By Scott Taylor
I recently had the opportunity to watch the new, made for Netflix movie War Machine, starring Brad Pitt. The subject of the film is the U.S. led war in Afghanistan with Pitt playing the fictitiously named Lieutenant-General Glenn McMahon. While the name is changed to provide some Hollywood artistic licence, the movie closely depicts the real life Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal and the events that transpired during his command of the Afghan mission in 2009.
The opening scene has Pitt as McMahon strutting through the airport in Dubai along with his attendant staff officers. The narrator sets the scene, telling us that the war in Afghanistan is going poorly and therefore a new General – McMahon is being brought in to jump start the whole allied campaign. The plotline follows McMahon’s attempts to do just that, up until he is fired and the final scene is his successor and a fresh set of staff officers striding through an airport, full of confidence en route to Kabul to turn things around.
War Machine is a brave diversion from the usual rah-rah, war movie genre, propaganda in that it portrays former Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a powerless puppet of the U.S. . In one dramatic scene McMahon pursuesKarzai right into his private Presidential bedroom in order to get the Afghan leader’s permission to launch a large offensive. Karzai replies that both men know such permission is not his to grant – “but thanks for asking” he tells McMahon.
There is also a poignant moment after the big offensive begins and naturally enough, innocent civilians are killed. True to his beliefs, McMahon flies to the front lines to explain to Afghan villagers – through his translator – that the U.S. is intent on bringing Afghans security, democracy and freedom.
The bewildered Afghan elder replies concisely “Just leave.”
It was refreshing to see that a U.S. moviemaker understands that despite all of our good intentions and ideals, since 2001 the West has delivered nothing but violence, corruption and insecurity to the Afghan people.
Then of course came the real life news last week that the U.S. is committing more troops to Afghanistan, and urging NATO allies such as Canada to do the same. There will be a new commander and a new strategy and this time, by golly, we are going to get it right. U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis admitted to a Senate Committee “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible.”
Of course, Mad Dog neglected to say how the U.S. will do things differently after sixteen years of futile intervention. The only response seems to always be more troops.
Then we had former U.S. General David Petraeus – famous for his briefly successful, but ultimately failed surge strategy in Iraq – telling the media that we should brace ourselves for a “long-haul, generational war” in Afghanistan.
As if sixteen years isn’t already of generational length, Petraeus went on to point out that the U.S. has had a ‘long haul’ military presence in Korea for more than 65 years. Not mentioned by Petraeus was the fact that Korea and Afghanistan are as different as soap and beans. In Korea, the U.S. fought alongside Korean allies to prevent them being overrun by the North Korean Communist forces. This was successfully achieved in 1953 with the ceasefire agreement establishing a clearly defined boundary between North and South Korea. In Afghanistan the U.S. led intervention never eliminated the Afghan insurgency, and the U.S. trained and equipped Afghan forces are woefully inadequate to fight the war on the their own.
A better analogy would be that of the U.S. failure in Vietnam. If the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan now, the corrupt cabal that they installed in Kabul will collapse just like the South Vietnamese, U.S. backed government did in 1975.
It is for certain that the U.S. would not have spent 65 years in Korea if every day their soldiers were being attacked and killed by fanatical Koreans.
The War Machine Afghan elder had the right answer “just leave”. The Afghan people are hardy survivors who will eventually sort out their own future – even if it does not resemble a western democracy.