By David Gushee
There is no good news from Afghanistan:
— Every indication exists that the sorry presidential “election” that just occurred there was entirely corrupted by every form of vote fraud, including massive ballot stuffing and intimidation of voters.
— Allies of Afghan president and erstwhile American friend Hamid Karzai led the way in destroying the fairness of the election in a number of documented cases.
— The obvious illegitimacy of the election is paralyzing the already hopelessly weak Afghan government.
— The Afghan state shows no capacity to deliver any of the most basic state services, such as security, utilities, law enforcement, jobs or education, on its own.
— Afghanistan is becoming a narco-state, led by drug traffickers with close ties to the Karzai government.
— Afghan troops are notoriously unreliable as partners to American troops, at least when there is real fighting to be done.
— American and British casualties are spiking; the more troops we send in (21,000 more since President Obama took office), the more that die. Last month was the worst month for American casualties in Afghanistan since September 2001, when the war began.
— The new, rather gloomy, strategic assessment by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the chief United States commander in Afghanistan, recommends a minimum addition of 10,000 more troops, up to a maximum of 45,000 more troops, to reverse current trends. The maximum figure would raise our troop levels there to around 115,000.
— Fifty-seven percent of Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan, the highest level of opposition since the conflict’s beginning; support for the war in the United Kingdom is even weaker.
A very insightful article by Jim Skillen, longtime head of the Center for Public Justice, points out the deeper problems of our “war” in Afghanistan:
— President Bush sent troops into Afghanistan in 2001 to defend us from al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban. Eight years later, we are still there, with victory nowhere in sight, and the Taliban is resurgent.
— Skillen rightly points out that “the long slog … has continued for so long that other aims have been added along the way to justify the military losses and expenditures. Chief among the added aims is to promote freedom and democracy in the world, and that now involves us in trying to build a state in Afghanistan.”
— But nation-building in Afghanistan involves spending tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of lives to provide essentially all state services in a disastrously failed state.
— Meanwhile, Americans are losing patience with this war without end, when we have so many unmet needs at home.
— There is broad awareness of the terrorist threats in many nations and other parts of the world, such as India, Pakistan, Somalia, Indonesia, and Chechyna, and that these are addressed by our country without sending troops to attack, conquer, and then rebuild each of those states.
It seems to me that President Obama is fighting a residual war in Afghanistan almost as a kind of carry-over reflex from a different era. In that earlier era, America had sufficient money, troops and confidence that we believed we could and must project our military power anywhere in the world in order to advance our ideological or security goals. This pattern has characterized American foreign policy since at least the 1960s. Add the 9/11 attacks and you get the darker, more apocalyptic motivation that if we do not knock over the terrorists in their havens, they will find us in our streets.
Somehow, I don’t think that a ramping up of the bloody, costly war in Afghanistan is exactly “change we can believe in.” It is instead more of the same American imperialistic hubris mixed with fear and fiscal improvidence. We cannot afford this quest for perfect security. We would instead do better to improve our homeland-security capacities and use our intelligence services and diplomatic corps rather than stretching our military and budget to exhaustion.
Is President Obama afraid of seeming weak on defense? Is that why he is taking this course? Let’s not go down that road again!
A recent New York Times opinion piece wondered whether Afghanistan would be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ — the graveyard of his presidency, especially of his expansive domestic-policy dreams. It is a good question to ponder. I urge the president to reverse course and get us out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.