Afghanistan: Worse than Vietnam?

Why are we there? Ostensibly to prevent the Taliban/Al Qaida from training terrorists to attack us. Other unspoken reason 1: To try to prop up the nuclear armed government of Pakistan by denying those same groups bases to attack Paki from.Other possible reason: Have a nearby base from which we can launch a mission to secure said nukes if/when Paki gov’t falls apart.

quicksand What is the solution currently offered? Increase the number of troops on the ground to establish a safe zone within Afghanistan so Afghanis can set up a functioning government with hope that this will extend out into all of Afghanistan.

Problems:

  1. This solution achieves neither of the first two objectives.
  2. There is no objective criteria for success.
  3. Like Vietnam there is no direct US interest in the outcome of this war. Denying bases to terrorists is close to the same thing as the old domino theory that was used to rationalize Vietnam. Look at US history: We win wars that are either important to the national interests or in which we are so much larger than the opposition that a small portion of our military can overwhelm them. (See Grenada and Panama, Invasions of)
  4. We are running a military operation literally on the opposite side of the world. Supply lines are much more of a problem than even in Vietnam. Afghanistan is the nation that the Soviet Union – which shared a common border and had far fewer scruples about inflicting disproportionate damage – could not win. The Russians could not have been happier than the day we asked if we could run our supplies through their nation. They just followed Napoleon’s advice to "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." They probably view it as payback. We bankrupted them to win the Cold War, so they’ll help us bankrupt ourselves.
  5. Because there is no objective criteria for success no one has any idea how long even the proposed solution will take to implement.
  6. It will damage NATO permanently. Either the member nations will continue to commit token amounts of troops and poison the water for any future necessary deployments as casualties turn the public further against joint operations with the US; or the other nations will cease to deploy troops and NATO will be turned into a shell of itself. NATO has a very clear reason to exist: To protect member states from attack by another government. That clear reason is why NATO has survived even the end of the threat is originally designed for. Using NATO to respond to and suppress insurgent, non-government actors is a very dangerous dilution of that mission. Mission creep will make NATO useless.
  7. We can’t afford the current size of the wars we’re already in — in either money or manpower. Afghanistan and the George Bush Desert Classic together have come close to breaking our ground forces. They are being worn out by too many deployments. Too many of them are being regularly asked to do missions that they are ill-trained to do. I have an incredibly high opinion of the American soldier. I have met many and am related to one. No military can take this kind of long-term open-ended deployments. And that is without even going in to the cost in terms of arms and armor. As a nation the US is effectively broke. We are funding the government on debt piled on top of debt piled on top of debt. Our banking system is the dead mouse on the kitchen floor of the US economy.* Both the bankers and the government are terrified of what will happen when/if the banks state the size of their losses. WE HAVE NO MONEY! This is my real problem with the entire health care debate. I am all in favor of national health care. I think this will save the nation a considerable amount of money in the end and extend the length and quality of its citizens’ lives. One problem: WE HAVE NO MONEY! How many wars have we paid for while not addressing this basic need? Just since the start of the New Deal there have been five major conflicts, the Cold War and I have no idea how many minor wars. We will spend billions on the military at the drop of a hat even when there is no actual threat to the safety and well-being of our nation. But some sort of national health insurance – which would cost far less than any of the major wars — has been blocked for more than 50 years.
  8. The Afghani government (and I use term liberally) remains in place because of corruption and rigged elections. You can’t win the hearts and minds battle with a government that looks like every other corrupt national government the Afghanis have ever had. Yeah the Taliban are murderous thugs but you have to make an argument to the people that more than “We’re less capricious than they are.”

If I were Hamad Kharzai I wouldn’t be buying any green bananas right now. The US has a long record of replacing its hand-picked leaders with extreme prejudice at times like this. (See Vietnam war, changes of government during for examples.)

Which brings me to my final point: If this isn’t another Vietnam, it will do until the real thing comes along. It is far too easy to imagine someone saying about an Afghani town: “We must destroy the village in order to save it.” That is not a slap at our military. It is meant to point out that under these extreme circumstances humans are likely to react in extreme ways. What seems like crazy on a normal day …

Unfortunately we do not have the option we should have used in Vietnam, declaring victory and go home. To do so almost certainly would make matters worse. We have added to the mess in an incredibly dangerous part of the world. This is the 21st century’s Balkans not because it may spark another world war but because it could involve the world in a cataclysmic war. I do hope Archduke Ferdinand is not already on his way.

 

 

*This sentence is a rip off of something Collateral Damage Sr. originally said about Nixon.

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Soldiers say Purell© is their own personal napalm

No one loves discovering new uses for an existing product more than consumer packaged goods companies like Unilever, and P&G. “It’s not just a floor polisher, IT’S A DESERT TOPPING!” Even so, I doubt Johnson & Johnson is going to make a lot out of a new way to use Purell©. At the great blog Kit Up, where military folk swap ideas on all sorts of gadgets to use in the field, one writer suggests applying a match to

the waterless hand cleaner gel that every grunt should be carrying. I love playing with that stuff.  It puts out a blue/clear flame (read extremely hot) and it is a gel, so handles well.  Put that in the middle of your tinder and you are good to go.

While a good reliable fire-starter is a must have for our servicemen and women it should be noted that, as seen below, they are exploring other possible uses for the substance – which is 62% alcohol.

Judging by the above (and other evidence on YouTube) actually setting your hands on fire with Purell© seems to be “relatively” “safe.” However, this phenomenon has actually sparked an urban myth. Snopes rebuts a legend that some worker suffered severe burns on his hands when he lit a cigarette after using a “hand sanitizer product.” J&J media is quoted as saying that incident is “not something they would expect to happen with their product” – which is definitely not a denial that it could happen. Although it evaporates so fast on skin I think it almost requires the intentional and quick application of fire to get a reaction.

Wonder why the TSA allows the stuff on airplanes? Snopes points to a 1998 FAA study that reports hand sanitizers are difficult to ignite and relatively easy to extinguish. To which both Snopes and the US Military might respond: “What brand are you using?”

(For those of you wondering – it’s not all that hard to create actual napalm. Just mix Ivory Snow (or other soaps) and gasoline in the right proportions and VOILA you’ve got it.)

If I can just get off of this LA freeway…

… Without getting killed or caught/I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke/For some land that I ain’t bought

— Guy Clark, LA Freeway

Oceanside, California is an interesting little town. It’s next to Camp Pendleton, the huge Marine Corps base, and because of this it has a long and glorious history as a military R&R town with bars, tatoo parlors and motels that would rent rooms by the hour. Apparently the town fathers (and/or mothers) didn’t really think that this was a sustainable economic model and have been scrubbing at Oceanside in an effort to make it less interesting and therefore more tourist friendly. Fortunately they have only slightly succeeded.

A honky tonk feel still lingers around the downtown. It has a number of bars I wouldn’t enter in the evening unless I had a very short haircut and the ability to really mean it when I shouted SEMPER FI! Likewise all the shops that sell military surplus goods. In addition, the town is also a big draw among surfers and is home to a surfing museum that is only slightly larger than the postcards it sells. Because of this residue of seediness, the town remains wonderfully free of the chain stores and mallification that has engulfed the rest of the state.

Searching for breakfast one morning, I and the rest of the Collateral Damage clan headed south on 101 in Oceanside and came across Bessie’s diner, my one encounter with the sublime during nine days in the Golden State.

Bessie’s hasn’t been redecorated since it opened in what I guess would be the mid-’50s. Since then the decor has changed more by accretion than design and consists mostly of a number of trophies for playing pool, a poster of John Wayne and a large black-and-white picture of Rigo, who is either owner or co-owner. In the picture he is dashing in the 1940s movie star way with a pencil thin mustache and a dashing look. Today he still speaks with a hispanic accent and his looks have made the transition from the star to the character actor. The pencil mustache remains, augmented by the creases of age, some gray mixed in his hair and a slight paunch.

He had such an air about him that I asked if he was ever in the movies to which he said no and laughed, then went in back to tell his wife who may or may not have been the original Bessie but who found the comment as funny as he did. In addition to a magnificent plate of huevos rancheros and superb coffee, Bessie’s also featured a wonderful selection of locals wandering in and out: Surfers — both caucasian with long-hair and African-American with dreadlocks, Hispanic workers only speaking in Spanish, and what looked to be a retired Marine or two. Everyone spoke to each other with the familiarity of regulars if not outright friends. It feels like the only place I was in during the entire vacation that didn’t sell t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with its logo. It felt authentic and not calculated. A blessed relief from the pre-packaged feeling endemic to the region. That morning will now stay in my head as the cherished moment of the vacation, a memory I can pull out that relaxes me and makes me happy. Which means Bessie’s now has a slot in my mind next to the rear-courtyard of the Louvre at dusk, staring straight up the center of the Eiffel Tower, a long wonderful walk through the pottery district of Kyoto and looking down from the hills into the center of Duluth.

A few other notes from Southern California:

  • Had the ultimate Cali experience … waiting in the drive through line at Starbucks in a big SUV. Wee hah.
  • I was only at Disneyland for one day (unlike Mrs. CD and CD jr.) which was more than enough for me. Loved seeing three teen boys in black t-shirts for Nirvana and AC-DC and trying to look cool. It is impossible to both be cool and at Disney. Give it up kids.
  • By contrast I was also in the Disney neighborhood for the Goth Day @ Disney weekend and the Goths were overwhelmingly friendly and not overly concerned about being cool. Maybe it’s easier to not worry about being hip when you look like a cadaver. (Image courtesy of the most righteous Skellramics.)
  • If you ever get a chance visit the Old Town Rootbeer Company in Temecula (they have stores elsewhere but this is the one to go to) where they stock every kind of root beer known to humanity and take friendliness to a whole new level, giving away LOTS of free samples and showering a certain younger member of the CD family with free candy and t-shirts. And they make a killer brew themselves.
  • I will never ever complain about traffic in Boston again.