STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Abandon the Afghan Ship?
By Staff News & Analysis - August 17, 2010

Why would Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) want to retire? … Robert Gates indicated in an interview published Monday that he plans to leave his job next year. … Perhaps he would rather go before the budget fights get too nasty. It's true that in recent weeks, he has outlined proposed cuts in some areas, including a reduction in the number of generals and admirals. But at the same time, he is pushing for increases in other areas. He's a proponent of flat or increased military spending, overall. And that might be a tougher and tougher position to defend in the years ahead, as the US looks for places to trim back record deficit spending. – Christian Science Monitor

Dominant Social Theme: The war is going well; now is the time to leave command central?

Free-Market Analysis: Here at the Bell we regard the Afghan war as the most important conflict since World War II. We do not believe the Afghan war is merely one of convenience designed to initiate a long war that will destabilize Asia and thus China and Russia. If the Anglo-American axis wishes to intimidate Russia and China surely there are better ways to do it than to spend a trillion dollars on a failed war effort.

Likewise, we don't think the recent spate of Pentagon "big brass" defections and potential defections is in any way designed to manipulate public opinion. Gates' proposed resignation is just what it appears to be – a clever disappearing act at a time when the US military is about to come under increased pressure. General Stanley McChrystal's resignation-by-journalist was also likely a kind of bail-out in our opinion.

In fact, there is likely no meme to present at this point in time – no elite fear-based promotion at any rate. The story is what it appears to be. The various players at the very top seem to be designing ways to depart a sinking ship. And that leaves General David Petraeus in the hot seat. We have no idea why he took the job except that he is probably in too deep to back out and being a clever political player he's probably already figured out a personal departure story, if it gets to that. But it cannot be a pleasant time for Petraeus or generally for any of the Pentagon brass.

The Pentagon and its myriad corporate enablers are probably a few feet from hitting the wall now. Over the past decade the Pentagon has mislaid (admittedly!) trillions without being brought to account. But the US has spent itself into virtual bankruptcy and the days of wine and roses are probably gone for good, or at least for a long time.

But it is not just the budget that is probably bothering the top US brass. The war in Afghanistan especially has gone on and on. And because it has gone on for so long there is a backlog of significant events (unpleasant ones) that will likely see the light of day in this media age. The Pentagon has proven adept at controlling the mainstream media but the Internet is yet beyond such control. Even before WikiLeaks, there were signs that the war had stretched on too long and become too brutal. But the WikiLeaks exposures have taken things to a new level.

Of course it has been suggested (even here at the Bell) that there is something a bit odd about the whole WikiLeaks saga. An element of disinformation that seems somehow to inform some of the goings-on. But regardless of the background or the necessity for the powers-that-be to generate a WikiLeaks-like scenario, the release of so much information – video, textual or otherwise – has cast a not-too-positive light over the war and one that we would suggest is about to get worse.

The worsening is likely to come, as well, from the debut of various media presentations having to do with the death of the famous Afghan volunteer soldier and former football star Pat Tillman. Initially Tillman's death was said to have occurred as he rallied the troops to capture hilly terrain. But it later came out that he had been shot by his own troops. The army, including McChrystal himself, engaged in a long-term coverup of the events that has only gradually – and definitively – unraveled.

Now a book and movie are about to make their way into the public. Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, documents the cover-up by senior military officials in her book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk: Searching for Answers in the Death of Pat Tillman." The book is being re-released (and will doubtless receive much more attention) alongside a documentary "The Tillman Story." The Tillman story is said to be a fairly explosive portrayal of the death of Tillman.

What comes across as regards all this media attention is that the top brass has existed in a kind of bubble made possible by the billions – trillions – available to the military industrial complex. But the public furor has been growing louder and sooner or later the bubble was bound to be popped. It has been our contention for the past few years that the Anglo-American axis and NATO are losing the war in Afghanistan. We think it is an ill-advised war and that its loss, if that occurs, will mark a kind of high-water mark for the military truculence that has marked the Anglo-American axis in the late 20th century and early 21st.

Certainly America, and to a lesser sense Britain, are beset by domestic turmoil and financial instability. Domestic troubles are magnified by the country's serial wars and the results may be eventually be deeply destabilizing. For those trying to divine the future from an investment standpoint, America's domestic and international stances have rarely seemed so troubled or uncertain. For those interested in what the future holds for a variety of non-investment professional and personal purposes, we would venture to say the crystal ball is not much clearer.

When it comes to the Afghan war, the future seems cloudy indeed. We are not sure that General Petraeus's plans will bring success We are not sure, given the continued media onslaught, that there is much remaining patience for the war throughout NATO or in America. Increasingly, the war seems to be waged against elements in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai and his government remain a thin reed on which to rest hopes of victory or even a tolerable truce.

After Thoughts

What is certainly true is that some of the war's biggest players are leaving the scene and we would expect there will be more to come. Are these significant in terms of the war effort? Do the defections have a larger import? We are not sure, but like the Taliban itself, the war remains a moving target.

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