Sometimes when things come together, assemble themselves into what seems like order, I worry that it is, in fact, order.
Charlie Wilson’s War is about the CIA sponsorship of Afghan rebels in the late 1980s. The rebels defeated the Soviets. How Wilson and CIA maverick Gust Avrakotos teamed up to make this happen is a great story. It ends with clips of guerrilla warriors shooting down Russian helicopters. The Soviets gave up.
In the final scene, in the wake of the $1 billion triumph, Avrakotos is turned down asking for $1 million to build schools. “It always happens,” he says, “we win the big war and screw up the end game.”
Then the next night, in the conclusion of Generation Kill, the Americans have taken over Baghdad in a matter of weeks. But they’re completely lost, overwhelmed, with what to do next. It’s the same story again. Screwing up the end game.
Both of these are good entertainment. They’re stories, not documentaries, not history, but as stories they feel like truth. And it’s disturbing. The word synchronicity comes to mind. Deja vu.
Then I remembered that I saw this laid out extremely well in a 20-minute talk on the TED talks site: Thomas Barnett. He talked about fourth generation warfare. We win the first half, then screw up the rest. On Iraq, he says:
There’s no trouble accessing battle spaces, what we have trouble accessing is the transition space that must naturally follow, and creating the peace space that allows us to move on.
He goes on …
We have an unparalleled capacity to wage war. We don’t do the everything else so well.
This, by the way, is a greatly disturbing talk, beautifully illustrated, beautifully delivered, and very disturbing because it seems, well, like a true story.