KABUL, Afghanistan--Pres. Obama’s decision on the war in Afghanistan appears to be an attempt to simultaneously please those Americans who favor military escalation and those who want the troops shipped home. He gave the militarists a surge of 30,000 troops post-haste, and then said he wanted to start withdrawing them in 2011.
The military escalation portion could have been drafted by Bush White House and has already drawn praise from Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich. The attempt to please everyone, or at least give everyone a little something, could have been vetted by Bill Clinton, who understood better than any recent president that personal principles are a dangerous liability in the game of political survival.
Obama’s over-arching goal is clear, though unstated. The surge, if successful, will scatter the Taliban factions into the hills, some to Pakistan and perhaps even Uzbekistan, which will create the semblance of peace, but more accurately a temporary reduction in hostilities. That will give Obama the opportunity to pull a Nixon-like declaration of “victory” and head home. And when the western troops start to leave, the Taliban will return, proclaim their “victory” and the civil war will resume.
What Obama didn’t say at West Point is that the U.S. military is dangerously overstretched and that the cost of maintaining a global imperial army with more than 700 U.S. military bases worldwide is draining the lifeblood from the battered U.S. economy and threatening the nation’s future. At some point, though, he will have to come clean.
While I wish he would have initiate that reality check, there were a few things I am grateful that Obama omitted from his talk. He spared us the lofty calls to create democracy, liberate women, or re-build a nation that the previous administration so shameless exploited or encouraged to build popular support for the war. Obama clearly affirmed the singular goal that George Bush identified eight years ago: destroy al-Qaeda and those who support it, i.e., the Taliban.
As a college teacher, one of the biggest challenges I have is the resistance I face from many students in the States and overseas to believe that the U.S. foreign policy is motivated by anything besides the economic and political self-interests of the ruling elite. That’s nothing peculiar to the United States; every major power legitimates its foreign policy self-interest with the language of virtue, e.g. the liberator, champion of human rights, or evangelist for democracy.
“We will do whatever benefits us and serves our interests in Afghanistan, even if that means empowering brutal, oppressive and misogynistic fanatics as long as they are willing to carry out our geopolitical directives,” writes Glen Greenwald. “Many of the warlords and other local religious extremists on whom we're already relying and will now use even more are hardly distinguishable from the Taliban on human rights issues. We're not there on a charity mission but are there to advance what we think are our interests. That's why some of the most oppressive governments in the Middle East will continue to be our most stalwart allies.”
Unfortunately, a war in search of al-Qaeda that largely kills poor, uneducated, and desperate people in Afghanistan and Pakistan is al-Qaeda’s most effective recruiting strategy. As the overwhelming majority of my students in Kabul remind me, if the U.S. and its allies wants friends among the Afghan they should create jobs and schools so adults can feed and educate their children and have the material foundation from which to imagine a brighter future. That would take at least a decade and more likely three. And believe me, the U.S. has no interest in that kind of commitment, not when war lines the pockets of the profiteers and polishes the prestige of the military and their cheerleaders.
Photo: Leaves falling through spooled razor wire.