Strategies of Military Disinformation
By Staff News & Analysis - June 30, 2010

The 30-Year War in Afghanistan … The Afghan War is the longest war in U.S. history. It began in 1980 and continues to rage. It began under Democrats but has been fought under both Republican and Democratic administrations, making it truly a bipartisan war. The conflict is an odd obsession of U.S. foreign policy, one that never goes away and never seems to end … Given the time frame the Obama administration's grand strategy imposes, and given the capabilities of the Taliban, it is difficult to see how it will all work out. But the ultimate question is about the American obsession with Afghanistan. For 30 years, the United States has been involved in a country that is virtually inaccessible for the United States. Washington has allied itself with radical Islamists, fought against radical Islamists or tried to negotiate with radical Islamists. What the United States has never tried to do is impose a political solution through the direct application of American force. This is a new and radically different phase of America's Afghan obsession. The questions are whether it will work and whether it is even worth it. – Stratfor

Dominant Social Theme: The obsession of the West with Afghanistan is inexplicable.

Free-Market Analysis: We don't mean to point fingers at Stratfor specifically in the upcoming analysis but only to point out that faulty analyses lead to faulty conclusions – and thus acceptance of the elite's dominant social themes or at least an inability to properly confront them. Also, we did not mean to return to Afghanistan so soon, but there is so much misinformation about the war and the misinformation is so clearly purposeful that from our point of view the war and Western media coverage (including especially this Stratfor analysis) may make for a great learning moment.

While there are generally questions in some quarters as to Stratfor's background, we will assume for purposes of argument that Stratfor expects to accomplish nothing more or less than its mission statement implies – "to provide an audience of decision-makers and sophisticated news consumers in the U.S. and around the world with unique insights into political, economic, and military developments." Thus, the points we make below do not carry with them any other imputation except that one must be very careful of one's assumptions or conclusions will not mean much.

Let us, then, examine this article by Stratfor on the 30-Year War in Afghanistan, which can be found on the Stratfor website. We will do this as an exercise is thematic analysis to sharpen appropriate skills when it comes to figuring out how dominant social themes work and what needs to be applied to ensure a proper understanding of them. It was sent to us by a kindly feedbacker, Ken, with the notation that Stratfor's conclusions parallel our own (in our article, "Afghanistan, the 50-Year War,") which you can read here. It is written by George Friedman who is the founder of Stratfor.

In a sense it is a far superior article to our own by virtue of a larger frame of reference. Whereas the Bell has made a distinction between the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent American effort, Stratfor points out that one way or another it is actually the same war. We will grant the efficacy of this interpretation. It is very clever because, in fact, the West HAS been fighting in Afghanistan for some 30 years, even if it seems as if the Western war only started in the early 2000s. Here's some more from the article:

The first phase of the Afghan War began with the Soviet invasion in December 1979, when the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, organized and sustained Afghan resistance to the Soviets. This resistance was built around mujahideen, fighters motivated by Islam. Washington's purpose had little to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with U.S.-Soviet competition. The United States wanted to block the Soviets from using Afghanistan as a base for further expansion and wanted to bog the Soviets down in a debilitating guerrilla war. The United States did not so much fight the war as facilitate it. The strategy worked. The Soviets were blocked and bogged down. This phase lasted until 1989, when Soviet troops were withdrawn.

The second phase lasted from 1989 until 2001. The forces the United States and its allies had trained and armed now fought each other in complex coalitions for control of Afghanistan. Though the United States did not take part in this war directly, it did not lose all interest in Afghanistan. Rather, it was prepared to exert its influence through allies, particularly Pakistan. Most important, it was prepared to accept that the Islamic fighters it had organized against the Soviets would govern Afghanistan. There were many factions, but with Pakistani support, a coalition called the Taliban took power in 1996. The Taliban in turn provided sanctuary for a group of international jihadists called al Qaeda, and this led to increased tensions with the Taliban following jihadist attacks on U.S. facilities abroad by al Qaeda.

The third phase began on Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda launched attacks on the mainland United States. Given al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan, the United States launched operations designed to destroy or disrupt al Qaeda and dislodge the Taliban. The United States commenced operations barely 30 days after Sept. 11, which was not enough time to mount an invasion using U.S. troops as the primary instrument. Rather, the United States made arrangements with factions that were opposed to the Taliban (and defeated in the Afghan civil war). This included organizations such as the Northern Alliance, which had remained close to the Russians; Shiite groups in the west that were close to the Iranians and India; and other groups or subgroups in other regions. These groups supported the United States out of hostility to the Taliban and/or due to substantial bribes paid by the United States.

The fourth phase of the war began in 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama decided to pursue a more aggressive strategy in Afghanistan. Though the Bush administration had toyed with this idea, it was Obama who implemented it fully. During the 2008 election campaign, Obama asserted that he would pay greater attention to Afghanistan. The Obama administration began with the premise that while the Iraq War was a mistake, the Afghan War had to be prosecuted. It reasoned that unlike Iraq, which had a tenuous connection to al Qaeda at best, Afghanistan was the group's original base. He argued that Afghanistan therefore should be the focus of U.S. military operations. In doing so, he shifted a strategy that had been in place for 30 years by making U.S. forces the main combatants in the war.

This is a really terrific analysis of the current "long war" – which is in fact already far longer than most think. But, nonetheless, the Stratfor review ends on an indecisive note: "But the ultimate question is about the American obsession with Afghanistan … What the United States has never tried to do is impose a political solution through the direct application of American force. This is a new and radically different phase of America's Afghan obsession."

So we can see, despite the thoroughness of the overview, we have not answered fundamental questions about why the United States is in Afghanistan (as the dominant military player) and why it has seen fit to commit so much treasure and blood to such a "backward" land.

Leftists, of course, have their pat answers. Either America is intent on exploiting Afghanistan's resources or its geopolitical position. Libertarians of a more cynical stripe may agree with these points and add that the West generally has fought in the Middle East to ensure that the dollar remains the main reserve currency – the one that oil is purchased in. Of course this begs the question as to "why Afghanistan" – since, to the best of our knowledge, Afghanistan never threatened to destroy the linkage between oil and the dollar.

As far as the "commodities and mining" justification goes, we were pleased to see, in fact, that Stratfor discounts that much as we have. The analysis notes the following: "From the grand strategic point of view, the United States needs to withdraw from Afghanistan, a landlocked country where U.S. forces are dependent on tortuous supply lines. Whatever Afghanistan's vast mineral riches, mining them in the midst of war is not going to happen. More important, the United States is overcommitted in the region and lacks a strategic reserve of ground forces. Afghanistan ultimately is not strategically essential, and this is why the United States has not historically used its own forces there."

There is also the justification that the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies (and the powerful banking families that stand behind them) are simply trying to make money from the Afghan war and are playing the Taliban off the West. This implies, of course, that the West controls the Taliban in a certain sense, as well as the Taliban's creator, Pakistan. A corollary to this is that the CIA and others are really interested in occupying Afghanistan for its drug trade. This is a variant of the "West-is-in-Afghanistan-to-make-money." It is from our point of view mostly a leftist argument and one that Stratfor too, as we've pointed out, seems to find unconvincing.

The troubling thing about the Stratfor analysis (and other analyses like the Stratfor analysis, though not so well done) is that despite the brilliance of the summary, the conclusion is a let down. It leaves questions hanging in the air. It admits that there is no easy solution for the Anglo-American axis regarding the war, but more troubling still it states the following – "But the ultimate question is about the American obsession with Afghanistan …" – and then falls silent!

In fact, this is the critical issue … Without formulating a rationale for action, one cannot understand the operations of the United States. One cannot, for instance, understand this recent statement from Henry Kissinger made in an interview with the Financial Times: "'The basic premise that you can work towards a national government that can replace the American security effort in a deadline of 12 months provides a mechanism for failure,' Mr Kissinger said. 'On the other hand, if we are willing to pursue the stated [war] objective the public must be prepared for a long struggle. This is a choice that needs to be made explicitly.'"

In the interview with the Financial Times, Kissinger seems to press for the "long war" approach we discussed yesterday. But why the preoccupation with this country, the fifth poorest in the world? Again, we are left with no answers, or certainly not from the Stratfor analysis and others like it, despite the elegant frame of reference.

We would submit that any analysis of the Afghan situation must start with 9/11. There are significant questions about 9/11 and how it occurred and who was responsible. Leaving aside the inevitable and (often credible) finger-pointing, we would point out for the purposes of our argument here that direct linkage between the Taliban and 9/11 is tenuous at best. Not only that, but having driven the Taliban from power, the question arises (even if one accepts the 9/11 connection) as to why the US did not withdraw from Afghanistan once its initial goals were met.

The answer can only be that the 9/11 justification was not the underlying reason for the US presence in Afghanistan. In fact the US government (along with Britain and NATO) has offered numerous reasons over the years for being in Afghanistan, and these reasons have tended to shift with the seasons.

Now as we pointed out yesterday, the reasons for staying Afghanistan have boiled down to keeping Al Qaeda on the run, pressuring the Taliban into accepting the corrupt Hamid Karzai government and building the Afghan army. By any measure these are troubling and confusing rationales. They do constitute a warning however, that at least some in the West wish to position the Anglo-American/NATO axis for an even more protracted struggle.

We reaffirm yesterday's perspective. There is only ONE main reason (with several subsets) as to why the Anglo-American axis is in Afghanistan (which we will get to in a minute), and why the war, which actually began around 1850 between the Pashtuns and the British has recommenced. The initial war ran from about 1850 to 1900 and the current war, to use Stratfor's frame of reference has run about 30 years, for a total of 80 years.

Ask the man on the street what nation Britain has been at war with for 80 years and you will get a blank stare. Explain that it is the Pashtuns, and he still won't know what you're talking about. The power of the mainstream media to obfuscate and to rewrite history is just tremendous. (But you already know that.) From our point of view of course such a rewriting is actually a dominant social theme: "The West is at war with the Taliban because they are a backwards group of tribal terrorists who are trying to drag Afghanistan back to the 19th century."

It should be more and more obvious to anyone who pays attention that this is a major war. A defining moment, in fact, for Western power. Kissinger obviously understands, but many in the West do not. The war is in fact a kind of New Crusade. It is being fought to consolidate Western power over the Muslim world and also to distract the West, secondarily, from the truth-telling of the Internet and the collapsing economies of NATO members. In a sense the undeclared war is being waged not only against the Taliban but against Pakistan as well – and then by extension Iran, Indonesia, etc. The government of Pakistan is doing the will of the West, but some 90 percent of the Pakistani people are not well disposed to the war or Western militarism.

After Thoughts

We are not blaming Stratfor, course, for the kind of manipulation we have tried to identify, above. In many ways this is a fine analysis, and we would encourage people to read it. But in a larger sense (putting Stratfor aside) this is indeed the way misinformation can gain a foothold. One merely needs to avoid asking the tough questions, or asks the wrong questions and the result is a factual restatement of the obvious that leaves one no more enlightened than before. We would argue that there is too much of this sort of writing in the Western world and that, unfortunately, not all of it is merely the result of naïvete. Some is obviously purposeful – and very subtle as well. It is propaganda for grownups.