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Our Afghan "Government in a Box"

Did Gen. McChrystal reveal more than he intended?

"We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told The New York Times last week about the largest military offensive since an American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001. Six thousand U.S. Marines, plus British and Afghan forces, descended on a Taliban stronghold in Marja, in the southern Helmand Province, a mission described as a "test" of America’s new counter-insurgency strategy designed to win over civilians and establish order, all while chasing away or killing Taliban fighters.

Government in a box? What a foolish thing to say, what hubris. Ironically, it’s probably more truth than the general wanted to reveal about American manipulation of the Afghan "government." But what should we expect when we put a military commander—underscore the word commander—in charge of a nation-building folly. Apparently, the general thinks you can bring in a government as easily as he requisitions more meals-ready-to-eat for his troops.

Of course, we’ll get a result as tasty as those MREs. The outcome will be what any intelligent observer with a sense of history will understand--a client government in name only, in a failed non-state, rife with corruption. If that sounds familiar, you probably know what we tried unsuccessfully with an earlier American client regime, in “South” Vietnam in the early 1960s. And it’s what another general touted by the Military Industrial Complex, David Petraeus, did with his rent-a-bad-guy “counterinsurgency strategy” in Iraq, heralded by neocon loonies as the “victory” for their elective war.

The Times story that quoted McChrystal’s nonsense appeared under the headline, “Afghan Offensive Is New War Model.” “Marja is intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation,” the Times correspondent wrote, “based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by General McChrystal in the prelude to President Obama’s decision in December to increase the number of American troops here to nearly 100,000. More than at any time since 2001, American and NATO soldiers will focus less on killing Taliban insurgents than on sparing Afghan civilians and building an Afghan state.”

Well, that’s an improvement over President Lyndon Johnson’s napalming distant villages in Vietnam in order to save them. But military nation-building is still a fool’s errand, particularly when there is no indigenous infrastructure to build a nation, let alone build a liberal democracy.

Dr. Nadir Atash, an Afghan native who has mostly lived in the United States since he came here as a student in the 1960s, recently made that point to me as we both sat in the guest waiting room of RT-TV. I was there to assess the first-year failures of President Barack Obama, and he followed me to discuss how McChrystal’s Afghan adventure was doomed to fail.

“This (the assault on Marja) is not a break through,” said Atash, who recently authored a memoir, Turbulence: The Tumultuous Journey of One Man's Quest for Change in Afghanistan. After a career in teaching and building a successful business, Atash went back to Afghanistan after the U.S. removed the Taliban from Kabul in 2001, hoping to help restore a nation assaulted by the Soviets in the 1980s and terrified by the Taliban in the 1990s.

Military efforts won’t produce anything lasting, Atash told RT TV. We first “need to focus on [instilling] rule of law, [ending] corruption and creating jobs.”

He had some real-life experience battling corruption in the Karzai government when he returned to Afghanistan in 2001. He was asked to head the state-owned airlines, but finally gave up and returned to the U.S. in 2006 after failing to make headway for years.

For those who advocate following Petraeus’ Iraq model of trying to purchase peace, Atash had this to say in his interview: “We cannot buy peace. Maybe time. But it is sure to backfire. The insurgents are fighting for ideology, not money.” The rent-a-Taliban theory, he noted, “was cooked up by the Afghan government” and its American and NATO “allies”, who, he said, “only see dollar signs.”

The Obama-McChrystal military “solution” for Afghanistan, which fell on Presidents Day weekend, should remind the historically-informed of America’s own efforts to build a nation-state in the New World. Our founders created an indigenous movement for liberal democracy. They were nobody’s clients.

If Barack Obama hopes to join George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon of wise American leaders, our very brainy president needs to stop outsmarting himself. He needs to study—and understand—the lessons of our failed attempts to impose liberal democracy where no indigenous liberal or democratic movements existed. Gen. McChrystal is no Gen. Washington. And thus far, Barack Obama doesn’t resemble the founder of his political party, Thomas Jefferson.

Terry Michael is executive director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism. His "thoughts from a libertarian Democrat" are collected at his website www.terrymichael.net.

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  • ||

    New at Reason: Terry Michael on Obama's New Afghan Offensive

    Woof, woof!

  • ||

    I found that offensive!

    Woof, woof, woof!

  • ||

    "We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, told The New York Times last week[...]

    "Instant Quisling" is to be the brand name . . .

  • ||

    “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.”

    Hey, can we get one of those for America? The Economical Smaller model, please.

    (Does hyundai/kia make Govt-in-a-box yet?)

  • ||

    InstaQuiz

  • ||

    If Barack Obama hopes to join George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon of wise American leaders, our very brainy president needs to stop outsmarting himself.

    Well, he's already "up there" along Lincoln, FDR, Wilson, Truman, Johnson, Nixon and Bush fis in the Pantheon of the greatest killers of Americans and other miscelaneous foreigners.

  • ||

    Military efforts won’t produce anything lasting, Atash told RT TV. We first “need to focus on [instilling] rule of law, [ending] corruption and creating jobs.”

    How the fuck are you supposed to "instill the rule of law, end corruption and create jobs" if the insurgency is killing everyone and instituting some kind of lunatic theocratic rule?

    Yeah, this shit is really hard. But what is the alternative? I know, just go home and say to hell with it and take our chances with the Taliban running Afghanistan again. That is one solution. And if that is what Terry Micheal is advocating, then he ought to do that. And if he can't come up with an alternative, what is the point of whining about how hard nation building is?

  • ||

    "Nation building is hard!"

  • ||

    Whining is hard

  • ||

    Re: John,

    But what is the alternative? I know, just go home and say to hell with it and take our chances with the Taliban running Afghanistan again.

    The alternative is this:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi....._army2.jpg

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fb/Last-stand.jpg

  • ||

    Yes, We could kill everyone. And that would also solve the problem. It is nothing if not an elegant and simple solution.

    But I highly doubt that Michael is advocating that either. Seriously, if people want to object to the war in Afghanistan, then they need to seriously address the consequences of leaving Afghanistan and state why those consequences are preferable to war.

    Honestly, I am a bit agnostic about it. I am not sure that maybe the consequences of leaving are not less than staying. But I think anyone advocating withdrawal owes an explanation as to why they are rather than just whining about how hard wars are.

  • ||

    John,

    But I think anyone advocating withdrawal owes an explanation as to why they are rather than just whining about how hard wars are.

    How about:

    "BECAUSE WE'RE BROKE, YOU FOOL!!!!"

  • ||

    We are not broke. We have enough revenue to more than cover spending in the bad old days of 2005. The war costs what? $200 billion a year? We spend in the trillions. We have plenty of money. We just have to decide where to spend it, which of course begs the question of "is this war worth it?".

  • ||

    Re: John,

    We are not broke. We have enough revenue to more than cover spending in the bad old days of 2005.

    Sure, John - America is rollin' in dough . . .

  • ||

    We take in well over a trillion dollars in revenue every year. That is rolling in dough. We just spend a lot more than we take in. Again, there is nothing to say that we couldn't cut other spending and continue the war, if it is important enough, which is the whole question.

  • ||

    Re: John,

    Again, there is nothing to say that we couldn't cut other spending and continue the war, if it is important enough, which is the whole question.

    You tell me - what's the point of that war?

    Maybe you should ask him:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi....._army2.jpg

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brydon

  • ||

    On the afternoon of 13th January 1842 the British troops in Jellalabad, watching for their comrades of the Kabul garrison, saw a single figure ride up to the town walls. It was Dr Brydon, the sole survivor of the column.

    The entire force of 690 British soldiers, 2,840 Indian soldiers and 12,000 followers were killed or in a few cases taken prisoner. The 44th Foot lost 22 officers and 645 soldiers, mostly killed. Afghan casualties, largely Ghilzai tribesmen, are unknown.
  • ||

    Just because you have a job, doesn't mean you aren't broke.

  • ||

    Actually, OM, John is absolutely right on this one - this year's federal tax receipts would cover 100% of the 2005 federal outlay.

  • ||

    Re: RC Dean,

    Actually, OM, John is absolutely right on this one - this year's federal tax receipts would cover 100% of the 2005 federal outlay.

    Yeah, and my paycheck just covers my monthly budget - but that does not mean I am justified to blow it all on cheap women and booze.

    At least, cheap women and booze are LESS harmful than a FUCKING WAR.

  • ||

    OK but what happens when they pull the troops out and stop all of the spending on the war? You dont honestly think that they are going to just cut that out of the budget do you?

  • ||

    ""How the fuck are you supposed to "instill the rule of law, end corruption and create jobs" if the insurgency is killing everyone and instituting some kind of lunatic theocratic rule?""

    Come on, don't blow it out of proportion. They are not killing everyone, nor do they rule the majority Afghanistan.

    Afghanistan has a government that is semi-effective in major cities. It will never be effective in the remote areas, unless you get the warlords to give in. Which isn't going to happen.

    Even if we made the Taliban extinct, warlords will not give up their fiedoms. The people of Afghanistan are not interested in having a national government.

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    Caption Contest!

    "Damn dude, either you have small pecs or my hands are huge! You ought to do some pushups or something."

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    "Can I just cup your titty for a few seconds then?"

  • ||

    The Obama-McChrystal military “solution” for Afghanistan, which fell on Presidents Day weekend, should remind the historically-informed of America’s own efforts to build a nation-state in the New World. Our founders created an indigenous movement for liberal democracy. They were nobody’s clients.

    Did our "indigenous movement" get any assistance from foreign nations? Was this assistance because they believed in our "movement" or because they wanted to stick a finger in the eye of our mutual opponent? Was it an "indigenous" fleet that helped pin Cornwallis at Yorktown, or was it the soldiers of an Imperial nation acting in their self interest?

    Funnier than hell that you scold Americans for historical ignorance while displaying the same thing.

  • ||

    Funnier than hell what a second grade knowledge of the Revolution you have. Yes, the French intervention helped. But before the French intervention after leaving Boston, the British had given up on ever getting New England back in the fold. The plan was to take the South and Mid Atlantic and leave a New England too small to be a viable threat to British interests in North America.

    Further, it wasn't the French who defeated the British at Guilford Courthouse or King's Mountain. And it wasn't the French who ran Cornwallis ragged in a chase through the Carolina back country. Cornwallis was already defeated by the time he limped into Yorktown. It was just the French who bottled him up.

    Could the US have won without French help? Probably not beyond a small independent New England. But, they could have won nothing if the majority of the country hadn't decided that they would no longer tolerate British rule.

  • ||

    Could the US have won without French help? Probably not

    My point. Yours was?

  • ||

    An alliance with the French doesn't mean the Founders were clients of the French.

    Ally, maybe. But it's not like they stepped in and said hey you should be your own country and we're going to do this and this and this whether you like it or not.

    French involvement in the revolutionary war is far from what our involvement is in Afghanistan or in other past interventions.

    Key difference is the French weren't really intervening persay. We negotiated an alliance.

    Funnier than hell that you scold Americans for historical ignorance while displaying the same thing.

  • ||

    And on the other other hand, Louie the 16th got the mother of all blowbacks for helping the American Revolution.

  • ||

    The author of the article claimed that the American Revolution was an "indigenous movement". Acting as if we did not receive important help from the French is historical ignorance.

  • ||

    So it be more like the first time we got involved in Afghanistan and supplied weapons and intelligence to help the Mujahideen drive the Russians out?

  • ||

    http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com.....03200.html

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    Your links fucked, Margie.

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    Technically, she SugarFreed that link.

    C'mon, if you want to post here, you need to tow the lion.

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    HEY BUDDY, WHY DON'T YOU JUST IRON MY SHIT!

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    HURR DURR HURR DURR!

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    I am ashame.

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    I am a shame. FIFY

  • Maverick||

    If you have a video of two, three or even six links fucking, please share.

  • ||

    Is this column what you get when you sprinkle a little "I Hate Obama" on a whole lot of "I Hate Bush"?

    You can take the press secretary out of the DNC, but you can't take the DNC out of the press secretary.

  • ||

    He's a "Libertarian Democrat". Am I the only one who finds that absurd?

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    Absurd? Not at all.

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    Salaam allekum my Palestinian oppressing, National Socialist loving, well-poisoning, Matzo munching brother.

    Terry Micheal, David Duke, Moses, and Allah make perfectly good sense to me too.

  • ||

    As long as the Afghans don't try developing nuclear weapons or medicinal marijuana we should let them govern themselves.

  • ||

    Is "Government in a Box" the same as "Prince Albert in a Can"?

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    or "Dick in a box"

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    I need a dozen.

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    Is Government In a Box downloadable through Steam?

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    Government in a Box

    "Pop! goes the weasel"

  • Maverick||

    For somebody who does this for a living, you, Terry Michael, should recognize that McChrystal ran political circles around Obama starting last summer and ending when he met Obama on Air Force One in Copenhagen last fall. This article's portrayal of McChrystal as a simple general isn't accurate: he's a savvy political operator who got exactly what he wanted from his boss. Obama was outmaneuvered. McChrystal will never be a Washington, but he's much more clever and far less arrogant than MacArthur . . . and all that guy did was oversee the conversion of Imperial Japan to a democracy.

  • ||

    ""This article's portrayal of McChrystal as a simple general isn't accurate: he's a savvy political operator who got exactly what he wanted from his boss. ""

    I don't think it's possible to make General without being a savvy political operator.

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    Some flag officers are more politically talented than others, but that's part of my point. McChrystal(I'm sure that Gates, Mullen and Patraeus had a hand in it too) made Obama look like a naif.

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    MREs aren't that bad. They're better than C-rats.

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    But not as good as T-Rats

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    We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in.

    If only he meant this in a way that made any kind of sense.

    If we treated Afghanistan the way we treated the American West, and just rolled the government (and the white man) in, I suppose it might have a chance. You eventually overwhelm them with numbers just like we did the Indians.

    Except, who the hell wants to go carve out a new homestead in Afghanistan? I predict that's gonna be a slightly harder sell than "Go west young man!" was 175 years ago.

    Now Iraq, on the other hand, is a different story. If I was running the show I'd just start sucking oil out of the ground and selling it. The military's sole purpose would be keeping those wells pumping, and the tankers coming in and out of port. I'd keep it up until we sold enough to pay the US debt off, then I'd get out of there.

    Of course I'd do all other kinds of things that will never happen. Like shrink the US government down to perhaps 1/3 or less of its current size.

    So now you all know why I'll never be president.

    But John is right to demand an answer to the question, why should we not fight? They'll very probably build more terrorist training camps the minute we do. And he's right, we could afford this war if we wanted to.

    OTOH, because "Go to Afghanistan, young man!" isn't going to rouse the American masses, we're almost certainly not going to win in any sense of the word in Afghanistan. So what I want to know is, why are we staying?

    Old Mexican is also right. We're broke. But that's because our politicians wanted us to be.

    Like John, I lean agnostic on Afghanistan. But either way, there's no making any sense of it without a major shift in philosophy.

    Which isn't going to happen.

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    btw, I also find "libertarian Democrat" an utter contradiction in terms. I have no choice but to assume the "Democrat" part is dominant.

    The Republicans are really screwed up. The Democrats just really want to screw us all, in The Ideal of EuroSocialism, and all that entails.

    Americans will never learn that Europeans are much better at science than they are at building governments on rational philosphical foundations.

  • indy||

    The author has apparently never opened a book on military strategy in their life. I would suggest Basil Lidell Hart's "The Indirect Approach".

  • ||

    The only argument I have with this article is your criticism of M.R.E.s. I thought that 9/10 varieties were delicious, and they were all better than the chow hall.

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    "Government in a box" simply means "readily deployable" and is a current military term of art. Once the town is cleared of insurgents you have to provide essential services for the populace immediately. Without the government in a box, you are left with a humanitarian crisis.

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    "Government in a box" simply means "readily deployable" and is a current military term of art. Once the town is cleared of insurgents you have to provide essential services for the populace immediately. Without the government in a box, you are left with a humanitarian crisis.

  • ||

    Reply Afghan war comments

    Since Adam and Eve were chased out of the Garden of Eden by the creator, all the posterities are constantly in quarrelling to justify one's own standing although they are brothers and sisters. The human history is nothing more than but the tragic records that any means they employed to achieve the end, civilized or uncivilized alike, in the endless ignorant quagmire.

    This human nature demonstrated very well in the 9 11 by the suicidal bombers. They planned very brilliantly in love of their value system to cause the great tragic damages to so many people according to their desire. The Japanese air forces attack on Pearl Harbor was the similar phenomena of human nature that we could perceive through out the written or oral history. But they are good friends now.

    The League of Nations and UN is the demonstration of the collective desire to find a common ground to avoid or to resolve the variously conflicting interests to create a peaceful world. Although it is not completely realized as yet as expected, some results are very optimistic.

    You mentioned if the Red China comes to U.S. to guide her workers' paradise here in America. How could she do it when she wasn't able to feed even her own comrades yet? Until the American capitalist globalization economic system with others went there to give them chance to earn the wages to season the red dinner tables tastefully up grading as the Red capitalists today. Now even she could mass-produce fake brands as well to export to U.S. and other capitalists to earn Dollars. In other words, the workers paradise already was here in the United States in the unceasingly progressive democratic policy although it is imperfect yet.

    A good sign of the Red Chinese invasion revealed in news that more than 100,000 red students are invaded into the American colleges to pursuit ambitious education that should be considered a welcome invasion beyond Chun An Mun Square, widely open American square, a very smart invasion at best.

    They will be surprised to learn that even the dogs and wild fish here are very much well off under the government protection than those comrades in the Kim Jong Il workers’ paradise.

    That dynamic progressiveness even changed the color of the White House as demonstrated to the Free and not so Free world. But colors are heterogenious in this country.

    In 1954, while my Greyhound Bus travel from California to Main through the southern states, I noticed the vividly displayed uncomfortable signs of the restrooms for the black only.

    Dr. Martin Luther King's "We shall overcome." Civil Rights March expedited the evolution of the race relations to the right direction in America - even to the Obama White House. Today we can notice many brilliant black intellectuals are appearing in the many functional areas in the society as a great sign of the realization of the American dream as the result of the good educational system under the evolutionary capitalism.

    Even in this optimistic progress, one could not have avoided a deviant sign of the disappointment of the mockery that the King’s siblings was fighting for the share of his estates. It is nothing but a sad, distasteful reflection of the imperfect or corrupt human morality in the courtrooms from the historic Civil Rights March. Needless to say the ethnic assimilation in the multi ethnic nation will march on, hopefully to right direction.

    All children of Abraham demonstrated the similar trends, in ups or downs of the human life in morality through out the history.

    In the midst of the conflicts, we need to have a rationally established administrative structure that is imperative for all involved in pursuit of common value.

    The Afghan conflict seems to be the conflicts of complex value systems of the multi culture. If the troops evacuate prematurely, they could not avoid the bloodshed among their religious and social factions. They should be able to establish an acceptable system in common value to manage their own daily lives in accordance with the marching trend of human progress as the rapidly running rivers as in this cyberage.

    One day we all can see the human futility in the struggle, as if hitting the empty air. Until the day comes, we can not perceive in each other’s eyes that we are all children of Abraham from the Garden of Eden. It seems to me the human fate that some how should be modified in time positively, if not want tp be fall into bottomless pits - let us move toward the Garden of our home town althoug it ren\mains the unknown mile years..

    Hopefully it remains to be seen how long the General Secretary of UN Ban Key Moon could maintain the balance of the satanic atomic race
    until the new human journey begins.

    Chae S. Sone

  • ||

    Such a big deal made over this phrase.

    Here's a possible explanation (or inspiration) for it:

    "Explaining Development-in-a-Box™"
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, 9/5/2007

    http://enterpriseresilienceblo.....-deve.html

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  • Barnet||

    The U.S. has been militarily invading Afghanistan for over a decade now. It is real sad to see or read the suffering of the two countries' people from the news.

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