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Michael Carmichael

Michael Carmichael

Posted February 11, 2009 | 04:54 PM (EST)

The Strategy Vacuum


In spite of our elaborate pretensions to democracy, warlords rule the world.

The American media is constantly filled with stories about the war lords of Somalia and Afghanistan, but when NATO top brass takes aim at civilian targets -- the mainstream media obediently looks the other way.

Over the next few days, NATO will assert its right to kill, obliterate and vaporize unarmed civilians. Dropping bombs on clandestine drug labs in Afghanistan from supersonic F16s is what passes for military heroism today. Last December, the US quietly modified its official doctrine for the rules of engagement to permit the deliberate and premeditated killing of non-military people in illicit drug sites -- up to ten unarmed, untrained and unsuspecting civilians at a time, but Americans must read Der Spiegel to find out about it.

The mission creep in Afghanistan is alarming. In the wake of 9/11, America and its faithful allies marched off to war against a Taliban regime that harbored Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Bush and Cheney installed Hamid Karzai, a former CIA asset who appeared to be a reliably pliable puppet, but Karzai has fallen out of favor in Washington. In recent years, Karzai has reached out to negotiate with the Taliban, and he has objected to NATO's persecution of the laborers in Afghanistan's drug industry.

It is ironic to note that in their day, the Taliban ruthlessly punished Afghanistan's drug lords. One of their most repressive punishments was to tax opium at the astronomical rate of 20% in contrast to the 2.5% sales tax on other products. The Taliban collected up to $40 million per year from the opium tax. Recently, the west criticized Karzai because he opposed the eradication of Afghanistan's poppy fields that cover the land rather like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion all took a nap. One third of Afghanistan's GDP comes from opium poppy and cannabis production.

After more than seven years of the deeply unpopular US-led NATO occupation, Bin Laden is still at large, and the Taliban are resurgent. Failing to achieve the objectives of dealing with Bin Laden and desperate for some form of success, NATO is now turning to more convenient targets - the prolific and productive Afghan drug industry in a nation of 32 million people where two million people perform low-level jobs in the opium and hashish industries from poppy farming to cannabis cultivation.

Last October at the conference in Budapest, NATO modified its doctrine to permit its combat forces to target the drug industry in Afghanistan. The meeting in Budapest was the scene of a dramatic debate between the US and two NATO allies, Germany and Spain. Holdover Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and US General John Craddock who currently serves as the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (SACEUR) the highest military officer in NATO led the debate in favor of dropping bombs on civilian-occupied drug labs in Afghanistan. It is instructive to note that the German language press labeled General Craddock in terms that equate to: fanatical neocon and Bush loyalist.

In the Budapest conference, Germany and Spain were skeptical, but the US team heavy-handed the debate as usual and prevailed. It is informative to note that Germany and Spain decriminalized cannabis many years ago in stark contrast with the USA which incarcerates one-quarter of the world's total prison population -- a large proportion of whom are serving time for drug offenses that would result in modest fines in other more enlightened western democracies.

Eager to maximize the impact of the new NATO drug war doctrine as well as to activate the new US rules of engagement, General John Craddock wrote formal letters instructing his subordinates in Afghanistan to bomb civilian drug operations - get this - whether or not there was any, "intelligence or other evidence," to link these operations with terrorists.

Due to the enormity of the drug industry in Afghanistan, Craddock's instructions would have resulted in mountains of civilian corpses. On the ground in Afghanistan and in direct contact with Hamid Karzai, US General David McKiernan and German General Egon Ramms objected to Craddock's policy and wrote letters militating their arguments against the wisdom of perpetrating a massive civilian bloodbath in Afghanistan.

When Craddock's letter leaked to the popular German magazine, Der Spiegel, the scandal escalated to a crisis at the top echelons of NATO. Following the publication and a series of sharp-tongued attacks by German politicians, Craddock climbed down. To cover up this searing fiasco, Craddock has ordered the destruction of several key sites where some sources of intelligence - flimsy though they may well be - do link them to terrorists. In the midst of this tragic farce that culminated in Craddock's massive climb down, the emergency lights started flashing at the Pentagon and the White House.

It should be remembered that during the campaign, President Obama promised to withdraw combat troops from Iraq and to send more troops to Afghanistan. When he addressed the massive throng in Berlin last summer, Obama received very strained and splotchy applause when he mentioned the troop surge in Afghanistan. A few weeks later, the same phenomenon took place when Vice President Joe Biden made the same point at the Democratic National Convention where the idea of surging troops into Afghanistan got a very cool reception.

In Congress, what began as a background murmur of Chinese whispers is now audibly rising into a chorus of concerns over US strategy in Afghanistan.

After Craddock's scandal broke out in Europe, President Obama slammed the brakes on the Afghanistan troop surge and demanded an immediate strategic overhaul from the Pentagon.

What President Obama discovered is that the military momentum that had been building throughout the final months of the Bush administration for a troop surge in Afghanistan has morphed into an attack against the teeming local drug industry. According to reports the White House determined that the Pentagon plan for Afghanistan was devoid of content and -- most alarmingly had no exit strategy whatsoever. Predictably, military voices warn of a much more complicated and longer time-horizon for Afghanistan than Iraq - ie. a permanent occupation.

At that juncture, a turbulent tornado descended on Afghanistan policy as well as the erstwhile war on terror - a whirlwind that sucked the wind out of Craddock's draconian approach that exposed a glaringly obvious strategy vacuum.

At the very same time, President Obama has just begun to reach out to the Muslim world with unprecedented language uttered in his Inaugural Address; his remarks at the State Department and last week's Prayer Breakfast.

While the arrival of the Obama administration is just beginning to kindle some diplomatic progress, the forward strategy for Afghanistan threatens to destroy America's moral authority on the brink of jettisoning the colossal baggage of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their cartel of blithering incompetence.

In January, President Obama summoned the top brass from the Pentagon and ordered them to prepare the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. General David Petraeus stood up in defiance against the new president's approach to winding down the tragic war, but at the end of the meeting he had lost the debate.

At the Superbowl, General Petraeus made a cameo appearance for he is now serving as the Commander of Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida in relative proximity to the most popular football game in America. Does General Petraeus harbor political ambitions? If not, why on earth would he make a non-speaking cameo appearance at the Superbowl when he has two ongoing wars that are both going pear-shaped?

Last August, then candidate Obama was criticized for stating the starkly obvious about Afghanistan: "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

Less than two weeks ago, Robert Gates candidly observed that the US was veering desperately close to losing the war in Afghanistan, and he urged caution in any decision to send more troops into a theater that many have described as a graveyard of empires.

Even Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, warned that the US would lose Afghanistan because of the outrage now emerging around the killing of too many civilians.

In the first days of the Obama administration, missile attacks killed dozens of innocent civilians in Pakistan causing a massive upsurge of protest against the US occupation.

What we are witnessing in Afghanistan appears to be the collapse of hard power and worse -- the massive military misadventure that signals the final stage of the collapse of a civilization in a violent paroxysm of suicidal statecraft.

In a nation obsessed with drug commercials for the infinite varieties of Viagra that punctuate the latest tide of mind control disguised as reality television: DEA and Real Vice Cops, these truly terrible shows chronicle the daily operations of the police state as it arrests small time drug users in episodes that would trigger public outrage in any other 'advanced' democracy such as most of America's allies in NATO.

America is poised on the precipice of a crater opening unto a vast strategy vacuum filled with infinite irony for a culture obsessed with fears of poppy farmers half a world away while swallowing the blue tablets to enhance faltering performance and inflate dwindling size.

Whither the war on terror? Whither the war on drugs?

President Obama stopped using the term - The War on Terror. Neither does the president use the archaic term, The War on Drugs. During his campaign he promised substantive reform for US drug laws. It is past time for both of these obsolete and counterproductive obsessions to dissolve into the mists of history.