President Barack Obama barely had time to graciously note his unworthiness of the Nobel Peace Prize before it was time to duck back into the Situation Room for a meeting with his advisers about how to win the war in Afghanistan. The irony of this is underscored by the apparent willingness of the administration to consider the addition of as many as 60,000 more troops, per Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request, to the occupation forces.
The Taliban has regrouped and is in clear control of much of the country. Not only that, but the Afghan "government," which was never very credible to begin with, has lost any vestige of legitimacy it may once have possessed on account of the brazen theft of the presidential election by fashion plate Hamid Karzai. Not that this matters much in concrete terms, as Karzai’s kingdom is limited to Kabul and the immediate vicinity.
To prevent Operation Enduring Freedom from turning into an enduring embarrassment, Gen. McChrystal and the regional commander, Gen. David Petraeus, have both recommended an Afghan variant of the Iraqi "surge." The military’s new counterinsurgency doctrine – COIN – has been revamped and refined, and the Pentagon is counting on this newly minted wisdom to roll back the Taliban and regain the initiative in what is widely seen as a losing war. What prevents this surge from occurring, however, is the one determinative factor in the making of U.S. foreign policy – and, indeed, all foreign policy that has ever been made anywhere – and that is domestic politics.
The pressures on Obama and his administration to pursue what is artfully termed a "minimalist" approach to the Afghan war are considerable: within his own party, a substantial (albeit not too principled) anti-interventionist wing is balking at McChrystal’s call for escalation, and the polls support their reluctance. For the first time since 9/11, a majority of Americans think the Afghan war isn’t worth fighting. Democrats, who are just now getting used to enjoying their congressional majority, were put in power in large part because of the war weariness of American voters, and they don’t want to do anything to endanger that if they don’t have to.
Moreover, the economic arguments against escalation are irrefutable: we simply don’t have the money. The tremendous drain on our resources necessitated by the Iraq and Afghan conflicts – measured in trillions, not billions – may be the coup de grace for a U.S. economy already in marked decline. Add to this the cost of President Obama’s extensive domestic "reform" package, including a substantial government investment in the healthcare industry, and we are suddenly revisiting that old 1960s dilemma: "guns vs. butter." This dichotomy, you’ll recall, plagued another Democratic president with fanciful visions of generous domestic spending programs: Lyndon Baines Johnson. That Johnson was driven from office by antiwar protesters and the left wing of his own party is a bit of political history that haunts today’s Democratic leaders – or, at least, the smart ones.
Given these political and economic arguments against expanding the Afghan war, what could possibly persuade the administration to take McChrystal’s advice? It seems like a no-brainer – and it is, if it’s the interests of the country that we’re talking about. Unfortunately, there’s another factor that could prove ultimately decisive, and that is the all-pervasive power and influence of the War Party.
The unpopularity of Obama’s war is a problem, but hardly an insoluble one for the president and his crew. After all, he’s just had the Nobel Peace Prize conferred on him, so he’s inoculated – if only temporarily – against the accusation that he’s a warmonger. Stacked up against George W. Bush, Obama comes off like the reincarnation of Gandhi – and that’s what will really blunt the political impact of taking McChrystal’s road to perdition, if the White House so chooses. Because if the Obamaites pursue the path of escalation, there is only the perpetually ineffective and easily intimidated left wing of his party to answer to, and where else do those folks have to go?
While a few Republicans may wise up and start echoing Ron Paul’s call to bring the troops home, the supposedly reflexive anti-Obama stance of the GOP stops at the water’s edge. If anything, the Republicans are looking to pounce on the president if he doesn’t jump into the Afghan quagmire with as much alacrity as they’d like. I can just hear Newt Gingrich and the other worn-out relics of the GOP’s glorious yesteryears braying: "Who lost Afghanistan?" (Not that this will have much political effect on the Republicans’ sagging fortunes when most Americans are asking "Who lost America?")
The interventionist monopoly on the leadership of the two state-supported major parties isn’t the only enabling factor involved in ramping up the Afghan war. There is also the rising power of the imperial class to contend with – that is, the growing economic and political clout wielded by sectors of the U.S. economy dependent on military contracts and the direct links between lawmakers and "private" companies that profit from war. A particularly brazen example of the latter is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and formerly the mayor of what is generally regarded as the most liberal city in the United States. This past weekend she hit the Sunday talk show circuit to grouse:
"I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out.
"If you don’t want to take the recommendations, then you – you – you put your people in such jeopardy, just like the base in Nuristan. We lost eight of our men. We didn’t have the ability to defend them, and now the base is closing, and effectively we’re – we’re retreating away from it. And so I think the decision has to be made sooner, rather than later."
What were those eight men doing out in the middle of that godforsaken hell to begin with – and who put them there? It’s breathtaking to hear Feinstein blaming Obama for the deaths of those soldiers. I’m no Obama cultist, as the record makes clear, but that has got to be a new low in demagoguery, even for a woman who used a political assassination to catapult herself into the media spotlight, the mayoralty, and the U.S. Senate.
Feinstein plugged the nation-building strategic doctrine now being pushed by the Pentagon’s best and brightest, as well as the Democratic "national security" crowd over at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where the theoreticians of COIN hold court. The timeframe of this strategy went unmentioned by the senator, but it is measured in decades. Also unmentioned: the costs, not only in lives but in tax dollars.
Feinstein has personal knowledge of those expenditures, not only as former chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate’s Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (2001-2005), but also as the spouse of one of the biggest war profiteers in the business. Reporting in one of our excellent local northern California papers, The Bohemian (yes, as in Bohemian Grove), Peter Byrne notes:
"Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee.
"Each year, MILCON’s members decide which military construction projects will be funded from a roster proposed by the Department of Defense. Contracts to build these specific projects are subsequently awarded to such major defense contractors as Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Louis Berger, URS Corporation, and Perini Corporation. From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein’s knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp."
Blum and Feinstein are laughing all the way to the bank as URS Corp and Perini grow fat on the military appropriations gravy train – the only sector of the U.S. economy that seems to be thriving. Perini, in which Blum owns a controlling interest, is the Democrats’ Halliburton – indeed, Cheney’s old corporate digs is Perini’s chief competitor. Blum bought it when it was nearly broke in 1997. In 2005, Feinstein’s membership on the subcommittee was "routinely" rotated, as the Soros-funded shills over at Media Matters made sure to point out, contrary to Byrne’s assertions that she might have resigned under pressure. By that time Perini was raking in $1.7 billion in annual income.
The infrastructure-intensive warfare championed by McChrystal and the COIN crowd is precisely the strategic framework that will enrich the Perini/URS military-industrial combine. All those bases stuck out in the middle of nowhere that Feinstein wants to construct and defend will need to be built, supplied, reinforced, and regularly maintained. This is a job tailor-made for the Blum/Feinstein war profiteers and all the other politically connected firms that feed at the public trough.
Do we even have to inquire any further into Feinstein’s motivation for expanding this futile and unwinnable war?
The economic and political interests that feed the Democratic Party machine and enable it to hand out the goods to its loyal activists are just as invested in a foreign policy of perpetual war as those who routinely support the Republicans. In the particularly egregious case of Feinstein, her personal and financial interests are directly linked to the policy of global intervention – and this is emblematic of a larger problem with the two major parties, both of which are in thrall to corporate interests. That’s why we don’t get to choose between war and peace, only between Halliburton and Perini.