Small Wars Journal

Americans Tune Out Afghan War as Fighting Rages On

Americans Tune Out Afghan War as Fighting Rages On by Deb Riechmann, Associated Press. (And a somber nod to Rudyard Kipling)

It was once President Barack Obama's "war of necessity." Now, it's America's forgotten war.

The Afghan conflict generates barely a whisper on the U.S. presidential campaign trail. It's not a hot topic at the office water cooler or in the halls of Congress - even though more than 80,000 American troops are still fighting here and dying at a rate of one a day.

Americans show more interest in the economy and taxes than the latest suicide bombings in a different, distant land. They're more tuned in to the political ad war playing out on television than the deadly fight still raging against the Taliban...

Tommy by Rudyard Kipling:

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!



Thu, 08/23/2012 - 1:42pm

In reply to by carl

Carl, it would be really difficult to cover all the problems I have with the prosecution of this cluster duck but ROE and over-supervision by the chain of command would rank right up there.

I do think it would be nice if we chose to help people who want help and are actually willing to fight for it and leave the rest to be sorted by a higher power.

I'll be relieved if we simply avoid the old huey on the embassy thing..


Thu, 08/23/2012 - 12:58pm

In reply to by 50Bravo


I can't argue about the wisdom of some of the precautions you advise. But if we do things like this, there will be no graceful exit public willingness or not. It may have come to the point where there is no graceful exit anyway, if these killings continue at this rate (30% of fatal casualties this month so far according to the AP article). They probably will and our bug out will resemble guards running like hell for the yard exit after a riot breaks out. Wouldn't that be ironical, Taliban & Co won't have chased us out, the Afghan gov forces will have done it, prompted by anger at our behavior over the years.


Thu, 08/23/2012 - 10:44am

I am still watching too.
Sick about the recent killings by ANA infiltrators.
The fact that this continues at this pace is unforgivable.
Our guys need to know by now that these people are not 100% reliable.

We need separate (if contiguous) US only perimeters.
SOP should be that no one comes into US perimeter without a US keeping them in clear field of fire, locked and loaded. Everyone needs to be carrying hot all the time. No one should go out alone and when they do go out they need to cover each other... not go to the mall.

If they need to have a ceremony (as at Siah Choy recently) let them have it outside the wire with a sniper on overwatch...especially when they are bringing some FNG local on board for the love of God.
We know that there are enemy elements within the local units. If we can't put a stop to this, the public will not let us exit this gracefully.

This stuff is toxic but, largely avoidable. The ANA are not our brothers or friends...our people need to "get" this and stop worrying about offending the local. The good ones won't be

I am concerned that (since we are edging towards the door) there may be more people concerned with career than taking care of our kids.


Sun, 08/26/2012 - 1:34pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


The problem with thinking that an actual existential threat will get us to change our ways is that our bad habits may be sodeeply entrenched we won't be able to change even if we wanted to. We have been indulging bad habits for so long we may not have any idea what a good one is. The other thing is that we haven't had any existential threat to the nation in 147 years and we've only had two in our entire history as a nation. Saying, in effect, that we may play lousy and practice lousy but we're going to come through in a big game doesn't lessen any worry.

That was a very interesting comment not wanting to be part of that culture.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 08/25/2012 - 4:32pm

In reply to by carl

To be honest, I'm kind of afraid as well. As Ken White says around here frequently, only a genuine existential threat will get us to change our ways.

I hear you on the culture of impunity. That's why I wish more people would support an investigation. That would probably become a clusterf#ck too, sadly. Another post around here mentioned that another 9-11 commission would just become coopted. It's just that <em>I</em> don't want to be part of that culture, so I rant on uselessly on forums like this. But maybe, just maybe, some young person will go do what I suggest and read original sources and come up with something useful, original, helpful, to break through the BS. Maybe I'd like to set an example for that young person, the way others have for me, how to sift through information, and how not to get misdirected, although I am sure I do get misdirected. Hope springs eternal.

Update to my comment: Other physicians and pathologists taught me how to sift through information relating to medical cases, so I'm not sure it's applicable to "watching the top of society." I think I tend to go off the deep end at times, but, on the other hand, it's not bad mental training to have.


Sat, 08/25/2012 - 2:04pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


This is something I recently read.

"Yet in evaluating these trends, **** inexplicably struck an optimistic tone. After collecting scores of data points, the army staff selectively highlighted those figures that best represented advances in accomplishing strictly military tasks. It seemed as if **** in early ---- refused to believe it could be losing a war to peasant insurgents."

That sounds familiar to you I'm sure. But **** is MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam and ---- is 1965. The quote if from a book called No Sure Victory by Gregory A. Daddis. That was 47 years ago. 47! And yet it sounds as if could have been written last week.

I won't stop paying attention and I hope we can do some good, but the big green machine hasn't changed in two generations. The powers that be inside the beltway have changed though. They have gotten worse. I hope we can change things but I fear we may be in the position of the Prussian Army in the early 1800s. They couldn't change themselves to meet the changes in the world, so la Grande Armee made them change.

One of the other reasons I am glum about this is the culture of impunity that exists among the elites in the US. No matter how bad they screw up, they pay no real price. Their reputations and their fortunes remain intact. This happens in the gov, the military, business, most everywhere, especially if you say the magic words "I take full responsibility." You don't actually have to pay the price, just say the words.

The classic example of that is Janet Reno. She presided over the death by fire of scores of American citizens, but she done her duty by her class and nobody had to pay a price because she said "I'm accountable. The buck stops with me." She took full responsibility.

Of course the "full responsibility" route is only for the really big screwups. For the normal ongoing disasters like Afghanistan, the elites just give each other a pass. They don't even recognize that anything is wrong and if they do, they don't insist that a price be paid because that would set a precedent that an elite would have to actually pay a price for screwing up. That's just not done you know.

Sorry for the philippic. I watch too many old movies and pay attention too closely to the dialog. No Sure Victory is a good book by the way. Some things in there I didn't like but it made me think a lot.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 08/25/2012 - 12:34pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Oh, I want to add that I understand secrets need to be kept and that secrets sometimes matter in statecraft and are perfectly reasonable. I think we take it too far in that part of the world, though, and it is a habit our institutions developed over decades because we were involved in a cat-and-mouse game with the Soviet Union. Then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, we kept up the habit for lots of different reasons.

carl, this is why the American people have to educate themselves, otherwise the spinmeisters and influence agents can use our ignorance against us. You have to go to original sources, though, a lot of the time, because some scholarship and writing is tainted.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 08/25/2012 - 12:23pm

In reply to by carl

Have faith, carl. Investigations are being proposed by lawmakers.

The questions and problems we have faced the past decade or so remain regarding optimal American security interests in this new century.

The questions remain, IMO, unanswered by many in our decision-making classes--civilian and military--as many continue on intellectual auto-pilot, piloted with programs developed in the immediate post WWII period.

Let's help. Let's do our part as citizens. I know I sound like a Pollyanna, but let's each do our own small part. Why not?

Don't stop caring. Care <em>more.</em>

I want to give up paying attention too, sometimes. I've been watching the sicko security relationships the US has developed with that part of the world my entire adult life. The tendency to intrigue, to carry water for whoever promises to aid us, to prioritize sketchy notions of geostrategy over American life and hard, practical, reasonable security interests is nothing new. Also, there is a lot of money to be made privately and allocated institutionally by basing American security on broad, forever alliances.

But yeah, there are a lot of stories coming out lately about that raid and whether we've been told the full story or not. Par for the course, actually. The American people are rarely told the truth "for our own good" when it comes to South Asia. Congress tries to get at the truth of something and the CIA, Defense Dept, State, WH, or individual partisans within, basically block the attempts. Happens every decade.

PS: I enjoy reading Dr. Staniland's papers, but I do think his posts reveal a lot of mirroring. Basically, while trying to be empathetic, he inadvertently reenforces the notion that others base their actions on our notions of national security.


Thu, 08/23/2012 - 9:40am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


That is one reason so many people have given up caring about Afghanistan. No matter what kind of incredible nonsense goes on, it just keeps going on and the powers that be keep talking about how fine the emperor's new clothes look. Your desire to investigate us concerning OBL's killing is spot on. That whole thing is a tower of lies. But to actually investigate it would reveal that it was and reveal how many people, important people, were and are complicit in the lies so nothing will be done. All us people out here in flyover country realize that and have realized it so it pointless to fret about it anymore.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 08/22/2012 - 5:22am

Well, I'm still paying attention, but, then again, I'm the one person in America that wanted an investigation after the OBL raid - and I'm talking about investigating us--the US and our institutions--given all that's happened.

PS: I seem to be having trouble logging in, unless I request a new password? Uh oh, I'm not banned or anything, am I? The Council doesn't let me anywhere near it :)

PPS: Since I can't add it there to one of the threads, I'll add it here:

Paul Staniland's blog at the FP Afpak channel(a COIN scholar) is very good, as are papers of his I've read (except he does that thing where he tends to look at the region via the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India lens without adding the US/UK/EU/NATO to the mix. Western allies try and shape US behavior as much as others do in Afghanistan. I simply do not understand this scholarly blind spot? IMO, it's a weak spot in Western literature on the subject, the US and its allies--business interests, security alliances, diasporas--as a part of the dynamic.)