Afghan War: A Time of Great Discontent Looming: Obama’s Wars | January 7, 2009

The true measure of a man is what he does with the promises
he makes. During last years presidential race I remained
skeptical about all of the candidates. Heard it, seen it
 before. Would Obama be a further disappointment as well?
His unwavering& uncritical support for Israel and a
willingness to escalate the US military involvement  in
Afghanistan have particularly troubled me. It really sounds
simplistic, but really, war is NOT the answer. In today's
NY Times the columnist  Bob Herbert writes about The Afghan
Quagmire [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/opinion/06herbert.html?th&emc=th]
and, on the Huffington Post, Tom Hayden offers an even
broader perspective.Will Obama piss of theprogressive/populist/left
base that helped put him in office? I hope not. At the same
time we cannot simply sit back and not be critical of
looming errors in judgment that could derail a much broader
agenda of hope and change.

Afghan War: A Time of Great Discontent Looming: Obama's Wars
By Tom Hayden
January 6, 2009


On January 21, President Barack Obama will take
personal responsibility for the wars in Afghanistan and
Pakistan launched under President Bush. The Afghan-
Pakistan war is uniquely Democratic in origin, however.
Since John Kerry's 2004 campaign, hawkish Democratic
security and political consultants have asserted that
Afghanistan is a good and necessary war in comparison
with Iraq which they label a diversionary one.

This argument has allowed Democrats to be critical of
the Iraq War without diminishing their standing as
hawks who will employ force to hunt down Al Qaeda. As a
result, the rank-and-file base of the Democratic Party,
and public opinion in general, remains divided and
confused over Afghanistan. As a result, opponents of
the Afghanistan escalation remain at the margins
politically for now, although backed by a healthy
public skepticism given the Iraq experience.

Back on July 14, I wrote "Chasing Needles By Burning
Haystacks" for the Huffington Post, a criticism of
Obama's Iraq and Afghanistan proposals. In other
writings for The Nation, I have been critical of the
decision by liberal Democratic donors in 2008 to defund
and shut down an independent media campaign that would
have carried television and radio messages against
"McCain's wars." Now that they are becoming Obama's
wars, the challenge will be more difficult, since so
many millions of Americans, myself included, want our
new president to succeed, restore hope, and launch a
new New Deal at home, not be distracted by a quagmire

The war in Iraq already is fading from public view,
although more than 140, 000 American troops remain
stationed there. The major television networks have
withdrawn. US casualties are far fewer than in traffic
accidents on American streets. Iraqi violence is down
as well, with 8,955 civilian deaths in 2008 compared to
51,894 in the bloodiest years of 2006-2007. The shift
is towards a low-visibility counterinsurgency war like
those that ravaged Central America in the 1970s.

The conditions for a massive social movement against
the Iraq War are ebbing, for now, unless large-scale
fighting suddenly resumes or President Obama
unexpectedly caves in to the Pentagon and blatantly
breaks his promise to withdraw combat troops in 16
months and all troops by 2011.

That makes Afghanistan the growing focal point for
public debate over what counterinsurgency gurus call
"the long war" against Islamic jihad.

In everyday language, Obama's proposals for Afghanistan
and Pakistan can be described as either out of the
frying pan and into the fire, or attacking needles by
burning down haystacks.

The Pentagon paradigm is to defeat al-Qaeda militarily
while refusing to address, and thereby worsening, the
dire conditions that gave rise to the Taliban and al-
Qaeda operatives in the first place. Ahmed Rashid's new
Descent into Chaos [Viking, 2008] provides a horrific
portrait of Afghanistan in careful prose based on
reputable sources.

It is estimated by RAND that $100 per capita is the
minimum required to stabilize a country evolving out of
war. Bosnia received $679 per capita, Kosovo $526,
while Afghanistan received $57 per capita in the key
years, 2001-2003;?- When the US installed the Hamid
Karzai government, Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 178
nations on the United Nation's Human Development Index,
having the highest rate of infant mortality in the
world, a life expectancy rate of 44-45 years, and the
youngest population of any country; in 2005 95 percent
of Kabul's residents were living without electrical
power.?- Seven hundred civilians were killed in the
first five months of 2008 alone, according to the
United Nations.

Despite some gains in media and currency reform, plus a
modest increase in children in school, this was the
path of least reconstruction.

And despite media images of Afghan democracy that made
loya jirga tribal gatherings appear to be the birth of
participatory democracy, a warlord state was entrenched
by the CIA. The government is "shot through with
corruption and graft", from the police to the
presidential family, writes Dexter Filkins in the New
York Times. [Jan. 2, 2009]

There are some 36,000 US troops stretched across
Afghanistan, another 17,500 under NATO command, and
18,000 in counterinsurgency and training roles [New
York Times, July 14]. It costs the Pentagon $2 billion
per month to support the American troops.

The enlarged American forces are likely to "squeeze the
Taliban first". [New York Times, 12-24-08]. The target
will be the support networks of the Taliban which are
embedded in the vast tribal lands of Pashtun civilians,
which stretch from southern Afghanistan into Pakistan.
The enlarged American forces are likely to "squeeze the
Taliban first". [New York Times, 12-24-08].

Even Afghanistan's client president, Hamid Karzai,
complains of extra-judicial killings and civilian
casualties from the American air war, a pattern of
repression and suffering which will only worsen with
more American troops pouring into combat zones.

Meanwhile, the war in Pakistan and other Central Asian
countries will expand as the additional US troops seek
to recover supply lines closed by recent Taliban
attacks. [No one comments that the Pentagon is carrying
out precisely what it accuses the Taliban of doing,
using Pakistan as a supply and staging area for its
forces in Afghanistan. Eighty percent of those supplies
flow through Pakistan, according to the New York Times,
Dec. 31, 2008]

According to Rashid, "Afghanistan is not going to be
able to pay for its own army for many years to come --
perhaps never."

As of 2006, Afghanistan's economy still rested on
producing 90 percent of the world's opium, an eerie
narco-state parallel with the US counterinsurgency in
Colombia from where most of America's supply of cocaine

Afghanistan is an unstable police state. By 2005, the
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission cited 800
cases of detainee abuse at some thirty U.S. firebases.
"The CIA operates its own secret detention centers,
which were off limits to the US military." Ghost
prisoners, known as Persons Under Control [PUCs] are
held permanently without any public records of their
existence. Warlords operate their own prisons with
"unprecedented abuse, torture, and death of Taliban
prisoners." And as the US lowered the number of
prisoners at Guantanamo, it increased the numbers held
at Bagram, near Kabul. As of January, 2008, there were
630 incarcerated at Bagram, "including some who had
been there for five years and whom the ICRC had still
not been given access to." After weeks of hunger
strikes about detention conditions, the Taliban
recently orchestrated a jailbreak of hundreds of
Afghanis from the Kandahar prison, an inside job.

As in Iraq, the US contracted for police training in
Afghanistan with DynCorp International; between 2003
and 2005, the US spent $860 million to train 40,000
Afghan police, "but the results were totally useless"
according to Rashid. Even Richard Holbrooke described
the DynCorp training program as "an appalling joke...a
complete shambles."

When the Taliban government was overthrown, the US
installed a Westernized Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, a former
lobbyist for Unocal, who had been out of the country
during the jihad against the Soviet Union. But the
Pashtun tribes themselves were violently displaced from
power for the first time in 300 years. They remain by
far the largest Afghan minority at 42 percent of the
population, heavily concentrated in Kandahar and the
southern provinces and across the federally-
administered tribal areas in western Pakistan. These
are the areas that the Pentagon, the New York Times,
and Barack Obama [like John Kerry before him] designate
as the central battlefront of the war on terrorism.

The question is not simply a moral one, but whether the
expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fueled by
troop transfers from Iraq, is winnable, and in what

Transferring an additional 20, 000 American troops from
Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama proposes, is symbolic,
a step on the treadmill of escalation. The American
troop level will be pushed to 58,000, in addition to
30,000 other foreign troops. Obama may be proposing an
escalation simply in order not to lose, a pattern well-
documented in Daniel Ellsberg's history of the Vietnam

The questionable premise of the coming escalation is
that military success must precede any political
solution. "What we need are more troops in Afghanistan
because we need security, and eventually we will get a
strategy", says a former Special Forces officer now
with the think tank Center for a New American Security.
[Dec. 23, 2008] But it could deepen the quagmire and
turn more Afghans against Obama and the US as well.

In Pakistan, the Pentagon has fostered the ascension of
a new Pakistani general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, whose
background includes training at Fort Benning and Fort
Leavenworth. An unnamed US military official praises
Kayani "for embracing new counterinsurgency training
and tactics that could be more effective in countering
militants in the country's tribal areas. [New York
Times, Jan. 7. 2008] Over $400 million is being spent
to recruit a "frontier corps" of to "turn local tribes
against militants" [New York Times, Mar. 4, 2008] CIA
and Special Forces operatives already have invaded
Pakistan to set up a secret base from which to hunt
Osama bin Laden "before Mr. Bush leaves office" as well
as fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban on the ground and
from pilotless Predator drones. [New York Times, Feb.
22, 2008].

This constitutes another preventive war by the United
States, this one in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty
and the overwhelming sentiment of Pakistan's people. On
the Afghan front, the Taliban will be able to retreat
in the face of greater US firepower, or attack like
Lilliputians from multiple sides if the US concentrates
its forces around the Pakistan border. Further violence
and tides of anti-American sentiment could sweep across
the region into Pakistan with unpredictable results.

Michael Scheuer, the former CIA official once charged
with tracking down Osama bin Laden, suggests that the
American delusion is that "by establishing a minority-
dominated semisecular, pro-Indian government [in
Kabul], we would neither threaten the identity nor
raise the ire of the Pashtun tribes nor endanger
Pakistan's national security." Scheuer wrote this year
that "for the United States, the war in Afghanistan has
been lost. By failing to recognize that the only
achievable US mission in Afghanistan was to destroy the
Taliban and al-Qaeda and their leaders and get out,
Washington is now faced with fighting a protracted and
growing insurgency. The only upside of this coming
defeat is that it is a debacle of our own making. We
are not being defeated by our enemies; we are in the
midst of defeating ourselves." [Marching Toward Hell,

The beginning of an alternative may require unfreezing
American diplomacy towards Iran and considering a
"grand bargain" instead. Teheran is the single power,
according to CIA director Deutch, who could destabilize
the US withdrawal from Iraq. It happens that they were
America's ally against Afghanistan not so long ago. The
Iranians have lost thousands of police and soldiers
themselves in a border war against Afghan drug lords.
According to William Polk, "ironically, the only
effective deterrent to the trade is Iran." [Violent
Politics, 2008] In exchange for security guarantees
against a US-directed regime change, Iran may be
willing to discuss cooperation with the "Great Satan"
to stabilize its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Improbable? That depends on whether one thinks the
alternative is unthinkable.

The great reappraisal might be underway. In December
2008, Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley of the Center for
American Progress published an op-ed piece calling for
US-Iran talks over Afghanistan. The CAP is headed by
John Podesta, senior official in the Obama transition.

Since twists and turns seem to be the only pattern in
divide-and-conquer strategies, it is possible that
Obama thinks being tough towards Afghanistan and
Pakistan is a defensive cover for withdrawing from
Iraq, and he will follow up with unspecified diplomacy
after he takes office. But history shows that creeping
escalations create a momentum and constituency of their
own. Obama might get lucky, lower the level of the
visible wars, and embrace a diplomatic offensive. But
North and South Waziristan could be his Bay of Pigs.

How can this war be opposed effectively? If Obama
appears to be negotiating a diplomatic solution with
some success, he will enjoy wide support within the
media and Congress. If the additional 20-30,000
American troops appear to be "stabilizing" the
situation, public criticism may be modest in scale. But
there is widespread, if latent, public opposition to
anything resembling an occupation or quagmire in
Afghanistan-Pakistan, especially with the American
economy in dire straights. The time is coming when
these will be known as Obama's wars, and seen as an
unproductive distraction from his main mission as
president. The deployment of top journalists like the
Times' Dexter Filkins to the Afghan front already has
increased the quality of press coverage. International
protest is certain to grow, given official reservations
already expressed by governments in Germany, Italy,
Spain and Poland over civilian casualties, air strikes,
human rights violations and counter-narcotics missions.
The massive human rights violations in Afghanistan will
also begin to produce a round of worldwide
condemnation. An international anti-war movement is on
the horizon.

The cost of Afghanistan will be seen as unsustainable
as well; the $36 billion for annual military operations
is certain to climb, while the $11 billion spent since
2002 on non-military development cannot begin to
address the country's problems. Whether Obama can
afford guns-and-butter in Afghanistan as America's own
infrastructure and social services fall apart is a
question that could move to action "cities for peace"
campaigners, health care advocates, Iraq veterans and
military families, among many others. And if these wars
continue through Obama's first term, a great moral
discontent will grow among many Americans who voted for
peace in 2006 and 2008.

[Tom Hayden is a founder of 'Progressives for Obama'
and the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2007], The
Voices of the Chicago Eight [2008], and Writings for a
Democratic Society, the Tom Hayden Reader [2008].

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