Story from some actress about marriage and divorce always stuck with me, even if the actress’ name hasn’t. She talked about how if you are in head over heels in love with someone, or if you are pissed off at them and divorcing them, you still see everything about the person, good and bad. Your vision doesn’t change with emotion, she said. The only thing that changes, she said, is which aspects of that person you bring into focus. Everything is out in the open for you to see, and you just choose what you want to focus on. She’s right about that. Not just in love, but in world events, too.
Current Official Word from the Beltway is that things are going if not just fine then certainly reasonably as well as can be expected in Afghanistan. That’s the official spin, the official focus, on things there, and it hasn’t changed any since the war began fourteen years ago now. But other things are out there, out in the open, and it’s high time we focused on them instead.
Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, made an appearance recently at UT, at a Strauss Center for International Relations/LBJ School event. Attendance at North America’s second-largest college campus for this event was about sixty, and once again maybe half the attendees were students while the rest were local residents, mostly affluent social security age or thereabouts. Talked briefly to the Ambassador beforehand—he was friendly and approachable, always good for a diplomat—and told him about the freezeout against me by Robert Chesney, director of the Strauss Center, and how I’d appreciate his taking the initiative to let me ask him a question or two during the Q&A. He agreed to do so. We talked further a bit about a book I was carrying around with me, John Talbot’s The War Without a Name, which is the best book written in English to date about the French counterinsurgency war in Algeria, ’54-62. I pointed out to the Ambassador that this book was worth around $200 on Amazon back in ’04 or so and I’d picked it up at the Half-Price slushpile for $2 the other day, and that fact probably showed a lot about how serious America was these days about its wars in your neck of the woods. Ambassador Jawad nodded politely. He declined my offer of the book as a gift, which struck me as a little bad form on his part.
The Ambassador spoke for about 40 minutes. His PowerPoint presentation wasn’t working; and it is somewhat disturbing that the Ambassador has become a slave to PowerPoint like everyone in the USG is nowadays. I wasn’t expecting him to say much; not so much from the usual expectation of diplomatic discretion but more from the past track record of the famous name speakers the Strauss Center brings in, who mostly all just recite the Beltway line. Along the way, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of seeing first-rate diplomatic talent in operation—Jack Matlock* comes to mind—and Ambassador Jawad just isn’t. Severe loss for Afghanistan, any country at war, that they can’t do better than Mr. Jawad for their most critical diplomatic post; dommage. But if you were paying attention, the Ambassador let drop in the forefront, in easy camera range, some things that normally stay in the deep dark background.
Ambassador Jawad was as upfront as a diplomat can be about Afghanistan’s complete dependence on US military and political support and his expectations that it would continue at the current level for the next several years. This despite pronouncements from Official DC about our doing the contrary. He mentioned several times that ISIL pays its soldiers about three times what his government pays theirs, and how this was a major factor in ISIL’s success. Hmmm—I guess the three to one pay advantage trumps his army’s six to one numbers advantage. The Ambassador also complained about Pakistan’s providing sanctuary for the enemy forces, and expressed a desire that the US would pressure Pakistan to stop doing so. Saudi Arabia came in for its licks too, and the Ambassador urged that the US pressure the Saudis into doing something to stop the financial support their citizens (and government too, Mr. Ambassador???) are giving to ISIS/ISIL. The Ambassador used the term ‘realistically’ several times about various actions Afghanistan or the United States could, and should, do.
One fact got dropped that I should have heard before, and that is that this past year was the bloodiest ever for the Afghan national army and security forces. This was the first year ever that the war did not go into hibernation for the winter; it ran the whole year round. Ambassador Jawad said that there were 7000 government forces killed this past year and that current losses ran 16 KIA daily. I’d never heard this one before. Nobody in the audience caught this atom-bomb sized fact and was sharp enough to do the arithmetic. 7000 KIA means a minimum of 21,000 WIA, a total of 28,000 casualties a year. The Afghan National Army has an official strength of around 150,000 trigger-pullers (actual troop strength is a different smaller number due to potted plant soldiers) with roughly 150,000 auxiliary/police. Losses at this level are quite absolutely militarily unsustainable for very long. I doubt anyone militarily knowledgeable would give the Afghan national forces more than two years before they collapse from losses at this rate, continued for that two year period. This means things are going to fall apart there in Afghanistan like they did in Iraq, soon. Not a sign of anyone in the audience catching this.
The Q&A came up, and again I wasn’t picked for a question. Being front and center and having my hand up while everyone else all around me got picked for a question made it rather obvious to anyone paying attention that something fishy was going on there. Nobody in the audience had any curiosity enough to talk to me about that afterwards; this lack of curiosity and engagement with the rest of the world is about average for Americans nowadays, at least among the college-educated. Robert Chesney, head of the Strauss Center and head of the freezeout, once again compounded his timewasting overly long introductory remarks by making sure that all his faculty buddies were selected for questions, whether or not they had their hands up. You could tell by their questions how little attention they’d paid to the Ambassador’s remarks. The Strauss Center student questions, even the ones from vets, were wonkish policy-adjustment ruminations hewing to the Beltway line. No sign of intelligent life there, Scotty.
So I wandered up to the Ambassador after the event closed and talked to him some. He was apologetic about not selecting me for a question, delicately deferring blame, with much justification, to his host Robert Chesney for that. I dumped the question I had in mind to ask during the Q&A and instead I asked him this, something that had bubbled up from deep inside me:
“Mr. Ambassador, I’ve already pointed out to you the story of this book and how its cratering in price shows something about how much interest the US has in its war in your country. Doesn’t this also show a distinct lack of competence in the US ruling elites, that they choose to remain ignorant about the biggest counterinsurgency war in the 20th Century, after this many years of failed wars? And speaking of just how much real interest my country and countrymen have in your country and people, just look at the foreign aid amounts we’ve given to your country, a desperately poor country in dire need of everything, every last god-blasted handiwork of man there is, after four decades of war and devastation. It took us five years before we gave your country five billion dollars in aid. That’s peanuts and you know it. You also have to know that it took us another three years more before we hit ten billion dollars in aid. And certainly you have to know that aid like this is absolutely critically necessary and desperately time-sensitive for successful prosecution of a counterinsurgency, and doesn’t the fact that we cheaped out and didn’t deliver this militarily essential aid in anything near a timely fashion show again the incompetence of this country’s military and political ruling elites? Doesn’t it also again show how little regard we here have for your fellow countrymen and their problems? Just look at our aid to Ukraine, instead. We officially spent five billion up front, unofficially twice that, on the latest color revolution there, and that was all money going to white European politicians for them to piss away on parties, bribes, and Swiss bank accounts. Doesn’t that show, decade and a half long war or not, just how little your country, its people, and our war there matter to the DC crowd?
“Mr. Ambassador, you talked several times today about ‘realistic’ and ‘realistically’. Shouldn’t you be more realistic about the fact that there’s been a decade and a half for us to pressure the Saudis and Pakistanis to cooperate and we haven’t ever yet so realistically that just isn’t going to ever happen? Realistically shouldn’t you and your country adjust your policy plans and expectations to reflect this fact instead of calling still again for them? Shouldn’t you and your fellow countrymen be more realistic about this country of mine and its government and peoples and its profound indifference to you and your war and our own rather gross and obvious failings as a nation and as a people by now?”
The Ambassador listened to all this politely, and then gave a little speechette about how America was a great country full of great people who could do anything they put their minds to. I thanked him and left.
So just like that actress said, it is all out in the open, and it’s just a question of if you want to focus on it and see it. We don’t, it doesn’t look like the Afghans do either, and we all will act surprised when the big crackup in Afghanistan happens soon. Our surprise will be genuine because our profound blindness certainly is.
*Former US Ambassador to Moscow, 1987-91
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