The Long War: Just Say 'No'
Military violence has such a death-grip on national policy in America, it’s hard for citizens to grasp there are real alternatives to war.
Marine General James Mattis, the man appointed by President Obama to replace General David Petraeus as leader of the Central Command that oversees all US operations in the Iraq/Afghanistan theater, is a colorful case in point.
Mattis is famous for his tough guy statements. My favorite is: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
His most quoted remark is about how much fun killing is, specifically referring to killing Afghan men who slap their women around.
“You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
Harrison Ford is to play the 59-year-old bachelor general in the upcoming film No True Glory, which is about Mattis commanding the First Marine Division as it tore up Falluja in 2004. (Mel Gibson must have been too busy slapping around his Russian girlfriend.)
General Mattis is co-author, with General David Petraeus, of the new, improved counterinsurgency manual. He is said to be a brilliant, creative general. As the story goes, he once thwarted an anti-American Shiite rally planned by Moqtada al-Sadr by renting all the buses in southern Iraq so people could not get to the rally.
With the two principal movers in the COIN revolution now in the two key command positions over Afghanistan, it can only mean one thing: The so-called “Long War” is on. Turning back now would mean a loss of prestige for these men whose careers are both bound up in the audacious notion we can win something in Afghanistan and that, even more audacious, we could have prevailed in Vietnam -- if only we had known then what we know now.
War as theory and practice
Carl von Clausewitz defined war as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” This definition was not altered if a general chose to restrain his army from indiscriminate slaughter. “The tendency to destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the conception of War is in no way changed or modified through the process of civilization.”
So the mantra that this “long war” in Afghanistan is different because it is a political war, or in COIN-speak, “a protracted politico-military struggle,” is PR to sell it at home. War, no matter how you chose to fight it, Clausewitz says, is a “political instrument.” And, in this case, it costs trillions of dollars and a steady dribble of dead and maimed Americans.
All the nice guy development talk aside, General Mattis’ remarks make it clear the bottom line of our mission is still to kill people to bend the population to our will.