In “Staying the Course in Afghanistan: How to Fight the Longest War,” published in the November/December 2017 Foreign Affairs, retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and one Kosh Sadat, both employed by the eponymous McChrystal Group, argue for the United States to pursue more war in Afghanistan. Apparently, 16 years of American aggression there hasn’t been quite enough. The two authors take their cue from another American patriot, Pakistan’s retired chief of army staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who warned them, “For the mission you’ve been given, you have the right strategy. But it won’t work, because you don’t have enough time.” If 16 years isn’t enough time to win a war, then Ashfaq Parvez Kayani needs to buy a new carbon dating machine.
The United States acted with complete justification in attacking Afghanistan shortly after September 11. Early reports at that time indicated that U.S. troops killed 90 percent of the savages we had targeted in the first six months of our operation. Despite the enormity of the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Americans preferred to play nice and not demand an unconditional surrender from Afghanistan. Our success at that time nonetheless justified our immediate departure. But in the intervening decade and a half, the United States’ mission in the Graveyard of Empires has morphed into a regretfully recognizable mess, a grotesque amalgam of our extended futile exercises in Vietnam and Iraq, coupled with our permanent garrisons in Germany, Japan, and Korea.
The authors insist that the United States has tried to aid “the establishment of an Afghan nation that defended its own sovereignty, embraced democracy, educated women, and cracked down on opium production.” Sadly, that is all true. But try as they might, the likes of McSadat will never convince sane American observers that the American military’s operational goals, in any field of combat, will ever include the education of women or the eradication of poppy plants. However, when militarism constitutes the entirety of your Weltanschauung, your operational model depends on perpetual war for perpetual peace as you whip up the populace with treasonous essays while ignoring the American national interest. The targeted nation’s internal concerns soon take precedence. Too bad our retired general feels the need to send American troops halfway around the world to risk their lives for Vietnam Redux. Such is the price American society pays when the revolving door between service to one’s country and postservice rent-seeking flings wide open.
Incredibly, or maybe I should write “not surprisingly,” McSadat cites the lesser-known American Founder Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and his magnum opus What Is To Be Done? as philosophical justification for quadrupling down on the United States’ wrongheaded bet in Afghanistan. They praise Lenin’s evil screed as “a clear-eyed assessment of reality” before concurring “the same is needed for Afghanistan now.” At least we know which insane global revolutionary these two American patriots worship.
Americans should ignore Lenin’s question. Instead we should ask ourselves, “Who are these two?” McChrystal retired as a four-star general under less than ideal circumstances after Rolling Stone published some cavalier, off-the-record comments he made about several Obama administration officials. In his postmilitary career he has taught at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, which almost never sends any of its students into active military service, and joined several corporate boards. To the detriment of the American national interest and the lives of our brave American volunteer forces, he has parlayed his military experience into creating the McChrystal Group, a consulting firm whose motto “Bringing Lessons From the Battlefield to Boardroom,” might better read “Nation Building With Your Children’s Blood and Hard-Earned Tax Dollars.” Sadat’s bio on the McChrystal Group website notes his 13 years of service in the Afghan Special Operations Force (not part of the U.S. military), where he finished as a lieutenant colonel. He graduated with honors from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (not in the United States) and earned a master’s degree from the United States Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He also graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School. Thanks to the naive openness and generosity of the United States’ military education system, this Afghan patriot suddenly feels empowered to demand our children die so that his daughters can vote. And McChrystal’s association with him should only add to our revulsion.
In their misguided attempt to increase the $21 trillion American national debt and waste precious American lives, the authors call for expanding the battle into Pakistan, our staunchest ally in the War against Terror, who accidently harbored Osama bin Laden for ten years as American soldiers died while hunting him down. Since their necks won’t be on the line as they pontificate from the McChrystal Group’s headquarters, McSadat lectures us that “highly focused offensive operations, primarily in Afghanistan, but, when necessary, also inside Pakistan, are required.” Required by whom? Passive voice constructions only trick fools. Does the American national interest require extension of our futile efforts into Pakistan? If Kosh Sadat wants peace in his godforsaken, prehistoric homeland, he should sacrifice his own countrymen before volunteering the lives of high-school football players, community-college students, and Eagle Scouts from the American heartland. After his kids, and all the children of Afghanistan, die fighting for their own freedom, then he can politely ask for our help. Until then, leave us alone.
For the longer term McSadat argues for a permanent American presence in Afghanistan, ominously couching the idea as “the only viable option.” They propose “a long-term relationship with and a limited military presence in a troubled but functioning country.” Their strategic myopia—or depraved opportunism—manifests itself when they conclude, “The United States has no better choice at hand, and in fact, this one is not all that bad.” The United States has a multitude of better options, even if the brains behind the McChrystal Group’s PowerPoint presentations can’t recognize them. The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculated the cost of America’s wars since 2001 at $5.6 trillion, or $23,000 for each and every U.S. taxpayer. The brain trust in the accounting division at the Department of Defense reckoned the total cost at an implausible $1.5 trillion. The DoD overlooked costs incurred by the State Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as financial support to American allies fighting terrorism in Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, and Rumania.
Let us recall the American experiences in Germany, Japan, and Korea in the half-century since World War II. Using history as precedent, imagine the cumulative costs McSadat’s “long-term relationship with and a limited military presence” will run up 60 or 70 years from now. Here’s one better choice McSadat can consider before erecting permanent encampments all along the Silk Road: Spend American tax dollars and manpower to prevent Uzbeks from driving rental trucks into Argentine tourists enjoying bike rides in New York City. Even though “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” Americans in San Bernardino, Orlando, Columbus, and now New York City, again, should be forgiven their confusion when they ask for more precise definitions of “there” and “here.”
Perhaps the only crazier suggestion Washington and Adams—sorry, I meant McChrystal and Sadat—make comes in their plea for a U.N. resolution to designate the Taliban a global terrorist organization. Such edicts and threats might cause knees to weaken in the confines of Yale University seminars and the men’s room at the McChrystal Group. But in the geopolitical realm, U.N. resolutions pack as much force as President Donald J. “ALL CAPS” Trump’s early morning tweets. McSadat believes a forthcoming U.N. resolution against the Taliban “would be a powerful move—it would severely undercut their legitimacy and reduce their access to external support.” The Taliban has zero legitimacy except among the Afghanis it threatens with death. And the United States has innumerable ways of dealing with parties providing her support. A pronouncement from the U.N., endorsed by Nikki Haley and a few E.U. busybodies, will do nothing to strengthen American resolve in taking out the Taliban’s international supporters. In truth, no thoughts emanating from the lizard brains of the McChrystal Group make sense in terms of supporting the American national interest or the safety and security of Americans here at home. But let’s give Kosh Sadat a round of applause. Since the neocon cabal had its way in the early 2000’s with the foreign policy of George W. Bush, no one else has taught Americans how distasteful it is for citizens of one country to tell citizens of another country how they should live and for whom they should die.