“There isn't the slightest possibility that the course laid out by Barack Obama in his Dec. 1 speech (at West Point) will halt or even slow the downward spiral toward defeat in Afghanistan,” writes Thomas Johnson in the current “Foreign Policy” magazine. And for emphasis, he adds the word “None.”
“The U.S. president and his advisors labored for three months and brought forth old wine in bigger bottles,” Johnson goes on to write, noting, “The speech contained not one single new idea or approach, nor offered any hint of new thinking about a conflict that everyone now agrees the United States is losing.”
Author Johnson is no armchair admiral. He is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., a man who has conducted his own on-site investigation in Afghanistan.
Also referring to the President’s West Point address, The Nation magazine editorialized that Obama failed to explain why his goal to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan “requires 100,000 troops at a cost of nearly $100 billion. By the military’s own calculation, there are at most 100 Al Qaeda operatives, mostly low-level, in Afghanistan, the leadership having fled to Pakistan years ago.”
Even as the Afghan war bids to become the longest in U.S. history, “The Nation” adds:
“The undeniable fact is that eight years of US occupation and war have led to a growing insurgency, fueled by anger at one of the world’s most corrupt governments, run mostly by former and not-so-former warlords who were installed by the United States after 9/11. Many of these warlords are deeply involved in the opium trade, among them the brother of Hamid Karzai, the president, who was re-elected only through massive fraud.”
Writing in the Miami Herald of Dec. 20th, Carl Hiaasen says that Johnson believes “Obama knows this war is unwinnable, and that the surge is meant to provide political cover in advance of a full U.S. withdrawal before the 2012 election.”
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Hiaasen adds, “Obama wouldn’t be the first U.S. president to let domestic political concerns affect his military moves abroad, but he certainly campaigned as a different kind of leader.”
Does this mean Obama is escalating an unwinnable war for political considerations? Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in the December 14th New Yorker, thinks politics has a lot to do with it. An immediate withdrawal, he writes, would inflict “severe” political and diplomatic damage to Obama and trigger, among other things, “a probable Pentagon revolt.” And the Pentagon has left no doubt about the right course. As General David Petraeus, who commands U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan forces, told The New York Times, “a sustained, substantial commitment” is required.
As the war drags on, the death toll mounts. Writing in the Dec. 21st issue of Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard, says by his conservative count, the war has claimed 30,000 lives. And the CIA’s drone warplane sorties authorized by Obama are boosting that toll.
Obama’s strategy is also spreading the war ever deeper into Pakistan. As Dan Pearson and Kathy Kelly report in the December “Catholic Worker,” 3,000,000 people were uprooted by violence in the Swat Valley and neighboring districts and those who returned found “that their homes, crops and other means of survival had been damaged or destroyed.”
They quote Dr. Aasim Saijad of Lahore University of Management Sciences as saying the attacks in Pakistan are only swelling the Taliban’s ranks. “The hundreds of thousands languishing in refugee camps talk of the mortar shells that have destroyed their homes and killed their relatives,” Saijad said.
“They seethe with anger and warn the government that most Taliban fighters hail from the local population. The longer the war continues---and it has only just begun in this region---the better the chances that the Taliban will be able to recruit from the refugees,” he said.
If Afghans are dying by the thousands and Pakistanis have become refugees by the millions to ensure Obama’s political survival, the U.S. has lost any vestige of moral authority. Is it thinkable to ask what if the purpose of the war is not “victory” but to keep the engines of the military-industrial complex humming? If so, it is not only primitive peoples’ who sacrificed the flower of their youth to ensure a good harvest.
(Sherwood Ross, who formerly reported for major dailies and wire services, is a Miami, Fla., public relations consultant. Reach him at email@example.com)
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