The Death of a General and the Racket of a War

From the Huffington Post yesterday:

Five years ago this month, the New York Times, under the bylines of James Risen and Mark Lander, published a front-page profile of Marshal Mohammad Fahim, a notorious and bloody Afghan warlord and druglord, who had long been involved in the theft of American aid money. Fahim was about to become the Vice President of Afghanistan, for a second time. Risen and Lander explained in great detail not just Fahim’s crimes, but also the acknowledgement and acceptance of Fahim’s crimes, past and ongoing, by senior American officials in both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Despite the obvious and clear illegality of President Hamid Karzai’s re-election in 2009, the first of three fraudulent national elections in Afghanistan over the last five years, including this year’s presidential election, an election with still no outcome, whose fraudulence pushes Afghanistan towards an ever greater political abyss, the United States backed Fahim’s position once again as Vice President.

In December of 2009, President Obama sent an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan to assure Karzai and Fahim’s positions in power, escalating the war and eliminating any sincere chances of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Tens of billions of dollars more for Karzai and Fahim’s amazingly kleptocratic government to continue to steal were sent from America’s Treasury. During this time, the United States government continued to turn a blind eye towards the Afghan government’s heavy and integral involvement within the Afghan drug trade, allowing Afghanistan to produce record numbers of drug exports on a near annual basis since 2001. Reports of American Marines and soldiers in southern Afghanistan guarding poppy fields are not exaggerations nor are the stories of helicopters and planes given to the Afghan Air Force being used to ferry drugs.

Fahim passed away in March of this year from a heart attack. He was never held accountable for his immeasurable human rights atrocities nor did American officials ever challenge his drug business. The millions of dollars he stole from American taxpayer funded reconstruction assistance has never been recouped. Thousands of American soldiers died to ensure his power and profit, while tens of thousands more were wounded and hundreds of thousands will be haunted by psychiatric wounds for the rest of their lives. Rather, after Fahim’s death, the American Ambassador to Afghanistan eulogized his “crucial role” and relationship with the US, the United Nations called him a “good and trusted partner,” and the Afghan Military Academy, constructed with US taxpayers’ money, was renamed in his honor.

Last week we learned of the latest American to be killed in America’s longest and most unpopular war. Major General Harold Greene undoubtedly will not be our last death in a war that so long ago lost its purpose and became, as the former British Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007-2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles described to the Los Angeles Times in 2011, as “one big bright shining lie.”

General Greene is the most senior American killed in our wars since 2001. He was gunned down as many Americans before him in Afghanistan, in what are known as “insider attacks.” These killings happen not on the battlefield, but in an office, a hospital or a school, and are not committed by a recognizable enemy, but by someone supposedly on our side, often a member of the Afghan army or police. For several years these attacks were epidemic, but over the last year or so they have been managed, primarily by reducing our troops’ time with their Afghan counterparts or making sure our officers aren’t in the same room as Afghans with loaded weapons. These limitations on American forces interactions with the very Afghan men they were supposed to be training in order to deliver victory in Afghanistan is one of the many absurdities that characterize the madness of the war into which our troops have been committed.

So, in a very cruel, yet perversely fitting injustice we see the most senior American officer to be killed since the Vietnam War to have been murdered at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. After thirteen years of war, after all the violence, all the theft, all the lies, are we so naïve and so closeted to be surprised at this death? Can we not see the symbolism intertwined in the murder, the money and the location’s namesake?

General Greene’s death at the Marshal Fahim National Military Academy, while of no greater or lesser importance than the previous 2,340 American deaths in Afghanistan, or the 4,486 killed in the equally senseless and failed war in Iraq, may be the most illustrative death. Perhaps the only thing more glaring than the limits on American power overseas may be our own unwillingness to acknowledge our short-comings, recognize our own failures and admit our inability to live up to our own values.

And somehow, someway, as if we are living in some cosmic, divinely inspired farce, our airwaves are inundated now, not with just calls to keep our troops and money in Afghanistan, but to return to Iraq. So it goes.

11 thoughts on “The Death of a General and the Racket of a War

  1. Until we read about ISIS’ mass atrocities, nearly all of Matthew Hos’ statements seemed to point in the direction of a much-needed peace, at the table…not on the battlefield.
    However, I await some constructive words from Mr Hoh concerning the ongoing mass murders; it’s not clear to me that there are reasonable (or even somewhat unreasonable) ISIS representatives who would be desirous of sitting down to discuss a peace with halting of the murder, I’m not confident the UN would sit down o broker a peace, I don’t see the world community of nations getting together on this issue. Perhaps Mr Hoh will enlighten us concerning the better way.

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    • J,

      I’ve written about Iraq on a number of occasions and have appeared about a half dozen times on CNN as well as a number of different radio stations this month. Please take a look at what I have said on the subject. You can find several of my recent writings on this blog site.

      One thing I will ask you. What makes IS’ actions, their murders and atrocities, any different than the previous 13 years of atrocities in Iraq? What makes their victims more worthy of American involvement than victims of Shia or Kurdish violence?

      Thanks for writing.

      Matt

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  2. I guess what has struck me as different is the difference between factional fighting and mass murder…the analogy of the mass murders in Rwanda, in the Middle East and elsewhere with the Holocaust seemed striking to me, and I wondered where the word leaders are at this time. I’m interested in your viewpoint, especially which ISIS representatives you would advise like-minded persons to sit down with in terms of negotiating peace. After all, tolerance does not seem to be one of ISIS’ most-advertised principles.

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    • I don’t think you negotiate with ISIS, but with the Sunnis who are supporting them. Not negotiating earlier, not seeking long-term political solutions in both Syria and Iraq, allowed ISIS to flourish and grow as the conflicts deepened and Sunnis became more desperate, and in Iraq, more willing to return to violence and insurgency against the Shia dominated Baghdad government and, now, to fight with the Kurds for territory, particularly oil fields, in Northern Iraq.

      ISIS itself is small and it is successful now because of the popular support in is receiving from local Sunni people. Negotiate with the Sunni people, address their grievances and they will no longer have a need for ISIS. This is exactly what happened in Iraq in 2006-7 with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Prior to 06, we were forbidden to talk to the Sunnis because they were all al-Qaeda and were all “terrorists”, simple, sloppy, political rhetoric that fueled the war. We are now doing the same by concentrating on ISIS barbarity rather than the political problem at hand.

      As far as negotiating with terrorists and insurgents goes, it is actually the most successful way to bring about an end of those groups and violence. See:
      http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG741-1.html

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  3. Your comments make a lot of sense, and negotiating with the Sunnis makes sense. However, for those who are being murdered right now, it might not be enough to say simply, “good luck”.

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    • If you think I’m just saying “good luck” you need to re-read what I’ve written. Jumping into the middle of the fighting will make the conflict worse and prolong it. It might make us feel better, but it will make things worse in the long term.

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  4. Some times one has to chew gum and cross the street at the same time. I’m not rejecting your pathway. However, I’m also not willing to stop in the attempt to halt the mass murders.

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  5. To Matthew, who I respect, I suggest you re-read the following: American Wartime Indifference to the Plight of the European Jews by Katherine E. Culbertson (the link is:
    http://history.hanover.edu/hhr/94/hhr94_5.html), in view of the analogy to current (and recurrent) mass killings. Although many of us have our own feelings concerning an appropriate response, I’m especially interested to hear yours.

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    • Hi J. Sorry for the delay in a response. I didn’t get an alert that you had responded, so I’m just seeing this now (I get alerts for initial comments, but not for subsequent comments).

      With regards to the Holocaust and WWII, I try and understand it in the context of that time and with the view that it happened over 70 years ago, in Europe, and, while instructive, should not be used to dictate responses to current events in the Middle East.

      My view on stopping the cycle of violence in Iraq that has been ongoing for 11 years and that falls along ethnic and religious lines remains the same: the only answer is a long term and long lasting political solution that answers grievances and forces all parties to make concessions so that no side needs to turn to extremist groups like IS. Only when that happens will extremist groups be disowned by local leaders and populations and then they can be hunted down and/or die from lack of support.

      I’ve written a few articles this week that I will post shortly that continue to address my view. Thanks J.

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      • General Dwight Eisenhower, upon entering and liberating Auschwitz, ordered that all aspects be photographed and that the local residents of Gotha see what had occurred lest somebody, at some later date, deny its occurrence or its relevance to future events. It appears he understood much more than I.

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