Obama’s War [film]

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}

Obama’s War
by Anthony Gayle

Journalist Ben Anderson returns to Afghanistan to give us a glimpse into the life of the Echo Company, a marine unit stationed in the Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan.

According to Anderson, this province is the most violent area in Afghanistan. This may be due to the confluence of several key factors including, but not limited to, close proximity to Pakistan, the number and size of poppy fields in the region, and the overall lack of mainstreaming economic opportunities for the Afghan people. In other words, the Helmand Province is prime real estate for the Taliban because they can easily produce and transport drugs through the porous borders. The Taliban uses the lucrative drug trade to fund their violent attacks at home and abroad. In one scene, PFC. Janos Lutz comes across a large marijuana field. When Anderson asks him why they don’t do anything about, he replies, “The Taliban pays the family to grow the crop, right?

We slash and cut it down and the Taliban comes back and they got no fields for them. So what are they going to do to that family now?” And so, we begin to see the connection between the International demand for the drug and the constantly looming threat of violence for the harvesters of the crop. The marines do not attack because of the potential consequences for the local population. Of course, this kind of inaction substantiates the kind of fears expressed by one Afghan who tells a military translator, “We are poor people. If we help you, the Taliban will come and beat us.” They are right to be scared. The military cannot guarantee their safety or provide any real measure of security for them.

The life of a solider has been described as long periods of relative inactivity punctuated by intense moments of violence and terror. For the soldiers in Afghanistan, those “intense moments” usually come in the form of bullets fired from a distance or an exploding roadside bomb. Ironically, it is the time between these violent episodes that will leave the greatest impression on the viewer. It is during the foot patrols or the routine process of searching an abandoned building for weapons that the soldiers are at their most candid. One marine, amazed by a child’s drawing on the wall remarks, “A fucking little kid drew a picture of his dad shooting a fucking helicopter.” He goes on to say, “I drew pictures of, like, my dad driving his truck to work, not shooting a fucking helicopter.” His statement illustrates just how daunting a task it is to “win the hearts and minds” of any people. You have to do more than convince those who are in power. You have to capture the imagination of those who will eventually take power.

Throughout the short film, Lt. Col. Cabannis speaks candidly about his view on the war and their ability to build a rapport with the people. He sees this mission as a sort of “armed social work” and believes there will be a massive transformation by the start of wintertime despite the limited progress made over the last decade. It’s difficult to imagine the kind of progress the Lieutenant Colonel envisions given some of the recent developments involving the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It’s now widely known that General McChrystal and some of his aides made disparaging remarks about President Obama and his administration to a Rolling Stone reporter that resulted in him being relieved of duty. At the very least, this demonstrates a clear lack of responsible leadership in this war effort. What’s more troubling than General McChrystal’s dishonorable conduct is the lack of leadership displayed by the President.

This is the second time McChrystal has publicly undermined the authority of the President. The previous event occurred last fall when McChrystal delivered his pre-surge speech in London. He implied that he would not support the President’s plan if it involved certain recommendations. He used this speech as a way to ratchet up pressure on the President to commit additional troops and resources to the war front in Afghanistan. Ultimately, the President complied and ordered an additional 17, 000 troops into Afghanistan. McChrystal is clearly not a stupid man. The nature of his latest remarks, coupled with the fact that they were published despite the current delicate nature of military operations in Afghanistan, suggest to me that they were calculated. He knew exactly what the repercussions of his remarks would be. The question we should be asking is “Why would he choose to make them?” Has nearly a decade in Afghanistan finally opened his eyes to something?

It is unlikely we will ever know because he has brilliantly framed the narrative for his exit. He’s extricated himself from this situation without drawing attention to the underlying reason why. The focus is on his explosive remarks, not his underlying strategy in using them. In any case, we have another example of the General forcing Obama’s hand. Some might ask: Why didn’t he simply resign? If he resigned, he would have to explain why the biggest proponent of the surge won’t be seeing the effort all the way through. Others might ask: Why did he do it in such a caustic way? Are his comments any worse than those said by members of the Tea Party? His remarks will be embraced, albeit privately and discreetly in some cases, by a significant portion of the American public. He may even be able to parlay this despicable and dishonorable act into an analyst position for a cable network one day.

Imagine how very different things could be if he did not take this route. If the war is unwinnable,i.e the best we can do is hold serve, then what does he have to gain by staying at the forefront? Instead of giving General McChrystal an easy way out, President Obama would have done well to either a) relieve him of command, but keep him as the front man on the war effort and send him back to Afghanistan to assist the new commander or b) accept his resignation and instantly appoint him as a special advisor with the singular goal of coming up with a similarly brilliant plan to extricate the United States from Afghanistan. Towards the end of the documentary, LCPL. Brady Bunch gives a few final thoughts about the war while performing his duty as a soldier. He wishes the bad guys wore uniforms to make them easier to identify. I'm sorry to say that sometimes they do.