Echoes of colonialism in war strategy

Statue of General Charles Gordon, the British "martyr" of the Sudanese River Wars. Photo: Brian Herrington Spier.

I hate to beat the same old imperialism horse over and over, but come on, now. Revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book — about Obama’s military strategists’ push for a bigger war commitment in Afghanistan — are hard not to read without thinking about the West’s long colonial history in Asia and Africa. (See WaPo article.) Some of the comments could be taken out of Winston Churchill’s memoirs of his swashbuckling pre-politics days in Africa. Witness, attributed to Petraeus:

You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.

In other words, long-term occupation of foreign lands is necessary for their — and our — advancement? Sounds a little too familiar.

Afghanistan: Ain’t no time to wonder why

On a sweltering day at Woodstock in 1969, the band Country Joe and the Fish did something that every Eighties Baby born to hippies knows well.

First, they led the crowd in a rousing chant of the word “fuck”, just for the heck of it. Nowadays, when soft-porn club bangers saturate the radio, the fact that shouting “fuck” was a show-stopper seems downright quaint.

But Country Joe’s second moment of lasting fame—a rousing, angry anthem condemning the Vietnam War—should continue to give us pause today.

“Ain’t no time to wonder why,” he sang. “Whoopee, we’re all gonna die!” Continue reading

Afghanistan: why ask why?

The dedication of 17,000 more troops — with no real explanation about what they are to accomplish, or what the long-term plan for Afghanistan is — is possibly my first real beef with Obama’s policy.

The news comes at the same time that we are learning NATO has killed an astounding number of civilians in Afghanistan in the last year (not to mention Pakistan). In fact, NATO forces have killed nearly as many civilians as the “Taliban insurgents”. If our mission in Afghanistan was not already shaky enough, these facts certainly blur the morality of our presence there even more.

What I want is for people to ask why. Why are we sending thousands of young people abroad with guns to a rural country with a widespread insurgency that we still seem to barely understand? What can we accomplish with bombs in a country that has already been bombed into submission a million times? How can we fight militants who are clothed, fed and sheltered by civilian populations, militants who apparently enjoy some kind of broad support base that allows them to keep coming back? How long will we be there?

What’s our plan for Afghanistan?

It’s time to start hearing some questions like these in our press. We didn’t ask them sufficiently before Vietnam, or Iraq. And look what happened.