Noam Chomsky on Afghanistan

Noam Chomsky has written a new essay, titled “Why WikiLeaks Won’t Stop the War.” In it he claims that the WikiLeaks’ War Logs, “however valuable, may contribute to the unfortunate and prevailing doctrine that wars are wrong only if they aren’t successful.” Furthermore, “A plausible consequence is a relaxation of the rules of engagement so that it becomes easier to kill civilians, and an extension of the war well into the future as Petraeus uses his clout in Congress to achieve this result.”

The problem U.S. forces have faced during the nine-year war in Afghanistan is that their military advantage has been coupled with very minor success on the ideological front. Despite being routed from power in late 2001, the Taliban have retained significant influence among the native Afghan population. A military poll in April showed that 95% of the Afghan population opposes the war and sympathizes with the Taliban. As Chomsky quotes from a news report, “The Marines have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that the movement appears more akin to the only political organization in a one-party town, with an influence that touches everyone.” Much like in Vietnam and also during the ten-year Soviet war in Afghanistan, the invading forces have found themselves facing an indiscernible enemy that is constituted from the entire web of social relations, rather than any clearly defined military structure.

Facing this non-traditional opponent, the need to win the battle for ideological hegemony becomes more crucial. Despite placing more emphasis on winning the battle of the hearts in recent years, U.S. forces have not been able to alter the opinions of a population that has borne at least 10-12,ooo civilian casualties since the war began (not including the deaths of insurgents or those killed as a result of direct military action). Neither have they been able to convincingly make the case for the war at home, as the percentage of support for the war has dwindled among U.S. citizens in recent months.

Nevertheless, the U.S., France, and Germany have all recently increased their troop presence in the country. The expected negative reaction that the Pentagon has had to the release of the WikiLeaks War Log shows just how much of a priority it has been to maintain high levels of domestic opinion about the war, and the threat that a mass disillusionment poses to the war effort. Chomsky concludes: “The CIA memorandum should remind us that states have an internal enemy: their own population, which must be controlled when state policy is opposed by the public. Democratic societies rely not on force but on propaganda, engineering consent by “necessary illusion” and “emotionally potent oversimplication,” to quote Obama’s favorite philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr.” This is certainly true. Where I disagree with him is that more leaks about the war, like the War Logs, will not have an effect on public opinion – provided that they are popularized and distributed in an easily-digestible format.

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