Thursday, April 8

Jon Stewart Is Hurting America

MONDAY night's guest was Reza Aslan, discussing Afghanistan, and the segment answered the question "Why is it occupying either end of the 'responsible' and 'sensible' centrist political spectrum in this country precludes one from actually being responsible or sensible?"

The question had been raised earlier in the show, when The Daily Show decided to take offense for all Americans because Hamid Karzai said something mean about us for domestic Afghani consumption. (Please. Even if we're just being funny, can we leave the transformation of every two-bit strongman into Khrushchev, every tenth-rate military power we're willing to confront into the Soviet Nazi Global Empire, and every loaded translation of a public utterance into "We will bury you!" to the professional pants-pissers of the Right? They've been at it for sixty-five years now. Give 'em room to work.) And it was answered quickly, when Aslan said:
"We've got this military in Afghanistan, the greatest military this country has ever seen…"

Which, to begin with, is like an Assistant Professor of Mathematics saying, "Toyota builds the safest cars the world has ever seen." And continues:
which by the way, after nine years of war in Iraq, is now a much smarter, much stronger, much more capable military...

Causing Stewart to chime in:
Our military now knows how to handle counterinsurgency.

Which was a little like Mort Sahl announcing our CIA now knows how to handle assassinations. Y'know, The Awesomest Military Like, Evah, has cost us $4.5 trillion dollars that we know of in that time, and about 20% of that figure that we know of are our twin Mideast adventures. For that kind of jack In just ten years we've figured out what we are doing! sets the bar pretty low, like three feet underground. And even supposing this idea relies on incomplete information conveniently spun, rather than outright Galloping Pollyannaism, it tends to raise inconvenient questions about what The Arsenal of Democracy had been doing with comparable levels of funding over the previous fifty years, a period during which it basically fought only insurgencies, or helped create them. Or both.

Not to mention that the supposed miraculous learning curve of My Favorite Military involved going back and implementing the counterinsurgency doctrine it already had in place. The main reasons we had an insurgency problem in the first place were: 1) The Greatest Levels of Military Hubris the World Has Ever Seen; 2) Fifty years of passing notes in sophomore lit when we were supposed to be studying "Ozymandius". 3) The convenient idiocy, promoted by the Worst Administration America Has Ever Seen, and excused--then and now--by the idea that we had a right to be too pissed-off to think clearly--that there was no insurgency, could not be any insurgency, and would never be any insurgency, because we represent The Good to a freedom-starved world hungry for Big Macs; and 4) because a bull elephant is not the most efficient killer of mosquito swarms. Improper counterinsurgency doctrine isn't even close. We didn't want to fight a counterinsurgent action, or anything else that meant Americans coming home in body bags. Remember, we were stuck outside Mazar-i-Sharif until we figured out what it took to get the Northern Alliance to do the ground fighting for us. That wasn't due to faulty doctrine; it was do to the perpetual use of the Tokyo Fire Raids as the template for military success and minimum hair-mussing.

Aslan continued:
The problem is that nine years ago the Afghan people actually liked us.

And gee (again, assuming this qualifies as something residing in the neighborhood of Truth), I guess nobody could have foreseen than an endless foreign occupation would have such a negative effect on people.

But by now the dam had busted, and Stewart's complaints that the Afghans seem to want feudalism--like it's their choice or something--and that "our" "plan" to spread "democracy" seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, morphed into Fuck 'Em if They Don't Want Our Help:
We have the money and the lives [which gave Jon a moment's pause about what he'd just said]. I'm sure we could actually do this. The question is why? Can our policy possibly be to go in, topple these governments, and use 100-150 thousand troops for twenty years to stabilize these countries?

Y'know, Jon, you were born in 1962. Why are you sure the US military can do something in Afghanistan it hasn't done in your lifetime (and not from lack of trying)?
Iraq was a different situation. It was a war of choice, and as Colin Powell says you broke it you bought it. Afghanistan we went in there because they were the guys who were holding Osama bin Laden and allowing them to do it.

Yeah. And by the mere expedient of spending 100 times the value of the opium harvest per annum, or 50 times the Afghan GDP, we managed to push them into Waziristan. Why, oh why, didn't the Taliban just do that in the 48 hours we demanded?
Here's my plan: leave. But leave a forwarding address, and tell them if the whole Taliban thing starts up again, with al-Qaeda, we will bomb the shit out of you.

Remember, kids: we started this conversation off celebrating how much we'd learned in nine years.

And by the way: I don't think even Dick Cheney ever suggested the Taliban was in on bin Laden's plans. And the casus belli was the Afghan government refusing to turn these people over before sundown. It took us about a month to strike a deal with the Northern Alliance, once our fat was in the fire. It took a little longer with Pakistan, since Musharraf actually held some cards, didn't come cheap, and may or may not have been insulted by what may or may not have been our initial policy of having Dick Armitage threaten his ass. We've spent 50 times the Afghan GDP annually for almost ten years; th' fuck would it have cost to buy off the Taliban, you think? We wanted to play Cowboys and Brownskins. This was enormously popular; I'm not sure that even a sane, emotionally stable, and competent President could have completely avoided the urge to military action, but we didn't have one. But if our stated purpose--apprehension of the Masterminds behind 9/11--had really been our intention the application of sufficient grease would have gotten the job done. Once you launched military operations then, yes, Jon, you are fucking bound to stay there twenty years or more if you expect to change things. We broke this motherfucker the same as we broke Iraq, except with less cynicism.

And, look: when you break something, and have to buy it, it's a damned good time to examine how you broke the fucking thing in the first place, rather than expressing a grudging admiration for the sensibleness of the policy itself.


Sator Arepo said...

Chave Hermitage > Dick Armitage

arghous said...

Allegedly Bush did try the bribe thing first: the "carpet of gold". Of course that was phrased as a threat, and I suppose it was handled as effectively as anything else the Bush administration handled that caused it to fail.

If you haven't seen Tuesday night's interview, don't, as that was possibly worse. All we need to do is arm all the ships passing by Somalia, dontchaknow, assuming we can find more of Nonsequitur's Captain Eddies to man the helm.

weaver said...

As usual, Mr Riley, you dot the i's and cross the t's. My response exactly, though, perhaps, being a foreigner, I curdled the air a tad more than you with my caustic laughter at the spectacle of Jon Stewart, American, wondering aloud what the simple folk of Afghanistan couldn't comprehend about democracy. "One person - one vote! It isn't hard!"

Do tell.

culuriel said...

Oh no. Can't we just say John Stewart is giving America a boo-boo? Considering his past good-faith efforts to get Bill Kristol, John Yoo, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, etc., to admit even a tiny sliver of wrong, I'd prefer to cut him some slack. While he starts from common assumptions, he at least tells people that no amount of freedom and democracy spreading justifies the idiocy that is staying permanently in a losing situation.

Anonymous said...

long time reader, first time caller: yeah, Reza and Jon were pretty damn awful, but in fairness to Mr. Stewart at least, I often see him way better than this.