The editorial from the July-August 2010 issue of News & Letters:
U.S.’s endless Afghan war
The war in Afghanistan will soon drag on into its tenth year, even as disgust with the war’s conduct has widened — yet Afghanistan is not at the center of public debate. The drama that ended with President Obama accepting the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus did more to put media focus back on the war than the sharp escalation of troops and the rising death toll, among Afghans and invaders alike.
McChrystal’s previous leaks to influence political decisions, and his infamous cover-up of the 2004 killing by friendly fire of ex-football player Pat Tillman, had not derailed his command of the Afghanistan “mission.” But remarks that he had approved and that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine undercutting civilian authority, forced his resignation.
OBAMA’S COMMITMENT TO ESCALATION
Candidate Obama in 2008 accepted anti-war support even as he kept cover on the Right by calling Afghanistan the “good war” compared to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Ending the war was never on the table for him. Unlike what President Reagan did after suicide bombers killed more than 200 Marines in their Lebanon barracks in 1983, Obama was not going to “cut and run.”
Obama instead has committed, not just to continuing Bush’s war, but to its escalation — to almost 100,000 troops in Afghanistan by year’s end. He has also continued Bush’s private armies, as contractors supplied by companies like Blackwater still outnumber soldiers.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called Afghanistan a “war of Obama’s choosing.” His remarks parallel the strategy of Republican warhawks to vote against defense appropriations, putting pressure on so-called anti-war Democrats to support Obama, like on the latest $30 billion for 33,000 more troops ahead of midterm elections. They hope for a collective amnesia about Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
On the eve of that invasion targeting Al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors, News and Letters Committees sponsored meetings in Chicago and New York for Tahmeena Faryal of the militantly anti-Taliban Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Faryal said then, “We don’t think of the bombing as any solution. Although the U.S. government has promised that it would be very targeted, there have been many civilian casualties. Fundamentalism and terrorism can’t be limited to just bin Laden in Afghanistan.” As she foresaw, the corrupt fundamentalist warlords of the Northern Alliance returned to power under U.S. sponsorship.
Since the U.S. targets, Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, are now based in Pakistan safe havens, the U.S. would use Afghanistan as a staging area for cross-border attacks with the drones and surreptitious ground assaults that predictably kill ever more civilians. Hence, to justify tripling the occupation force, Obama claims an added counterinsurgency strategy to separate Afghans from Taliban elements controlling local areas by reinforcing the local reach of the central government under Hamid Karzai. The kind of surge tried in Marjah, to little effect, is now a campaign in Kandahar, a city of one million. It sounds suspiciously close to Vietnam War-era “winning hearts and minds.”
Karzai’s claim to legitimacy could not come by virtue of last year’s election — the level of fraud was close to Iran’s sham election. Karzai’s position continues to derive from U.S. support, so as hated as Taliban forces are by the people of Kandahar, propping up the local units of such a corrupt government is a daunting task, no matter how many soldiers are thrown in.
Dissident Malalai Joya, in a July 2010 interview, speaks for the continued opposition to U.S. occupation in Afghanistan: “In my country, they destroyed the Taliban — terrorist, fascist people — but they got into power a photocopy of the Taliban. When Obama took office, his first news for my people was more war and conflict. His foreign policy is quite similar to criminal Bush, worse because he sent more troops to Afghanistan. And now … he says we are ready to negotiate with moderate Talib, when we have no moderate Talib. They are terrorist Talib.”
Gen. McChrystal engineered his own exit strategy from this endless war with the public remarks that forced his retirement. As Dutch and Canadian troops withdraw in coming months, no exit strategy is clear for U.S. forces, even if the calendar states that withdrawal of forces will “begin” in July 2011.
SELF-DETERMINATION THE ONLY SOLUTION
That date is so flexible, one wonders if it is more a bone thrown to the anti-war opposition to delay confrontations. Even now there is more media coverage of a Tea Party rally of 200 than of a march of 20,000 by the growing anti-war movement. All rulers fear mass opposition.
The end result of the Bush-Obama occupation, despite its humanitarian cover, may be leaving in charge one coalition worse than the other. Karzai has threatened to link up with Taliban elements, and the Pakistan spy agency ISI has promoted future coalitions with the Taliban they backed and still nourish. The aspirations of the Afghan people, the only real solution to the war, have been silenced too long.