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10 more years in Afghanistan|Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He’d like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations’ concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai’s.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. We’re spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn’t stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn’t get the aid that we favored.
We aren’t asked about the drone strikes. We aren’t asked about most military operations. And we aren’t being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven’t learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We’d have invented a new disease. They’d replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he’s “ending” out for another decade, establishing that there’s very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won’t allow them to roll right over us.
After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the next ten years.
It is clear that the Obama Administration badly wants this deal. Karzai, sensing this, even demanded that the US president send a personal letter promising that the US would respect the dignity of the Afghan people if it were allowed to remain in the country. It was strange to see the US president go to such lengths for a deal that would mean billions more US dollars to Karzai and his cronies, and a US military that would continue to prop up the regime in Kabul.
Just as the deal was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry and ready to sign, however, Karzai did an abrupt about-face. No signed deal until after the next presidential elections in the spring, he announced to a gathering of tribal elders, much to the further embarrassment and dismay of the US side. The US administration had demanded a signed deal by December. What may happen next is anybody’s guess. The US threatens to pull out completely if the deal is not signed by the end of this year.
Karzai should be wary of his actions. It may become unhealthy for him. The US has a bad reputation for not looking kindly on puppet dictators who demand independence from us.
Yet Karzai’s behavior may have the unintended benefit of saving the US government from its own worst interventionist instincts. The US desire to continue its military presence in Afghanistan – with up to 10,000 troops – is largely about keeping up the false impression that the Afghan war, the longest in US history, has not been a total, catastrophic failure. Maintaining a heavy US presence delays that realization, and with it the inevitable conclusion that so many lives have been lost and wasted in vain. It is a bitter pill that this president, who called Afghanistan “the good war,” would rather not have to swallow.
The administration has argued that US troops must remain in Afghanistan to continue the fight against al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda has virtually disappeared from Afghanistan. What remains is the Taliban and the various tribes that have been involved in a power struggle ever since the Soviets left almost a quarter of a century ago. In other words, twelve years later we are back to the starting point in Afghanistan.
Where has al-Qaeda gone if not in Afghanistan? They have branched out to other areas where opportunity has been provided by US intervention. Iraq had no al-Qaeda presence before the 2003 US invasion. Now al-Qaeda and its affiliates have turned Iraq into a bloodbath, where thousands are killed and wounded every month. The latest fertile ground for al-Qaeda and its allies is Syria, where they have found that US support, weapons, and intelligence is going to their side in the ongoing war to overthrow the Syrian government.
In fact, much of the US government’s desire for an ongoing military presence in Afghanistan has to do with keeping money flowing to the military industrial complex. Maintaining nine US military bases in Afghanistan and providing military aid and training to Afghan forces will consume billions of dollars over the next decade. The military contractors are all too willing to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive sectors of the US economy.
Addressing Afghan tribal elders last week, Karzai is reported to have expressed disappointment with US assistance thus far: “I demand tanks from them, and they give us pickup trucks, which I can get myself from Japan… I don’t trust the U.S., and the U.S. doesn’t trust me.”
Let us hope that Karzai sticks to his game with Washington.Let the Obama administration have no choice but to walk away from this twelve-year nightmare. Then we can finally just march out.
- Afghan President Says CIA Payments to Continue – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- Afghan president hopes CIA payments will continue – News & Observer (newsobserver.com)
- Afghan President Confirms CIA Payments (huffingtonpost.com)
- Karzai admits receiving CIA cash (aljazeera.com)
- Karzai admits receiving millions in secret CIA payments (abc.net.au)