Monday, June 14, 2010

The courage to get the hell out of Afghanistan

If you missed it, make sure to check out Bob Herbert's excellent column in Friday's Times on the state of the war in Afghanistan. It deserves to be read (and thought through) in full, but here's some of it:

There is no good news coming out of the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. There once was merit to our incursion there, but that was long ago. Now we're just going through the tragic motions, flailing at this and that, with no real strategy or decent end in sight.

The U.S. doesn't win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza. BP, as we've been told repeatedly recently, is one of the largest suppliers of fuel to the wartime U.S. military.


What's happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it's embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid Karzai is breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot.


There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It's just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001.

Americans have zoned out on this war. They don't even want to think about it. They don't want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.

Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.

Our government leaders keep mouthing platitudes about objectives that are not achievable, which is a form of deception that should be unacceptable in a free society. 

I will admit that, like many, I was an early supporter of the Afghan War. But I was a supporter specifically of the effort to topple the Taliban government and to remove al Qaeda from its safe haven. Since then, though, it has been a badly mismanaged war, largely because Bush shifted focus to Iraq, but also because the war, with the Taliban overthrown and al Qaeda pushed back into the mountains and the Pakistani border regions, lacks a compelling purpose, let alone any sort of realistic objective.

As I wrote after President Obama's West Point speech in December, while there was good reason (a solid, defensible rationale) to go to war, and while the war, early on, may have been legitimate (in other words, the U.S. was justified in going to war to confront an enemy that had attacked it), but the war now is not the war then. And the war has only gotten worse and seemingly more pointless.

Writes Herbert, "[i]f we don't have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we're unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we're not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it."

Such courage seems nowhere to be found, though, and now, as the Times is reporting, there is more reason for the U.S. and its allies to stay, and that is to exploit the country for its natural resources:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.


"There is stunning potential here," Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

Potential. Sure. Just don't expect the Afghan people to benefit, and don't expect the killing to stop. The war will continue, if not to defeat the terrorists, then to fill the coffers of multi-national industry and the politicians who profit off the global corporatocracy, including in Washington.

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