The Fog Rolls in for the Afghanistan Assessment
At the beginning of the Iraq “surge” in 2007, Senator Barack Obama was leery of General David Petraeus, but now, we learn, he has warmed to the four-star Pentagon celebrity and calls him “Dave.”
In meetings, according to an anonymous White House official, when the talk is of Afghanistan, Petraeus “always brings up Iraq” and the surge there, The New York Times reports.
By all accounts a very savvy politician always aware of his image, it is not strange that Petraeus would remind people of the thing he is most revered for, which is the so-called “surge” in Anbar Province of Iraq, the strategy that turned a hemorrhaging disaster into a stabilized, suppurating wound.
Now, he is doing the same thing in Afghanistan – except Afghanistan is politically and culturally about six centuries behind Iraq.
When US military counter-insurgency operations reach the latter stages and public questioning and opposition increase, the challenge is to get the “metrics” right – or as the Times recently put it, to develop “new and better ways to measure success or setbacks.”
In the 1980s, during the El Salvador counter-insurgency war, as paramilitary death-squads were literally littering the streets with bodies, the Reagan administration was required by Congress every six months to “certify” that progress was being made.
To no one’s surprise, it did exactly that. The challenge turned out to be easy. They didn’t have to show that things were rosy and life was secure; all they had to do was come up with some formulation to convince Congress things were improving in some small way.
One of the sad turns-of-event in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that Reagan’s small, murderous war in Central America against the poor is now used as a model of sorts for the hunter/killer teams so successfully employed as a “secret weapon” in the Iraq “surge.” Due to that success, they are now being used in beefed-up form in the Afghan “surge.” Defenders of the current wars even use the phrase “the Salvador model” to refer to our assassination strategy.
What made Lt. General Stanley McChrystal famous was his secret management of this “secret weapon,” the special operations hunter/killer teams that, like their more crude predecessor in Vietnam, the Phoenix Program, located and captured or killed people deemed leaders in the enemy camp, those people deemed “irreconcilable.”
The secret war and the PR war
As the Phoenix Program and the paramilitary death-squad program in El Salvador made clear – and as is the case in both Iraq and Afghanistan – public relations is one thing and the secret reality is another. When it comes to sending men out specifically to assassinate people, mistakes leading to the deaths of innocent civilians are common. Unless made public, the incidents are generally overlooked, or seen as acceptable, for operational reasons.