembling a "course correction". But we do have a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office, and they say we're screwing up horribly.

It seems that McChrystal and Eikenberry were correct in their report. If they don't have these progress assessments, they won't have any idea what's going on in Afghanistan. They won't know if their COIN strategy is successful, which also means that whenever some out-of-touch politician touts these successes, he's simply engaging in the age old art of "making shit up." McChrystal's plan for measuring progress is absolutely required if we care at all about the truth in Afghanistan. However, the variable in this plan is not necessarily the ability to produce these assessments, but access to the sort of reliable, accurate information sources which provide the backbone of these assessments.

So what do we mean by "measuring progress" in Afghanistan? Here's what the plan says:
The USG will assess progress on the Integrated Civ-Mil Campaign Plan quarterly. This assessment will be done in close coordination between US Embassy, ISAF, and USFOR-A. The purpose of the assessment process is two-fold: 1) to provide decision-makers in Afghanistan with necessary information to prioritize and direct allocation of resources and efforts, and 2) inform Washington decision-making through integrated reporting. Rigorous integrated assessment will require additional civilian and military resources committed full-time.

Assessment Principles: Quality integrated assessments require the following principles to be followed:

  • Share information, assessment, and analysis in an open and collaborative way within the USG and with key GIRoA and international partners.

  • Validate assessments through the use of a full range of USG, Afghan, international community, and independent data sources – to include qualitative assessment, quantitative data, polling, intelligence analysis, and independent analysis.

  • Focus assessment of progress or regression of key instability dynamics.

  • Test assumptions through integrated analysis to better inform planning and operations.

  • Be accurate and credible.

Let's start with the third bullet point, focusing on "key instability dynamics". That's a bureaucratic way of saying "why they hate us." We have to focus on the issues that make Afghanistan so dangerous and violent, not just whatever flashy propaganda exercise the mainstream media chooses. What really makes Afghans join the Taliban movement? What makes them turn against the government? Joshua Foust gives us an excellent example of a "key instability dynamic" to focus on:
[The central government] owns all the natural resources in the country. Its natural resources, especially timber, are severely stressed. At the same time, exploiting those natural resources is often the only way for communities to make money. Even so, the Afghan government has no real means of leasing access, harvesting quotas, or even cadastres of land to local communities for exploitation. It seems to have no problem giving enormous contracts to operate copper mines, but it can’t figure out how to create an institution by which communities can lease access to the land they live on and cultivate.

Thus, harvesting timber for income becomes illegal. You have timber smugglers, and with them timber “lords,” who are wealthy men who profit handsomely from the large scale denuding of Afghanistan’s countryside.[...]

Now if we had "accurate and credible" assessments that led to course corrections, Foust would be talking about the timber problem in terms of how best to solve it, instead of in the context of US troops wildly exacerbating it. A quality measurement of progress wouldn't tell us to send in 30,000 more troops, or vastly expand our drone program, it would tell us to do something about the crippling resource and governance issues, which requires zero troops. But how are McChrystal and Eikenberry supposed to know about real problems like the timber industry, or lack of it? Well, they have their second bullet point about using the "full range of [US Gov't], Afghan, international community, and independent data sources". Just what is an independent data source? It's not CNN. It's citizen journalists, like Sana Saleem next door in Pakistan.

Saleem already understands the idea of focusing on key instability dynamics. She describes the failure of the mainstream media to focus on anything other than trivial or "sensationalized" coverage of the War on Terror. She instead works in areas like reporting on personal safety procedures during military assaults, child abuse, and yes, even coverage of the drone strikes. And speaking of drone strikes, remember what the Los Angeles Times said about reporting on the strikes (emphasis mine):
U.S. officials say the strikes have caused fewer than 30 civilian casualties since the drone program was expanded in Pakistan, a claim that is impossible to verify since the remote and lawless tribal belt is usually off-limits to Western reporters. Some estimates of civilian casualties by outside analysts are in the hundreds.

We'll put aside the obvious racism of it being "impossible" to obtain the truth without Westerners: for all we know, this could be the fault of an artless copy editor. The real problem with this statement is that it's flatly untrue. Westerners do have access to accurate numbers from the region, because we have computers and telephones and other exciting space-age technology. I don't have to bring my magical, better-at-counting Western eyeballs all the way to Waziristan to know what's going on, I can read Sana Saleem and Nasim Fekrat on my cellphone. And that's not me being absurd, that's exactly how it works. I should know:
The top tweeters on Afghanistan are more heterogeneous in their affiliations than the the top retweeted users. A number of high profile news organizations, individual journalists, and official and semi-official military channels comprise the list of top retweeted users. Notable accounts are those of the Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) and the Alive in Afghanistan project (@aliveinafghan), as well as the latter’s founder Brian Conley (@BaghdadBrian) of Small World News (@smallworldnews). These accounts are the strongest “local” voices offering Afghan perspectives on events. In the same way that individuals with close affiliations in Iran were both prolific and influential sources of information, these represent similar sources for Afghanistan.

Yep, that's me and my colleagues at Small World News as the "strongest 'local' voices" during the election last year. Clearly we're not from Afghanistan. All we did is talk to the Afghan sources themselves, let them tell the story instead of waiting for Western reporters to parachute in, pillage for headlines, and inevitably abandon the place. And we've talked about Pajhwok before. They're nothing but Afghan bylines, and there's no source more credible and qualitative than Pajhwok that I'm aware of.

The usefulness of all these sources to our strategy is that if you actually factor them into a quality assessment, if you include voices like Saleem's, absolutely none of it would lead you to believe "Hey, we could fix this with 30,000 guys with guns" or "You know what would solve this problem? Massive civilian casualties in Pakistan." Actually knowing the truth about Afghanistan, having "honest and credible" quality assessments of our goals there as McChrystal asks for, would help us end the war faster, if not immediately.

And the best part is, it's way crazy cheaper than our ridiculous strategy of military occupation. It didn't cost me $33 billion to embed that Pakistani podcast about Sana Saleem, and a subscription to Pajhwok certainly won't set you back near what California has paid for the war. And that's all McChrystal is asking for with his progress reports, he knows it's required for ending the war. And not just in this fancy public report, he's even saying it in private. This is from his leaked memo:
V. Assessments: Measuring Progress

ISAF must develop effective assessment architectures, in concert with civilian partners and home nations, to measure the effects of the strategy, assess progress toward key objectives, and make necessary adjustments. ISAF must identify and refine appropriate indicators to assess progress, clarifying the difference between operational measures of effectiveness critical to practitioners on the ground and strategic measures more appropriate to national capitals. Because the mission depends on GIRoA, ISAF must also develop clear metrics to assess progress in governance.

He's got to know what's going on in Afghanistan, or we'll continue our bloody, expensive, and entirely ineffective strategy of military occupation. Or you know what, maybe you think McChrystal is terrible at his job, or you just hate him, or whatever. That's fine, it's not really about him or his awful-to-begin-with COIN strategy. The most important part to take away for this is in his first bullet point, emphasis mine:

  • Share information, assessment, and analysis in an open and collaborative way within the USG and with key GIRoA and international partners.

The US Government? That's you! You've got to know the truth about what's happening in Afghanistan, because our strategy in Afghanistan, our objectives, or whether or not we have any national interest in Afghanistan period, is all entirely your business, your decision. And you can force the "USG" to take an honest look at Afghanistan, to see that they shouldn't be spending $33 billion on insane wars, to see all the reasons why we shouldn't be continuing this criminal occupation. Pressure works. Contact your representatives and help them get an "honest and credible" view of our strategy in Afghanistan.