True to form, the administration’s response to the biggest intelligence leak ever has been tactical and clichéd.
“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said in a statement released by the White House.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry had a somewhat more serious response, The Hill reported:
“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”
But how long can this critical stage last?
That the Afghan campaign lacks a clear strategy, has been politically misdirected and militarily under-resourced, and is essentially unwinnable as presently conceived is something the British public, like its counterparts in the US and western Europe, has increasingly suspected. Opinion polls in most Nato countries show strengthening opposition to the western alliance’s longest ever war.
The war logs, an official accounting of murderous missions, tragic incompetence and abject failure from 2004-2009, put factual flesh on the bare bones of these negative perceptions. Their publication may further undermine public support just as the campaign supposedly reaches a “critical” juncture following June’s record casualties and the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal.
The White House’s defence — that this serial bungling occurred on George Bush’s watch — appears problematic. Since Barack Obama concluded a policy review last December and decided on a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops, overall levels of violence have risen further while confusion about counterinsurgency strategy and the exit timetable has deepened.
“Obama has had several opportunities to reassess US goals and interests and in each instance he has chosen to escalate,” said Richard Haass, a former senior Bush administration official and president of the council on foreign relations. “Today the counterinsurgency strategy that demanded all those troops is clearly not working.” Afghanistan was now Obama’s war, Haass said, and he was losing it. “It’s time to scale down our ambitions and reduce and redirect what we do.”
When it comes to understanding this war, subjective impressions sometimes tell us as much as any of the raw facts. It’s even possible that a poem — and one written hundreds of miles away from the battlefield in another country — might provide us with as much insight as do reams of intelligence reports.
Megan Stack covered the war in Afghanistan for the Los Angeles Times and in her new book, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, chronicles her experiences as a war correspondent.
In an interview on NPR this morning, Stack described the way a government-backed anti-terrorism program in Yemen failed to resonate with the experience of ordinary Yemenis — people whose sentiment is no doubt shared by much of the population in Afghanistan.
On one of her last evenings in Yemen, Stack traveled to a remote village to meet a poet who was known for his anti-terrorism poems and had been hired by the government to travel around the countryside, reciting his poetry and encouraging people to write their own anti-terrorist verses.
But what Stack heard the villagers recite that night was quite a bit different:
The more we try to be Muslim, the more American they try to make us.
Our literary teaching and great heritage have been invaded by the West.
They drove us crazy talking about the freedom of women.
They want to drive her to evil.
They ask the woman to remove the hijab and replace it with trousers, to show their bodies.
Now people who do their village rituals are accused of being extremists.
Even the music is now brought in instead of listening to good, traditional music.
Now people are kissing each other on television.
Cultural imperialism results in no casualty reports, no visible scars, but the destructive effect of America’s wars should not simply be measured in the amount of blood shed.