So, you thought it was all going to be different, did you, that we were in for a change a Big Change? Well, the bad news, as Newsweek reports, is that the more things change
“The Pentagon is prepared to announce the deployment of 17,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan as early as this week even as President Barack Obama is searching for his own strategy for the war. According to military officials during last week’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon’s ‘tank,’ the president specifically asked, ‘What is the end game?’ in the U.S. military’s strategy for Afghanistan. When asked what the answer was, one military official told NBC News, ‘Frankly, we don’t have one.’ But they’re working on it.”
He’s searching for strategy at this late date? Isn’t this the same Barack Hussein Obama who told us Bush was neglecting the Afghan front, and that we had to redirect our efforts away from Iraq in order to invest more troops and treasure in Afghanistan, doing whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing there? Surely he had some kind of plan in mind.
And, by the way, what are we doing there? Frankly, nobody knows least of all, apparently, President Obama. His generals are equally clueless. Maybe they ought to ask the outgoing President Dick Cheney, I mean. After all, this war was launched by the Cheney-Bush administration, and the neocons who talked us into this clearly had something very specific in mind now what was it?
Oh yeah, now I remember: they were going to “transform” the entire region by first smashing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and then crushing Saddam Hussein: this was supposed to spark a general uprising extending from North Africa to the wilds of Waziristan, and usher in a new era of capital-‘D’ Democracy.
Well, yes, the invasion did indeed provoke a regional uprising: the only problem is that it wasn’t and isn’t directed at local despots, but against us. We never did get bin Laden who seems to have vanished into a convenient hole, from which he occassionally issues threats, taunts, and I-told-you-so’s. The revolutionary wave that was supposed to upend the Middle Eastern status quo has instead turned into a rising tide of anti-Americanism.
Die-hard neocons point to the recent Iraqi elections as somehow making the invasion and occupation worth it, and yet look at the victors the Da’wa party, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which beat its nearest rival, the Islamic Council, even in southern Iraq, a former Council stronghold. The party was founded in 1957 by a group of Shi’ite clerics and scholars, and led by the Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr, who sought to establish an Islamic state in Iraq. The Ayatollah was, in theory, a democrat, but was executed before he could translate his principles into a party program. Da’wa was sympathetic to the Khomeini revolution, when it came, and the party soon became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tehran, where its leading cadre took up residence as guests of the Iranian government.
In 1983, members of the Da’wa party conducted simultaneous suicide bombings targeting the French and American embassies in Kuwait retribution for Western support of Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. A number of industrial targets, including oil production facilities, were also targeted. Although Islamic Jihad took responsibity for the bombings, the real identity of the bombers soon became known when part of a thumb was found and the print matched that of Raad Murtin Ajeel, a young Da’wa militant. Seventeen others were apprehended, and tried. Of the four tried in absentia, one was Jamal Jaffar Mohammed, a sitting member of Parliament and a prominent Da’wa leader. Our own government has attacked him as not only a convicted terrorist, but also a conduit for Iranian influence and arms in Iraq.
Oh, but things will be different in Afghanistan we’re going to limit our aims. We’re just going to go in and eliminate the bad guys, without fooling ourselves into thinking we can effect a socio-political transformation. It’ll be more like a special forces operation than an all-out invasion and occupation. That, at least, is what conservative Democrats like Claire McCaskill are saying. Yet the war plans of the Afghan hawks, who occupy key posts in the Obama administration, aren’t nearly as modest.
The inspiration for the coming Afghan “surge” is the new counterinsurgency orthodoxy championed by the Hero of Iraq, General David Petraeus, under whose auspices the Army’s updated counterinsurgency manual was produced. Go here for a in-depth look at what’s in store for us, as presented by two writers associated with the Center for a New American Security, a “centrist” Democratic thinktank which, according to E. J. Dionne, is the epicenter of the foreign policy action in the new admnistration.
This new doctrine, based on our alleged success in Iraq, involves a long-term commitment that its advocates acknowledge might seem like “neocolonialism dressed up in PowerPoint,” but, heck, it works. The idea is not to go in and then get out, but to hold territory and build up the social and material infrastructure: roads, schools, clinics, coupled with decisive displays of force when necessary occasional “surges” just to remind the natives who’s in charge.
One can easily see the woozy liberalism Obama is so good at translating into performance art rationalizing this kind of “smart” war: unlike the Darth Vader-ish Bushies, the Obama-ites will preside over a benevolent empire, albeit not one that is at all hesitant to employ force to assert the essential principle of US foreign policy in the post-cold war era: the primacy of American power on a global scale. In Afghanistan, we are about to see the “liberal” Democratic version of the Bush Doctrine put into practice, as we venture into the tribal areas of Pakistan: it’s a “myth,” you see, that these regions are “ungovernable,” according to the CNAS crowd. As long as the right people are doing the governing.
We are hearing an all-too-familiar narrative being spun out by the Afghan hawks, one that recalls the neocon storyline that lied us into invading and occupying Iraq. The authors of the CNAS blueprint for the longterm occupation of Afghanistan intersperse their earnest descriptions of the “new” “smart” way to subjugate a people with matter-of-fact assertions attached to no proof whatsoever, such as their description of the tribal areas as “home to the international headquarters of al-Qaeda as well as much of the Taliban insurgency.” Does al-Qaeda even have an “international headquarters”? Confronted with this sort of prose, one imagines the terrorist equivalent of the Davos conference.
If all this talk of Pakistan’s “links” to al-Qaeda evokes a feeling of déjà vu, then that’s because we heard the same argument in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Bin Laden and Saddam were supposedly bosom buddies, and 9/11 was their joint project. Government officials, up to and including the President, so much as said this long after the alleged connection had been debunked. Today we are hearing the same connection being made between al-Qaeda and a province of Pakistan with the same bold assertiveness and the same absence of supporting evidence.
If we are really proposing to build a nation, a democratic one even, in Afghanistan, it is hard to see how not inviting the elected President of the country you are trying to build to Obama’s presidential inauguration furthers that aim. Yet that is precisely how the White House snubbed Hamid Karzai, whose government our soldiers have been fighting and dying for. Karzai, you’ll recall, was elevated to the Afghan presidency amid much ceremony and to the applause of the Western media, in an election heralded as a success by the War Party in its heyday. To add real sting to the snub: Karzai’s likely opponents in the upcoming presidential election were invited, including an unsavory warlord of disgusting personal habits and a human rights record comparable to Al Capone’s.
The new regime is supposed to be all about “competence,” and technocratic efficiency, but this seems to me to be the most likely way to break up a fragile democratic polity. By directly interfering in Afghanistan’s internal politics, we replicate the errors of Vietnam, where we overthrew the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem, and installed a succession of military juntas and phony “democratic” governments. It ended with the helicopters taking off from the roof of the abandoned US embassy.
The Soviets could not subdue the Afghans, and they have the advantage of sharing a border one that turned into a decisive disadvantage, as the Russian defeat reverberated across Central Asia, creating seismic geopolitical tremors that presaged the breakup of the USSR.
The US, on the other hand, will find it impossible to maintain an open supply route to its Afghan expeditionary force without creating a very big footprint in the surrounding regions, especially the ‘stans: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This will rightly be seen by the Russians as a provocation, the latest chapter in the ongoing Western effort to encircle and isolate Russia. That’s another front on which the Obama administration is likely to move: the installation of an advanced anti-missile system in Poland, at Moscow’s doorstep, is a decision taken by the Bush administration that the new regime shows no sign of reversing. At least, not yet. Tensions are already rising over the US air base in Kyrgyzstan, where the Americans are being asked to leave their air base or maybe not.
It’s the same old game, only with different players. Instead of Iraq, it’s going to be Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, one has to ask why? What’s the rationale, this time? The liberation of Afghan women? That’ll get the feminists. The myth of bin Laden’s presence? That’ll convince the more credulous. Good old fashioned do-gooder-ism will get the Hollywood liberals, who will jump at the chance to get all patriotic. The Republicans will support it, while urging a more aggressive war policy and the Keynesians will love it, because, after all, any kind of government spending is good, it doesn’t matter if you build roads, pyramids, or empires. It’s all good.
So there you have it: the new interventionist consensus, the coalition of special interests and ideological cliques that will foist another futile war of “liberation” on us. These are the supporters of what is now Obama’s war, a conflict that promises to be much broader and more destabilizing than anything dreamed of by the Bush administration.
What’s the endgame, Mr. President? You tell us.