So you thought we were withdrawing from Afghanistan, eh? The President has announced it enough: once in 2011, once in 2012, and once in 2013. So if someone says something often enough, does that make it necessarily true? Well, of course not, and certainly not in this case, because NBC News has the scoop:
"While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces.
"The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
"The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be ending, but renewed under new, scaled-down U.S.-Afghan terms."
We’re leaving, says Obama – except we’re not. The text of the 25-page "Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" draft agreement reads:
"The Parties acknowledge that continued US military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate and agree to continue their close cooperation and coordination toward that end."
There is to be no end to this war. We always knew this: what invader has ever finally subjugated the Afghans? Not the British, not the Russians, not even Alexander. Did we really think we were going to be the exception?
There were several sticking points in hammering out this agreement: Afghan President Hamid Karzai originally demanded a clause forbidding US troops from entering and searching Afghan homes. That was clearly not going to fly with Washington, and so after much back and forth the clause was dropped and instead President Obama wrote a letter to Karzai promising American soldiers won’t enter Afghan homes "except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of US nationals."
Translation: the hated "night raids" will continue. So will the untrammeled behavior of US troops, whose brutality has made them universally hated. Another major sticking point was the same question that nixed an agreement with the Iraqis: the issue of whether US soldiers were going to be subject to local laws and the jurisdiction of local courts.
This is something the Americans never allow: they withdrew all their "combat forces" from Iraq rather than permit Iraqi courts to sit in judgment over US soldiers. After all, why have an empire if the conquerors are subject to the laws of the conquered? In the end, Karzai agreed to grant US troops immunity – and then sought to distance himself as much as possible from the agreement, saying it should be delayed and handing it over to his Loya Jirga to decide.
Another key provision is that governing US military facilities. While the US officially abjures "permanent bases" in the text of the agreement, certain areas are indeed set aside for the "exclusive" use of the Americans, and no limits are mentioned. The text reads:
"Afghanistan hereby authorizes United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities within the agreed facilities and areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense, or control, including the right to undertake new construction works."
In addition, the text says the US is "obligated" to appropriate money for the training and arming of Afghan troops. No amount is specified. The agreement is slated to take effect on January 15, 2015 and will remain in effect until "the end of 2024 and beyond."
The agreement, if it is signed by the US and Karzai’s government, would leave some 15,000 US troops in a "residual" force, although the President could always send in more.
Rather than ending the war, the Obama-Karzai pact institutionalizes it, making the occupation of Afghanistan a permanent feature of US military operations in the region. It even maps out a place for this new US colony in the annual budget, and there is no time limit on any of this: "2024 and beyond."
The agreement means we’ll be in Afghanistan forever, obligated to not only defend its government but to make sure that government is functioning at a bare minimum. And while we’re going to be rid of the crazy Karzai quite soon – the Afghan "constitution" doesn’t allow him to run again – someone equally daffy (and unpopular) is likely to take his place. Which means we’ll have to start all over again, propping up an inherently unstable central government in Kabul – whose jurisdiction only barely extends to the city limits.
From this quagmire there is to be no extrication – that, in short, is the sum total of our great "victory" in Afghanistan.
This was supposed to be the "good" war, the "bad" war – Iraq – being bad because it was started by a Republican president. This was the war everybody – except for the most dedicated peaceniks (and, of course, us libertarians) – was for: it was a good war, a just war, a defensive war. They attacked us first, right? So we went in there and – twelve years later we’re still there, with no sign we’re leaving anytime soon.
Back in 2001, we warned against nation-building, and explicitly said: "Kill ‘em – and get out!" With Osama bin Laden dead, and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan practically extinct, Washington could’ve done exactly that many months ago – but the real aims of the "war on terrorism" have nothing to do with al-Qaeda, if they ever did.
In 2001, the US government decided to move in on the Middle East and effectively establish military control over the entire region. The invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly in hot pursuit of al-Qaeda, was just a way to get our foot in the door, so to speak. The subsequent history of the region – the invasion of Iraq and Libya, military pressure applied to Syria and Iran – highlights the US battle plan for the region.
Obama said we’re withdrawing from Afghanistan, but he also said "If you like your insurance you can keep your insurance" – and we know how that turned out.
The lesson of Afghanistan ought to be clear enough: no overseas intervention ever truly ends. Look at Germany: World War II has been over for 70 years, and yet our troops are still over there, just as they’re still stationed in Japan. If, on the 70th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war, US troops remain in that godforsaken hellhole, will anybody be surprised?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.