Politicians, soldiers, policy wonks, talk show hosts... They all have something to say about Rolling Stone's Runaway General and his team's Run-on Mouths. Unfortunately, most of the banter over the article misses some of its answers to avoiding bloody, economy-breaking, terrorist recruiting future wars that enrich a few and harm the many.
In 2006, our first female ambassador to the United Nations (1981-86), Jeane Kirkpatrick, explained what most Americans knew,
"SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has created the best commando forces in the world"
It is the second half of her sentence on which Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, and Obama/Biden must better educate the American people,
"but it will take more than commandos to win the war on terror."
What Rolling Stone dances around in its article is the need for a public policy that will lead us out of this spiral of perpetually debilitating terror and war.
In 2001, George W. Bush refused the Afghan offer to hand over Osama bin Laden. He then missed by about 1000 miles sending enough troops into the right country to get him. By 2004, he responded correctly when CBS asked him about the $3+ trillion military conflicts he launched to capture several handfuls of terrorists, "Can we win it?"
"I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
Old visionless arguments
A couple decades ago, I often found myself debating professors, policy wonks, and the cocksure. One argument revolved around my contention that in the near future, if we weren't going to allow our war machine to drain our middle class of economic vitality, our soldiers would have to become more like Peace Corps Volunteers. Of course, they blithely dismissed my belief because they were "smart" and in "positions of power" and they "knew what the military was trained for."
Why listen to a guy who based his worldly conclusions on experiences deducted while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in the slums of Bombay, and who failed to use his Ph.D. moniker to curry and carry influence in marbled corridors?
As years and costly wars piled on, smart guys (think McNamara, LBJ, Ellsberg, Zinni, etc.) as well as grunts accustomed to blurting out monosyllabic words, and officers who bled and watched others bleed, started concluding that higher body counts didn't win -- but often prolonged -- bloody wars.
Because our military was smart enough to push those who served to learn more on university settings, many of our soldiers have debated and discussed ideas and conclusions that might come from mere PCVs. On such campuses, the likes of Petraeus and McChrystal could mesh their service experiences with the grassroots work upon which the Peace Corps was built.
In reading Thomas Ricks' Fiasco, some of us realized that Gen. Petraeus might be one of those who concluded through merging service and academia that power used fairly can win hearts and minds and reduce the reliance on continuing bloody future wars.
In reading RollingStone's Runaway General, some of us might believe that General McChrystal had assimilated a similar, less costly means of reducing our continuous march into more and more economy breaking terror wars. What else should one derive from the words Michael Hastings pasted into his RollingStone story?
Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It's "insurgent math," as he calls it for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths.
A soldier complains that under the rules, any insurgent who doesn't have a weapon is immediately assumed to be a civilian. "That's the way this game is," McChrystal says. "It's complex. I can't just decide: It's shirts and skins, and we'll kill all the shirts."
Yes, "it's complex," It is also causing Bush's "it" to be deadly expensive for our economy and our troops, just as Osama bin Laden planned "it" to be in order to crush the hegemony of the "American devil."
The blithely uttered "it" is also even more deadly and costly to the "small people" of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the world, who inevitably inequitably bear the wastes and costs of wars.
Why is "it" so complex and costly? Why is it so difficult to develop public policies that address the terror war as well as the terrifying economy a $3+ trillion war has spawned?
Developing such policies today are deadly complex, because the world's once richest economy has over recent generations turned to over-investing and over relying on Star Wars troopers, rather than fielding more cost effective Jedi Knights, to win hearts and minds in the Earth's many different nation states. Only if and after we implement smarter, more cost effective public policies will our soldiers and economy bleed less on foreign lands and find more jobs, health care, and education upon returning home.
In Afghanistan, we have gone into a country where:
Corruption is a law of life differently perceived than the rampant white-collar bribery we legislate here;
Many women see only their village world through tiny slots in their purdahs and veils, while our women compete in sports in the same flashy uniforms as our men do;
Fifty percent of their population is illiterate, while 50% of our literates refuse to read critically about our and the world's complexities and reason logically.
Only recently did we go into Afghanistan with the military force and zeal we should have used immediately almost ten years ago, when their sympathetic 911 populace and government offered to help us capture Osama and a handful of crazies. With our public policy woefully lacking in common sense then, we now expect Afghani governmental and cultural transformative miracles to happen during a couple years of our military presence?
Before -- and after -- Genghis Khan, few Afghanis can be found who trust foreigners on their soil. However, some foreign troops recently invaded Afghanistan -- and won.
From 1962 to 1979, America sent 1,652 daring, sandaled, book-laden troopers into Afghanistan to ensure that crazies would never proliferate from the mountains, valleys, caves, villages, and cities of Afghanistan. Instead of costing $1 million per Kevlar vested, night vision goggled, automatic weapons loaded Star Wars trooper per year, these "unarmed Green Berets" cost American taxpayers about $10,000 per year. Wherever they pitched their tent, drew their water, taught reading, built bridges, and constructed schools, no crazies would trespass for generations to come.
Back then, America sent the right stuff. Back then, John Kennedy had the right idea -- send the Peace Corps not the War Corps. PCVs uniforms were much cheaper. No one got hurt. People everywhere cheered. And it removed nations where we sent enough right stuff from the list of areas where we'd have to war.
Decades later Hastings documents in "Runaway General" what we should have been doing for decades.
Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps.
But over the decades, America got lazy. The lazier we became, the easier a bunch of expensive blather from talk show hosts, foundations, media outlets, and uninvolved pundits led us astray. They continued convincing comfortable Americans watching expensive sports extravaganzas that "America is always number one... Right or wrong, we're number one!"
This vainglorious claptrap was swallowed often enough by ever bigger, in waistline and numbers, crowds. Yet, most of those crowds had never served like McChrystal and his team had, and most of those crowds had trouble doing 20 consecutive push-ups.
Through service, most of our soldiers have learned, as McChrystal's team had, that the world is a complex place. They've learned that you don't win wars by fighting blind in the fog of war -- blowing more and more of the perceived enemy away. What our smartest veterans have learned most of all -- is that war is so ugly; you only go to it when you truly must.
Teams assembled by McChrystal, Petraeus, and Obama/Biden are marching into valleys and up mountains in Afghanistan. Loaded with heavy military gear, each step is fraught with danger.
Those paths, however, are trails we should have hiked throughout the world for successive generations with lighter gear. Had sandaled Americans trekked those trails building little things and spreading trust, we would not today be a broken economy struggling to deal with guerrilla terrorists throughout the world and wondering about the Afghan government and its culture.
While we concentrate on a COIN (counterinsurgency) program in Afghanistan, what are we doing to ensure that we don't destroy our nation trying to COIN the world with expensive military dollars?
With all the problems surrounding us and the world, bold knightly service is required in order to avert the defeat and the destruction of the once imagined and admired Camelot.
People "doing" good little things
The kind and depth of service that we and the world require is not measuring up to our vain banter. Even the good little things we used to build, grow, and learn from serving in the world, we struggle to do today. For example,
With fewer than 8,000 volunteers, the Peace Corps is half the size it was in 1966, despite 20 new nations, including Vietnam, Nepal, and Tajikastan, requesting volunteers;
The Obama administration has failed in its promise to double the Peace Corps to 16,000 volunteers by 2011. Returned PCVs are battling to get Congress to pass a $65 million Peace Corps budget in order to increase the volunteer force to 10,000 for the first time since 1968.
Dollar for dollar, few federal programs do as much in 80 countries as the Peace Corps does with so few dollars.
If you want to help add a few more good jobs, some security, and a little more service learning sanity to the world, push your Congressional reps to support increasing the Peace Corps's budget, which Congress is now debating.
If you want America to more than double the size of Peace Corps and involve a million Americans a year for a generation in a jobs program serving under an American World Service Corps umbrella in such organizations as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Head Start, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, OxFam, Mercy Corps, and State Conservation Corps, etc., then push your Congress reps toward introducing People's Lobby's American World Service Corps Congressional Proposals (AWSC), sign the petition at http://www.worldservicecorps.us/sign_the_petition.htm. Join People's Lobby Facebook at Dwayne Hunn's Causes, and spread the word about People's Lobby's citizen initiated congressional proposals and other work.
We need another War on Poverty that puts Americans to work peacefully attacking disasters, ignorance, and terror and the American World Service Corps Congressional Proposals (AWSC) inexpensively fills the platoons that can build the heart and mind winning army.