by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 8, Shawwal, 1431)
True, there is no shortage of armchair warriors in Washington insisting that the US cannot cut and run, or that President Barack Obama does not have the spine for a fight.
Even the most diehard warriors in Washington have realized that the war in Afghanistan is lost. David Petraeus, the much-touted American general whose admirers never tire of reminding Americans that it was his “surge” in Iraq that turned the war around in that blighted country, has admitted that he was not fighting to win; only to avoid defeat. This must be very hard for any general to say — much less one suffering from enormous self-importance and with political ambitions to boot — but the resistance in Afghanistan has forced such candid admission.
True, there is no shortage of armchair warriors in Washington insisting that the US cannot cut and run, or that President Barack Obama does not have the spine for a fight. Typical of these is Michael Gerson whose opinion piece in the Washington Post on September 24, was headlined: “The reluctant commander in chief”. Referring to Bob Woodward’s revelations in his latest book about discussion in the White House over Afghan war strategy prior to last December’s surge, Gerson writes: “What comes across is a president deeply skeptical about the Afghan war, suspicious of the advice of military leaders and obsessed with finding exits and setting withdrawal deadlines.” Gerson belongs to the endless war crowd of neocons but this group of armchair warriors is not doing the fighting.
The consequences of war have to be borne by Obama, not the Zionist cabal that insists on endless wars in which the sons and daughters of other people die. It is interesting to note that not one neocon has a son or daughter serving either in Iraq or Afghanistan and, therefore, is in danger of losing none to the ravages of war. It is the children of the rural and urban poor that must carry the burden of war to secure resources for the greedy gnomes of the military-industrial complex. Gerson concludes his piece by saying: “the more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires.”
Not everyone in Washington is as gung-ho about war as Gerson and his fellow neocon travelers in the Project for the New American Century that has brought America to the brink of economic and military ignominy. David Ignatius is no peacenik; he is a realist but has realized through conversations with generals and political insiders in Washington that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan would confirm this. Already by September 2009, the US-NATO war casualties had exceeded the total of any previous year’s. Ignatius urged Obama to test Iran’s willingness “to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.” (Washington Post, Sep-tember 17, 2010).
Ignatius is a consummate insider and his columns reflect the views of the establishment. The phrase, “stabilize Afghanistan” is a euphemism for enabling the US to make a face-saving exit from there. Ignatius offers tantalizing prospects for how the US could conduct dialogue with Iran over Afgha-nistan. “Obama told us that as part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s push for “reintegration” with the Taliban, Iran should join regional talks about stability,” Ignatius wrote. He then quotes Obama directly: “Iran should be a part and could be a constructive partner,” in the dialogue process. Ignatius went on: “Advocates argue that stabilizing Afghanistan is a strategic priority and that the United States should seek help wherever it can. They also argue that rather than undermining talks on the nuclear issue [with Iran], contacts on Afghanistan could be an important confidence-building measure.”
Ignatius concludes with an interesting admission: “I hope the administration will open a US-Iranian channel on Afghanistan soon, before the morass there gets any worse… and bring all the key regional powers into a process that could allow an eventual withdrawal of US troops.” US commentators have realized that America should be seriously looking for a way out of Afgha-nistan regardless of what the generals say. They always demand more troops and when that demand has been fulfilled, they ask for another batch of several thousand. If the politicians refuse, then the generals say that they were about to win but the politicians would not let them. This is how the US ended up with 500,000 troops in Vietnam and General William Westmoreland kept on asking for more including the demand that North Vietnam be bombed with nuclear weapons. Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant, was used extensively in Vietnam, poisoning its water and destroying its forests. There was no crime the US would not have perpetrated to “win” but it still did not win in Vietnam.
Obama wants to avoid more than the Saigon moment; he wants to avoid being sucked into an endless supply of troops — they are in any case not available — because he knows that the Afghans cannot be defeated.
At long last, some saner voices are beginning to be heard in Washington. One of these was the report released by the Afghanistan Study Group on September 8. Made up of an ad hoc group of former government officials, well-known academics and policy experts assembled by the New America Foundation, the report makes a strong case for dramatically reducing America’s footprint in its longest and most expensive war. Taking apart the argument of the war crowd — al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan — the report notes that “there are only some 400 hard-core al-Qaeda members remaining in the entire Af-Pak theater, most of them hiding in Pakistan’s northwest provinces.” It points out that the US does not need to commit 100,000 troops to fight a band of 400 rag-tag al-Qaeda fighters. The war costs the US approximately $100 billion a year — about seven times Afghanistan’s annual gross domestic product of $14 billion and more than the cost of Obama’s health-care plan. Considering that price tag alongside the number of troops killed or seriously wounded, the report concludes: “the US interests at stake in Afghanistan do not warrant this level of sacrifice.”
The report argues that despite increasing troop commitments, the level of violence has escalated and support for the Taliban has increased. “Since 2005, as we put more troops and money into this effort, the US and NATO have been expanding their presence throughout Afghanistan and trying to expand the reach of the Afghan central government,” according to Matthew Hoh, director of the Afghanistan Study Group. A former US Marine and Afghanistan-based State Department official, Hoh resigned his post in protest over the conduct of the war and US strategy. He went on: “since then, all we have seen is more casualties, more combat, increased support for the Taliban and decreased support for the Karzai government.”
The study group strongly encourages policymakers to re-conceptualize the conflict in Afghanistan. It argues that rather than seeing the war as a struggle between Karzai’s central government and a Taliban insurgency, it should be viewed as a “civil war” about power-sharing across ethnic, geographic and sectarian lines. It recommends decreasing and eventually ending US military operations while keeping the focus on al-Qaeda. At the same time, the US should encourage political power-sharing, economic development and diplomatic engagement by other countries in the region, something Ignatius had also recommended in his Septem-ber 17th opinion piece.
It is inaccurate to describe the war in Afghanistan as a “civil war” since the Afghans are not fighting among themselves. The real fighting is between the Afghans led by the Taliban and the foreign occupation forces. Local Afghans backed by the US or NATO are simply window dressing to maintain the fiction that the US is backing a legitimate government. There is no government in Afghanistan; the sham Karzai-led ruling class provides no services to the people. Sitting in the presidential palace protected by American guards hardly constitutes a government. If foreign troops leave, the Karzai government will immediately fall.
The sooner this fact is realized in Washington, the better for all concerned. It will end the tours of duty for all foreign troops but more importantly, it will end the misery of the long-suffering Afghan people. The Afghanistan Study Group has made an important contribution in bringing to an end America’s insanity and vanity. One hopes there are saner heads in Washington that see the futility of this war, if not for the Afghans’ sake, then for their own. A bankrupt America is in no position to prosecute endless wars regardless of the neocons’ death wish.