America, Losing Hearts and Minds
Editor’s Note: The long U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were rationalized as responses to al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States, even though al-Qaeda forces quickly withdrew from Afghanistan and only opened an auxiliary in Iraq after the U.S. invaded.
However, as the wars have dragged on and devolved into death squad campaigns against ill-defined “Bad Guys,” any remaining moral justifications have disappeared into a haze of imperial hubris, killing more for American pride than American security, as professor Jada Thacker notes:
The current cover of The Nation sports a tagline: “Losing Hearts and Minds – a Report from Afghanistan.”
One such report comes from Jeremy Scahill, the pugnacious critic of the notorious private security firm Blackwater. After researching the “targeted killing” tactics currently employed by American troops in Afghanistan, his ultimate analysis is that we are killing the very people whose support we seek in our fight against the Taliban.
“On the ground the Taliban seem to be gaining traction and increasing membership despite, or perhaps because of, intensified US targeted-killing operations and night raids,” Scahill says. “According to the US military, over a 90-day period this past summer, US and coalition Special Operations Forces killed or captured more than 2,900 ‘insurgents,’ with an estimated dozen killed a day.”
Exactly how many of these “targeted killings” are directed against innocent civilians? Scahill does not say. Even defining the word “civilian” must remain problematical in counter-insurgency operations. But the nicety of making such distinctions is not lost on Afghans.
"Here is the bottom line: the US is conducting actions that are killing innocent people," Scahill reports, quoting an Afghan community leader. "The Taliban use this as propaganda and say to the people, 'This is what America is about.' It makes them more powerful."
“In plain terms,” Scahill concludes, “ the United States' own actions in Afghanistan seem to be delivering the most fatal blows to its counterinsurgency strategy and its goal of winning hearts and minds. ‘I think that the Americans are already defeated in Afghanistan, they are just not accepting it,’ says [a] former Taliban official.”
Obviously, such a conclusion calls into question the fundamental illogic underlying our "counterinsurgency" operations: namely, the "keep killing them until they adore us" fallacy.
This counterintuitive concept has not worked to secure peace over the last nine years, is not working now, and certainly cannot reasonably be expected bloom successful with repetition.
Nowadays the U.S. military prefers to call its antagonists "Bad Guys," presumably for lack of a more credible term. Yet it turns out that many of the people we are killing in Afghanistan are the ones who are refusing to extend their allegiance to an undemocratic, and thus illegitimate, U.S. instigated government.
It is common knowledge the current Afghan government is run by gangs of drug lords for personal profit at the expense of their (and, increasingly, our own) destitute people. This is the government our foreign policy supports politically and militarily with billions of taxpayer dollars per month, citing the need for “stability” in that benighted land.
But the search for “stability” now has tactically evolved into killing those who do not support the government gang-lords, whether or not the targeted victims are members of the Taliban or allied with them. Even supposing all the victims are in fact Taliban, how do these commonly illiterate Afghan tribesmen pose a threat to the security of the United States?
The “targets” of U.S. “targeted-killing” campaign are not Al Qaida. And, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, they cannot be materially assisting Al Qaida because Al Qaida no longer effectively exists in Afghanistan.
So, despite the fact they did not attack the U.S. – and it would stretch credulity to believe they assisted those who did – they are still the “Bad Guys,” because that is what our military says they are.
So the United States is killing a lot of people – many of whom apparently are civilians – who did not attack the U.S. and who did not support the people who did, and cannot support the people who threaten to do so again. The U.S. command leadership has casually admitted as much.
"We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force," remarked General Stanley McChrystal earlier this year before President Obama rightly sacked him as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
How do untold hundreds of "targeted killings" of "Bad Guys" in "night raids" and by robotic drones differ from the work of professional foreign assassins, whose death-squad mentality is essentially indistinguishable from that of America’s legitimate enemy, Al Qaida?
Yet we are repeatedly enjoined by a war-intoxicated corporate media to "support our troops," regardless of however many Afghan civilians U.S. troops are killing in their own homes, in the dead of night, for reasons undisclosed.
But, after all of this wanton bloodshed has been reported by Scahill, by the U.S. commanding general, and by a host of others, it seems that too few Americans are asking an obvious question: should such behavior qualify U.S. citizen-soldiers for the justly deserved thanks of a grateful nation – whether American or Afghan?
According to public opinion polls, the U.S. nocturnal death-squad tactics and drone assassinations are not winning American hearts or minds in support of this never-ending war. So we may well imagine what effect they are having on the Afghan people.
Put another way, let's suppose the U.S. somehow 'won' the war in Afghanistan by terrorizing its people into compliance with Pentagonal victory fantasies: who then would the U.S. have won it for?
In WWII, Americans were fighting the people of Germany and Japan in order to force them to renounce allegiance to their notoriously undemocratic governments; today the U.S. is killing the people of Afghanistan in order to force them to accept the overlord-ship of just such a regime.
What can the U.S. leadership possibly hope to accomplish by expending the lives of American troops (and further sinking the nation into a sea of debt) in the conduct of such a dishonorable and patently immoral enterprise as this? Or do Americans really believe that America can be defended by abdicating the core ethic of Americanism?
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson claimed "That to secure these rights [of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it."
Americans must either believe this to be right or must repudiate the very idea of America.
But now, two centuries later, the United States is locked “in dubious battle” with a fiercely intransigent, formerly colonized people who again are fighting to liberate themselves from the presence of a foreign power which occupies their countryside, assassinates their civilians, and seeks to impose the domination of a degenerate government against their consent.
America, apparently having lost its heart as well as its mind, at long last has arisen not as the guardian, but the nemesis, of America’s own democratic creed.
After revealing the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg went on record to say that in Vietnam we were not fighting on the wrong side, but that we were the wrong side. As a former volunteer infantryman in that misbegotten war, I would wish to believe Ellsberg’s judgment was wrong – but, tragically, it was not.
As an American patriot today, I wish to believe we are not the "wrong side" again in Afghanistan. But, in view of our tactics of terror in a so-called war against terror, such faith is hard find. Too many of our courageous but misled troops now serving there I fear, in time, will find such faith impossible.
Edmund Burke, speaking of the French Revolutionaries in 1790, said, "The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.”
I keep this maxim prominently displayed in my classroom as a sort of caveat for my adolescent, liberty-craving students. But this principle ought to apply especially to democratic nations, with America held as no exception.
If we, as a nation, presume to exercise our “unalienable right” of liberty to methodically assassinate the civilians of another country just because it pleases our military leadership to do so, then “We, the People,” need to take a long step back and reevaluate what it means to be Americans.
Until that time ever arrives, the world will wait – just as it has been waiting for far too long – to risk its congratulations to an America that seeks to win others’ hearts and minds while losing its own.
Jada Thacker, Ed.D, is the author of Dissecting American History: A Theme-Based Narrative. He teaches U.S. History and Political Science at a private educational institution in Texas. He may be contacted at email@example.com .
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