This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
As Congress moves toward rubber-stamping yet another "emergency" supplemental bill that includes more than $33 billion for military operations, mainly to fund the latest surge in Afghanistan, maybe we should take a page from the new British government. Facing debilitating deficits, the conservative Tories and their Liberal Democrat partners are proposing painful cuts to governmental budgets, including military operations in Afghanistan. As the Independent put it, quoting a senior military source, "Essentially, the Americans know we are broke and we are getting blokes killed for no good reason. Whatever the [British Ministry of Defence] says, it absolutely isn’t business as usual." In other words, an overstretched government, low on chips and recognizing a losing hand in Afghanistan, is finally moving to cut its losses, perhaps even to walk away from the table.
The question is: Why can’t we join them? We’re losing even more chips (adding up to a staggering $299 billion for the war in Afghanistan, and counting) and "blokes" (more than 1,000 US troops killed, with their average age dropping). Isn’t it time to know when to walk away, as Kenny Rogers sang in The Gambler, before we have to cut and run?
Instead of recognizing a losing hand and folding, however, Washington continues to double down, whether our gambler-in-chief is named George W. Bush or Barack H. Obama. And so we’re putting on our game face again, as we shove tens of billions more into the Afghan pot, along with roughly 100,000 of our troops supported by an even greater number of private military contractors, hoping that, against the odds, we’ll draw to an inside straight even as our opponents hold flushes.
And, in case you’re not a poker player, a flush beats a straight every time.
Of Poker and War
If my poker metaphor sounds frivolous for a deadly nine-year-old war, consider it a bow to the great Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz. He classically described war with all its uncertainties as resembling, above all, a game of cards.
To extend the metaphor in Afghanistan, we’re engaged in a high-stakes poker match at our opponent’s table, and his card sharks are remarkably adept at dealing from the bottom of the deck. Of course, we’re alert enough to know that the game is fixed, but strangely, that only makes us more determined. We are, in fact, insistent that ultimately we’ll make his table ours; in the meantime, we’ll bribe or browbeat his bottom-dealers for better cards, bluff or shoot our way out of losing hands. Or so we gun-slinging Americans like to imagine.