Obama Soldiers On

'Centering' on Afghanistan: a speech that pleased no one

by , June 24, 2011

In his speech explaining why the US cannot withdraw from Afghanistan any earlier than 2014 – at the earliest — President Obama wasted no time in waving the bloody shirt of 9/11. Right off the bat we heard: 

"Nearly ten years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security — one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives." 

Is there no end to the brazen hypocrisy of our rulers? How many innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives has the US cut down? Hundreds of thousands were killed in Iraq, by sanctions as well as US military action – well before the 9/11 attacks. Oh, but they don’t count, you see, because – well, just because. Indeed, to interrupt the narrative of poor victimized America — a nation of innocents — with such tawdry facts is treason itself, and surely an American chief executive would never even think of such things, let alone say them out loud. No, the war-narrative of this White House mustn’t be marred by reality: the self-regard in which the American people hold themselves cannot be challenged by the objective world, and Obama expertly reweaves the fantasy that has held us in thrall for a decade and more: 

"In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda, and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan." 

Ah yes, those glorious days of "unity" – when no one, save a brave few, dared stand up against the war hysteria. When anyone who looked vaguely Muslim was attacked in the streets. United in hatred and fear — what a grotesque nostalgia for our "progressive" president to give voice to! Like his predecessor, Obama has often praised this mystic post-9/11"unity," including twice in this speech, and therein lies the mark of the tyrant, who always welcomes the unthinking submission to authority wartime brings.  

This war-narrative is getting threadbare, however, and has some significant gaps: suddenly, we are told that, seemingly out of nowhere, "our focus shifted," and "a second war was launched" – apparently all by itself, by means of spontaneous combustion. One hardly expects him to mention of the key role played by his own party, which stood by and cowered – or cheered – as George W. Bush led the nation down into the quagmire, banners flying. But the distancing act – "by the time I took office" – is a little too glib: Bush gets all the blame for Iraq, and the decision to escalate the Afghan war is pushed off on "our military commanders." But isn’t Obama the commander-in-chief? 

Our president, a prisoner of history, bravely confronts circumstances shaped by others. He praises himself for making "one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made as President," the launching of the "surge" in which 30,000 more troops were sent to the supposedly neglected Afghan front. "We set clear objectives," he avers, and yet our ultimate goal was – and still is – obscured in murk: does anyone, including the President, know what victory looks like?  

"After this initial reduction," the President averred, "our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security." 

This objective is anything but "clear": does that mean US troops will be out by 2014, or, like Iraq, will a "residual" force remain in place? What, exactly, is "a steady pace"? Your guess is as good as mine. 

"The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies. We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace. What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures – one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government." 

How will be ensure that al-Qaeda and its allies will be unable to reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan if we don’t police its streets and patrol its mountains indefinitely? Without the US troop presence, what is to prevent the return of the Taliban, and, presumably, al-Qaeda? That is the trick involved in this "safe haven" rhetoric: it can and has been used to justify our foreign policy of perpetual war. Never mind that the actual perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks found "safe havens" in Florida, Germany, and in many places other than Afghanistan. Any and all nations are potential "safe havens" for the shadowy enemy we have pledged to eradicate, and that’s precisely how the US government regards the rest of the world: as a potential battlefield. The Bush Doctrine lives.  

The truly sinister and largely overlooked portion of the speech hints at where this murderous Doctrine will take us next: 

"Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve." 

This administration has long been preparing to intervene more directly in Pakistan, which is touted as the Real Problem: indeed, pro-administration military theorists and pundits have cited Pakistan as the principal reason we should stay engaged in Afghanistan. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and the subsequent back-and-forth between Washington and Islamabad – largely contrived – paves the way for open US military intervention. Pakistan is clearly the next target on Washington’s list – and that conflict is going to make the Afghan conflict look like a Sunday school picnic.  

The government of Asif Ali Zardari is a fiction: real control of the country is in the hands of the military-intelligence apparatus, the tribal networks, and the various Islamic factions. If and when we put boots on the ground in Pakistan, it will be to strengthen the central government’s tenuous hold on power, which could give way at any moment. No doubt policymakers are secretly pining for the good old days of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who did more to hold the country together than all the US aid that has been poured into Pakistan since his ouster: but since he is far from a democrat, his very existence clashed with the ideological pretensions of Washington policymakers, who seem to actually believe their own propaganda.  

Either that, or else one could adopt a more jaundiced view, in which the US welcomed the weakness inherent in the corrupt "democratic" regime of Zardari – known as President "Ten Percent" – since it invites US intervention. Is democracy in Pakistan imperiled? Here come the Marines, just in time to save it!  

The blind arrogance of our policy is reflected in the personal haughtiness of Obama, the man, who bemoaned what "a difficult decade [this has been] for our country." Who made it more difficult than it had to be? Not even the opportunity to score partisan points inspires him to raise that question, let alone answer it.  

"We have learned anew the profound cost of war," he intoned, but in detailing the death toll of two wars our President mentions only American deaths – miniscule compared to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who fell before the "liberating" power of the US military in the past decade. These were not soldiers, but civilians – "collateral damage" in the lingo of rationalized mass murder. How many of the relatives and loved ones of these innocents have vowed to take revenge? Osama bin Laden may be dead, but we have ensured the persistence of the terrorist virus he set loose on the world – because we incubated it in the laboratory of the Iraq and Afghan wars.  

"Some have lost limbs on the field of battle," the President continued, "and others still battle the demons that have followed them home." Yet the Iraqis and Afghans see us as demons who have taken over their homes, and this is the objective reality: the Pashtun tribes we have been fighting for a decade are home, and know we must leave eventually, and so they fight a war of attrition and play a waiting game. 

Which means no policy short of permanent occupation is going to achieve the administration’s war aims by ensuring the absence of any "safe havens." If the "safe haven" doctrine can rationalize invading and permanently occupying Afghanistan, why not apply the same principle to the rest of the world? Since any nation on earth could be a potential "safe haven," it would make "sense" – Bizarro World sense – to invade and occupy the entire globe, or such portions of it not already huddling under the eagle’s wing.  

What gave the eagle its fabulous wingspan, and the ability to project power halfway around the world, was the economic muscle of postwar America: that muscle is now seriously deteriorated, but while it lasted it held up the world. As the American giant buckles under the burden of empire, the idea that we cannot carry the whole world on our shoulders is no longer considered weakness: instead, it is simple common sense.  

Yet the rulers of the American empire will not give up their domain quite so easily.  

In waving the bloody shirt of 9/11, Obama limned the revengeful emotionalism of neoconservative war propaganda throughout the Bush era, and he is faithfully carrying out their policies – with a few bold innovations, like Libya, and the growing intervention in Pakistan.  

Like the neocons, the President, too, conjures the specter of "isolationism," joining the growing chorus – confined entirely to the Beltway – against those who "would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face." Implicitly acknowledging these folks might have a point – given our looming bankruptcy – he positions himself between two purported extremes, also chiding "Others would have America over-extend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad. We must chart a more centered course." 

Obama’s characteristically clever centering which may be too clever by half. On this issue, the country is in no mood for moderation: a whopping 72 percent want a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the President’s speech is unlikely to mollify them.  

Claiming "we do not have a single soldier on the ground in Libya," (does the CIA count?), Obama hailed the "democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World" and pledged that "We will support those revolutions," although just how, and under what circumstances, was lost in vague references to our "ideals." I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that Obama’s ideals are not shared by the rest of the country, if polls are any indication. 

And he knows it. Underscoring the administration’s fear of the "isolationist" scourge, Obama announced, as if he’d made a major discovery: 

"America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home." 

I’m glad to see it isn’t only the Republican presidential candidates who are stealing Ron Paul’s lines.  

This speech, the "open letter" issued by the Usual Suspects in support of the Libyan nonsense, and the general tone of shocked outrage at this sudden upsurge of the dreaded "isolationists" is all part of Washington’s fightback against the awakening of the American people: a united front effort by both wings of the bipartisan War Party, personified by the John Kerry-John McCain alliance over the Libya issue.  

The anti-isolationist campaign may succeed in intimidating some politicians who might otherwise find the prospect of jumping on the anti-interventionist bandwagon tempting, but it is, at best, a rearguard action.  

As the iron fist of economic depression crushes their hopes and dreams, and leaves them out in the street, Americans are in an angry mood – and about to turn ugly. Obama’s attempt to get out of the way of these peasants with pitchforks, by "centering" himself on the Afghanistan issue, instead may have placed him in the center of the road.

Read more by Justin Raimondo