THE BLOG

War Porn

Dick Holbrooke took some time on August 12 to let us know that there is no Afghanistan strategy, reports The Hill:

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Wednesday that while American forces have been making progress in the region it is still too early to tell what success might look like. "We'll know it when we see it," said Richard Holbrooke, referencing the "Supreme Court test" of how to identify pornographic material.

If one does not have a definition of success, one cannot create a strategy to get there. Thus, if no definition of success exists other than a warm fuzzy feeling in the administration's collective gut, we don't have a strategy in Afghanistan. Like Rob says in High Fidelity:

"I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old and, frankly speaking, I've come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains."

"We'll know it when we see it" means we can't tell you clearly why your tax dollars and your sons and daughters are killing people in your name right now. "We'll know it when we see it" means that we're measuring success like we're measuring pornography--whatever turns you on, man. The difference between ill-defined standards for pornography and a directionless war, of course, is that one of these vagaries leads to a happy ending. The other leads to years, lives and treasure wasted on a pile of corpses for which we have nothing tangible to show--except the missing years, lives and treasure.

Let's not mince words. We have indulged our policymakers' expenditure of lives and funds for eight years now because we, a generation of Americans raised to grope wildly for a chance to live up to the example set by the "Greatest Generation," allowed ourselves to be convinced that the 9-11 attacks were not spectacular criminal attacks, but (finally!) our new Pearl Harbor. We agreed to this adventure in The Graveyardtm because it was sold as the appropriate action to bring justice to Bin Laden and his network, along with their Taliban enablers. There was an implicit deal made between the people and the power-holders: we turn over our loved ones and our funds to you, and you go get the perpetrators of the attacks.

But here we are, eight years later, still indulging policymakers throwing more money and troops at the problem. This latest year, 2009, has seen five different policy reviews, and the best they've come up with so far is to (surprise!) send more troops, along with a pitifully small "civilian surge" that has the nice side effect of increasing the number of private military contractors operating in Afghanistan, plus the use of drones in Pakistan that kill ten times as many non-combatants as suspected militants. For all this money and blood, here's what we get:

Afghan government map showing threat of Taliban attacks

And now, here is Holbrooke, letting it slip that we can't tell you what success looks like but we'll know when we succeed by how amazingly turned on he'll be when we get there.

Enough is enough. The American people reject more than the likely request for more troops. We should reject the war in Afghanistan altogether, along with the worst legacy of the Bush era: the idea that war is the appropriate response to terrorism.

Or we could just go with Holbrooke's gut while more people die. Whatever turns you on.