So, you thought it was all going to be different,
did you, that we were in for a change – a Big Change? Well, the bad news,
as Newsweek reports, is that the
more things change ….
"The Pentagon is prepared to announce the deployment of 17,000
additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan as early as this week
even as President Barack Obama is searching for his own strategy for
the war. According to military officials during last week's meeting
with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the
Pentagon's 'tank,' the president specifically asked, 'What is the end
game?' in the U.S. military's strategy for Afghanistan. When asked what
the answer was, one military official told NBC News, 'Frankly, we don't
have one.' But they're working on it."
He's searching for strategy – at this late date? Isn't this the
same Barack Hussein Obama who told us Bush was neglecting the Afghan front, and that we had to redirect our efforts away from Iraq in
order to invest more troops and treasure in Afghanistan, doing whatever it is
we're supposed to be doing there? Surely he had some kind of plan in mind.
And, by the way, what are we doing there? Frankly, nobody knows –
least of all, apparently, President Obama. His generals are equally clueless.
Maybe they ought to ask the outgoing President – Dick
Cheney, I mean. After all, this war was launched by the Cheney-Bush administration,
and the neocons who talked us into this clearly had something very specific
in mind – now what was it?
Oh yeah, now I remember: they were going to "transform" the entire
region by first smashing Osama
bin Laden in Afghanistan, and then crushing Saddam Hussein: this was supposed
to spark a general uprising extending from North Africa to the wilds of Waziristan,
and usher in a new era of capital-'D' Democracy.
Well, yes, the invasion did indeed provoke a regional uprising: the only problem
is that it wasn't and isn't directed at local despots, but against us.
We never did get bin Laden – who seems to have vanished into a convenient hole, from which
he occassionally issues threats, taunts, and I-told-you-so's. The revolutionary wave that was
supposed to upend the Middle Eastern status quo has instead turned into a rising
tide of anti-Americanism.
Die-hard neocons point to the recent Iraqi elections as somehow making the invasion and occupation
worth it, and yet look at the victors – the Da'wa party, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which beat its nearest rival, the Islamic Council, even in southern Iraq, a former Council
stronghold. The party was founded in 1957 by a group of Shi'ite clerics and
scholars, and led by the Ayatollah
Baqir al-Sadr, who sought to establish an Islamic state in Iraq. The Ayatollah
was, in theory, a democrat, but was executed before he could translate his principles
into a party program. Da'wa was sympathetic to the Khomeini revolution, when
it came, and the party soon became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tehran, where
its leading cadre took up residence as guests of the Iranian government.
In 1983, members of the Da'wa party conducted simultaneous suicide
bombings targeting the French and American embassies in Kuwait – retribution
for Western support of Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. A number of industrial
targets, including oil production facilities, were also targeted. Although Islamic
Jihad took responsibity for the bombings, the real identity of the bombers soon
became known when part of a thumb was found and the print matched that of Raad
Murtin Ajeel, a young Da'wa militant. Seventeen others were apprehended, and
tried. Of the four tried in absentia, one was Jamal Jaffar Mohammed, a sitting
member of Parliament and a prominent Da'wa leader. Our own government has attacked
him as not only a convicted terrorist, but also a conduit
for Iranian influence and arms in Iraq.
Oh, but things will be different in Afghanistan – we're going to limit our
aims. We're just going to go in and eliminate the bad guys, without fooling
ourselves into thinking we can effect a socio-political transformation. It'll
be more like a special forces operation than an all-out invasion and occupation.
That, at least, is what conservative Democrats like Claire
McCaskill are saying. Yet the war plans of the Afghan hawks, who occupy
key posts in the Obama administration, aren't nearly as modest.
The inspiration for the coming Afghan "surge" is the new counterinsurgency
orthodoxy championed by the
Hero of Iraq, General David Petraeus, under whose auspices the Army's updated
counterinsurgency manual was produced. Go
here for a in-depth look at what's in store for us, as presented by two
writers associated with the Center
for a New American Security, a "centrist" Democratic thinktank
which, according to
E. J. Dionne, is the epicenter of the foreign policy action in the new admnistration.
This new doctrine, based on our alleged
success in Iraq, involves a long-term commitment that its advocates acknowledge
might seem like "neocolonialism dressed up in PowerPoint," but, heck,
it works. The idea is not to go in and then get out, but to hold territory
and build up the social and material infrastructure: roads, schools, clinics,
coupled with decisive displays of force when necessary – occasional "surges"
just to remind the natives who's in charge.
One can easily see the woozy liberalism Obama is so good at translating into
performance art rationalizing this kind of "smart" war: unlike the
Darth Vader-ish Bushies, the Obama-ites will preside over a benevolent empire,
albeit not one that is at all hesitant to employ force to assert the essential
principle of US foreign policy in the post-cold war era: the primacy of
American power on a global scale. In Afghanistan, we are about to see the "liberal"
Democratic version of the Bush Doctrine put into practice, as we venture into
the tribal areas of Pakistan: it's a "myth," you see, that these regions
are "ungovernable," according to the CNAS crowd. As long as the
right people are doing the governing.
We are hearing an all-too-familiar narrative being spun out by the Afghan hawks,
one that recalls the neocon
storyline that lied us into invading and occupying Iraq. The authors of
the CNAS blueprint for the longterm occupation of Afghanistan intersperse their
earnest descriptions of the "new" "smart" way to subjugate
a people with matter-of-fact assertions attached to no proof whatsoever, such
as their description of the tribal areas as "home to the international
headquarters of al-Qaeda as well as much of the Taliban insurgency." Does
al-Qaeda even have an "international headquarters"? Confronted with
this sort of prose, one imagines the terrorist equivalent of the
If all this talk of Pakistan's "links" to al-Qaeda evokes a feeling
of déjà vu, then that's because we heard the same
argument in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden and Saddam were
supposedly bosom buddies, and 9/11 was their joint
project. Government officials, up to and including the President, so
much as said this long after the alleged connection had been debunked. Today
we are hearing the same connection being made between al-Qaeda and a province
of Pakistan with the same bold assertiveness – and the same absence of supporting
If we are really proposing to build a nation, a democratic one even, in Afghanistan,
it is hard to see how not inviting the elected President of the country you
are trying to build to Obama's presidential inauguration furthers that aim.
Yet that is precisely how the White House snubbed Hamid Karzai, whose government our soldiers have been fighting and dying for.
Karzai, you'll recall, was elevated to the Afghan presidency amid much ceremony
and to the applause of the Western media, in an election heralded
as a success by the War Party in its heyday. To add real sting to the snub:
Karzai's likely opponents in the upcoming presidential election were invited,
including an unsavory warlord of disgusting
personal habits and a human rights record comparable to Al Capone's.
The new regime is supposed to be all about "competence," and technocratic
efficiency, but this seems to me to be the most likely way to break up a fragile
democratic polity. By directly interfering in Afghanistan's internal politics,
we replicate the errors of Vietnam, where we overthrew the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem, and installed a succession of military juntas and
phony "democratic" governments. It ended with the helicopters taking off from the roof of the abandoned US embassy.
The Soviets could
not subdue the Afghans, and they have the advantage of sharing a border
– one that turned into a decisive disadvantage, as the Russian defeat reverberated
across Central Asia, creating seismic geopolitical tremors that presaged the
breakup of the USSR.
The US, on the other hand, will find it impossible to maintain an open supply
route to its Afghan expeditionary force without creating a very big footprint
in the surrounding regions, especially the 'stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
and Tajikistan. This will rightly be seen by the Russians as a provocation,
the latest chapter in the ongoing Western effort to encircle and isolate Russia. That's another front on which the Obama administration
is likely to move: the installation of an advanced anti-missile system in Poland,
doorstep, is a decision taken by the Bush administration that the new regime
shows no sign of reversing. At least, not yet. Tensions are already rising over
the US air base in Kyrgyzstan, where the Americans are being asked
to leave their air base – or maybe not.
It's the same old game, only with different players. Instead of Iraq, it's
going to be Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, one has to ask – why? What's the
rationale, this time? The liberation of Afghan women? That'll get the feminists.
The myth of bin Laden's presence? That'll convince the more credulous. Good
old fashioned do-gooder-ism will get the Hollywood liberals, who will jump
at the chance to get all patriotic. The Republicans will support it, while urging
a more aggressive war policy – and the Keynesians will love it, because, after
all, any kind of government spending is good, it doesn't matter if you build roads, pyramids, or empires.
It's all good.
So there you have it: the new interventionist consensus, the
coalition of special interests and ideological cliques that will foist
another futile war of "liberation" on us. These are the supporters of
what is now Obama's war, a conflict that promises to be much broader –
and more destabilizing – than anything dreamed of by the Bush
What's the endgame, Mr. President? You tell us.