The war in Afghanistan, which George W. Bush started and Barack Obama pledged to win, is over – and we lost. No one realizes this, quite yet, but give them time – because the fruits of our defeat are already a veritable cornucopia. And the reason can be summed up rather neatly in two words: Hamid Karzai.
The fashion-plate heralded as the savior of Afghanistan by the Bush administration is turning into the Americans’ harshest critic: from quite credibly claiming that the US was trying to manipulate the recent Afghan election in order to give its sock-puppets the advantage, to declaring that he’s about ready to join the Taliban, President Karzai is making waves – and coming in for a barrage of disdain from the Washington cognoscenti, who cavil he’s an "unreliable partner." Translated into ordinary language, this means he isn’t kowtowing to Washington’s whims, and is instead seeking to pursue his own aims – shocking, isn’t it?
What’s the reason for Washington’s very public discontent with our erstwhile "partner"? Well, in any relationship, you know, it’s always the little things that lead to divorce: like announcing you’re about to walk out, and not only that, but threatening to hook up with your ex’s worst enemy. However, that’s just talk: banter, really, of the sort couples engage in all the time when one is trying to gain the upper hand. It’s the kind of thing that could be tolerated, even enjoyed – at least if you’re a character in a play by Edward Albee.
Yet there’s always a line you don’t cross in public, certain subjects you don’t talk about to outsiders, unless you want to wind up in divorce court. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it was the secret of George and Martha’s imaginary son – in Who’s Afraid of the Taliban? it’s the secret of Karzai’s imaginary "government" – which, in reality, can hardly be said to exist outside of Kabul’s urban core. As Martha put it to George: "You’re nothing!"
Billions of taxpayer dollars are going to aid the Afghan government – an entity that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t really exist. What exists are names on an organizational chart, a few offices in US-NATO –held areas, a seat in the United Nations, and that’s just about it. This gossamer network of paid shills and American-educated sock-puppets is superimposed over the real power structure of clan leaders and warlords, a thin thread that could break at any moment. No one knows this better than Karzai, and so he has taken a new tack to ensure his political – and physical – survival. No amount of "spin" can interpret the following report, taken from the Times of London, except as open subversion of the US-NATO war effort:
"The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has cast doubt over NATO’s planned summer offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar, as more than 10,000 American troops pour in for the fight.
"Karzai threatened to delay or even cancel the operation — one of the biggest of the nine-year war — after being confronted in Kandahar by elders who said it would bring strife, not security, to his home province.
"Visiting last week to rally support for the offensive, the president was instead overwhelmed by a barrage of complaints about corruption and misrule. As he was heckled at a shura of 1,500 tribal leaders and elders, he appeared to offer them a veto over military action. "Are you happy or unhappy for the operation to be carried out?" he asked.
"The elders shouted back: ‘We are not happy.’
"Then until the time you say you are happy, the operation will not happen," Karzai replied.
"General Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander, who was sitting behind him, looked distinctly apprehensive."
As well he might. Karzai is either going to change his tune, or else find himself the victim of an "accident": a military coup is not out of the question. If I were the CIA station chief, I’d release those photos of Karzai toking on a hashish pipe. And if I were Karzai, I’d send my resume to Gucci, and get out of town fast. Because "the chicest man on the planet" wouldn’t do well at Bagram.
Like all weaklings, whenever Karzai tries to assert himself he only underscores his impotence: he has no chance of stopping the Kandahar offensive, and everyone – including the attendees at the shura – knows it. What this does, however, is make mincemeat of the announced American strategy, which is to "clear, hold, and build." Because at this point it’s fair to ask what, exactly, are we building – the largely imaginary national "government" headed by Karzai, who can only hope to gain popular support by denouncing Washington?
Instead of building a stable or even credible Afghan government, the spanking new counterinsurgency doctrine propounded by Gen. David Petraeus, and those Deep Thinkers over at the Center for a New American Security, is creating the conditions for America’s inevitable defeat. As long as the Obama-ites have Karzai on their hands, the experiment that was supposed to prove the validity of the Petraeus doctrine winds up creating a Frankenstein monster, at best, feeding the very forces fighting the American presence. Which is why you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict Karzai’s exit from the presidential palace, sooner rather than later.
Oh, they say they can work around Karzai, and deal with local clan leaders. Yet these very same clan leaders, at least the ones in Kandahar, are less than enthusiastic about the American occupation. The great problem we have yet to overcome in Afghanistan is that the majority of the population clearly sympathizes with what American journalists lazily call "the Taliban," and which is really a series of local insurgencies which have largely supplanted the old Taliban leadership of Mullah Omar as the chief military resistance to the occupation. Both the fighting core of the Taliban and certainly Al-Qaeda have long since fled to Pakistan and points beyond: what we are fighting in Afghanistan is a fresh crop of militants bred in the horror of nearly ten years of constant warfare.
A wars is like any and all [.pdf] government programs: its advocates and beneficiaries (very often the same people) seek to prolong it long after its original rationale has been rendered irrelevant and/or conveniently forgotten, and the Afghan example is a veritable textbook case.
As announced by President Obama, our war aims in Afghanistan are to disrupt and destroy al-Qaeda cells resident in that country, a goal that has long since been accomplished. Al Qaeda can hardly be said to exist in Afghanistan these days, and the same goes for the Taliban remnants. The more sophisticated war proponents acknowledge this. The real problem, they aver, is Pakistan, where they strongly imply bin Laden is hiding out. (Hillary Clinton apparently believes this.)
The government of Pakistan denies this, and, in spite of Hillary’s hectoring hysterics, it’s been the Pakistanis who have taken out and actually captured a good number of the top al-Qaeda leaders, who are today in custody – far more than we have. If bin Laden and/or his top cohorts were in Pakistan, and the ISI knew it, who can doubt they’d turn them over – just to get the US to stop the not-so-secret "secret war" the Pentagon’s been waging on Pakistani soil?
Our announced war aims are like George and Martha’s imaginary son: it’s all part of a private narrative, a story we tell ourselves that somehow reassures us and makes us feel better – even noble – as we enslave, torture, and ravage a country in the name of "progress" and civilization.
So if these aren’t our real aims, if the whole thing’s a fairy tale, then what’s the real reason we’re wreaking mayhem in that part of the world?
The answer, I fear, is not to be found in any theory of politics, economics, or international affairs, but in one neglected field of human psychology: the psychology of political power, and those who wield it.