As has been reported and discussed at length here at Antiwar.com, the national security establishment, in conjunction with the Obama administration and surely whatever succeeds it, is planning on an essentially permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Secret negotiations leaked to the Guardian revealed U.S. plans to remain for decades under a broad security agreement. This was corroborated by Hamid Karzai who spoke publicly about a U.S. presence long after the 2014 date of “full withdrawal.” And now after Obama’s announcement of a minor, gradual, and incomplete draw-down, military leaders are complaining it was too drastic. These are relatively clear signs.
But one fundamental motivation behind the American strategy to maintain a military capacity in Afghanistan is to fight proxy wars with Pakistan. A podcast with New Yorker staff writers Steve Coll and Dexter Filkins provided some fresh analysis:
Steve Coll: I do think the endgame that they’re headed toward, the one they’re planning for anyway, their hope, for American deployments and strategy in Afghanistan after the troop withdrawal is completed in 2014 is rooted basically in retaining a counter-terrorism capacity in Afghanistan, one that would be rooted, the hope is, in adequate Afghan political institutions and security forces. But the American purpose, besides maintaining some good enough Afghan stability, the American purpose would be to maintain a strike capability to go into Pakistan, in particular, when necessary, so that if an opportunity like the one that presented itself in Abbottabad were to resurface, or if Pakistan were to fall further apart and present international threats out of the [sic] of its continuing civil conflicts, that the United States would be close enough to do something about it militarily.
Much of the realist analysis about how the Obama administration is pursuing a military campaign, engaging in a war, that does not present a clear and present danger to the American people or interests may be missing the point. The Obama administration is likely to have a full understanding of the fact that, in isolation, our war in Afghanistan is wasteful and unnecessary. But to be able to use Afghanistan as a proxy in any potential fight or singular operation in Pakistan, may just be worth impoverishing ourselves, letting die Americans in uniform, and continuing to wreak insufferable terror on the Afghan people.
Proxy wars are practically a pastime in American foreign policy. From our bases and troops in South Korea, to our NATO deployments throughout Europe, to our base in Honduras while we terrorized Nicaragua in the Contra war, to bases in Saudi Arabia, to fight the Gulf War and in Kuwait to fight Gulf War 2, to Uzbekistan in the early 2000’s, just north of Afghanistan when Afghanistan itself was a bigger priority. Proxies are an important part of imperial policy; they assist in controlling the world and dominating states from many strategic places, as opposed to simply from Washington.
This in part explains U.S. negotiations with the Taliban, which have been rather counter-intuitive for the American public. The U.S. doesn’t care if the brutal, extremist Taliban have control over various provinces in Afghanistan; we don’t mind the backwardness and harshness with which they rule (contrary to rhetoric). So long as any Afghan government is subservient to U.S. wishes to maintain permanent military capacity, the U.S. is happy.
The tribal areas of Pakistan, representing a threat to American hegemony, are what Americans need to keep in mind when considering Obama’s policy in Afghanistan. In isolation, Afghanistan is as meaningless as it seems.