November 26, 2009
A Very Brief Recent History of Afghanistan
The Bush administration never clearly articulated its long-term goals in Afghanistan, at least publicly, in all liklihood because they wanted nothing to distract from efforts to build support to invade and permanently occupy Iraq. There was also a general belief, which has since been demonstrated to be totally false, that driving the Taliban out of the cities had eliminated them as a political/military force in the country. The Karzai government in Kabul, if you can call it a government, is as corrupt as any in the world today. Under its not so benign neglect the Taliban rebuilt their organization, learned from some of their mistakes, and slowly and steadily regained strength. In point of fact, Afghanistan has been in continual turmoil and conflict for most of its existence and especially during the last forty years. Massive efforts on the part of the then Soviet Union to impose a modernized national government beginning around 1978 eventually failed with a resulting great loss of life and numerous atrocities being committed on all sides of the conflict. During this period the U.S. supplied opposition forces (which included Osama bin Laden and elements which eventually became the Taliban) to the tune of six billion dollars in mostly military aid. After the overthrown of the Soviet backed government the country again descended into factional wars and anarchy which eventualy led to the rise of the Taliban, a Sunni Muslim movement of mainly ethnic Pashtuns which strong roots in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan that preached an extremely backward version of Islam similar to the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia. Pashtuns are the largest single ethnic group in Afghanistan. The initial success of the Taliban was due to strong backing from the Pakistani military and from Saudi Arabian supporters combined with anarchistic conditions which made a group promising law and order very appealing in a country torn apart by bloody factional wars. While the Taliban was driven from the major cities in 2001 with the assistance of a massive U.S. bombing campaign, the countryside has remained to this day in dispute and largely not under the control of the government in Kabul. Obama to "Finish the Job"?
Which brings us to the present situation in which the formerly vanquished Taliban has surged back into prominence to control large swathes of territory. The success of the Taliban rests partly on the extraordinary level of incompetence and corruption of the Karzai government. With nothing to fill the vacuum in the neglected and expoited rural areas, the Taliban was able to readily establish bases of influence and control. The fact that the Karzai governement is largely (and correctly in our opinion) perceived of as foreign backed puppet regime is also a major factor in the Taliban's recent ressurection.
Whatever the possibilities may have been to establish a truly functional and representative national government in Afghanistan after the Taliban was defeated in 2001, the window for success has long since been closed if indeed it ever was actually open. What do we base our assessment that the war in Afghanistan cannot be "won"? That's a tricky question to answer since the mission changes every other week, so we'll provide a definition of our own. "Winning" in the eyes of the present administration would appear to be establishing a secular and stable pro-Western government. Given the history and present situation in Afghanistan (we suggest doing an internet Google search on "a recent history of Afghanistan," there is plenty of good material out there) achieving this via foreign military intervention is about as likely as Saudi Arabia becoming a Christian theocracy.For those who believe that "winning" is still possible and that somehow Obama has come up with a new miracle strategy, we ask that you consider this: 1 - Most people live in rural areas spread out over thousands of square miles separated by huge mountainous areas filled with caves the size of football stadiums. 2 - The main cash crop and source of income for millions is opium. 3 - Local war lords as well as the Taliban and local drug cartels control most of the countryside. 4 - Most peasants are devout Muslims and fiercely anti-imperialist. 5 - The Karzai regime is hopelessly corrupt and lacks both the will and the ideology to establish a functional national government. 6 - The presence of foreign military troops can only antagonize rural populations and spill innocent blood by forcing people to take sides with them against the Taliban or local war lords. 7 - Paying locals to either fight the Taliban or support the Kabul government, as is apparently being done recently, will only serve to create more factionalism, new war lords to replace old war lords, and anarchy. 8 - As previously mentioned, Afghanistan has been in continual conflict for most of its existence and especially during the last forty years. 9 - Over a period of centuries foreign interventions have both caused and exacerbated bloody factional conflicts, hindered development, and precipitated nearly perpetual civil war conditions.
Parallels to Imperial Rome
Committing Political Suicide
When The New York Slime endorsed Obama for president last Summer, we had relatively modest expectations and certainly anticipated much less from him in the way of progressive change than many of his more ethusiastic supporters. That said, we have been stunned by the speed at which he has abandoned many of his core beliefs and campaign promises and moved conspicuously to the right even while his rabid Republican enemies have been branding him as a runaway left wing socialist.
The effect of Obama's sharp turn to the right has set the stage for political disaster next year for the Democratic Congress, and placed him on the path to political suicide by slowly but steadily turning his own base of support against him. Making matters worse, despite catering to cororate interests and Wall Street in terms of economic policy and health care reform, and despite giving the Pentagon and the military industrial complex their way on the war in Afghanistan, these forces continue to mark Obama for destruction through their allies in the cororate owned media.The twisted "logic" behind the soon to be announced Afghanistan escalation will no doubt be eloquently presented to the nation by Obama this coming Tuesday. We will be told that finishing the mission in Afghanistan is vital to our national interests and to protect us from terrorism at home. We will be told that the mission will be time limited and that the Karzai government will have to shape up. We will be told that the mission is to have the Afghans take over the struggle so we can leave. We will most certainly not be told the truth, which is that it will do nothing to prevent terrorist attacks in America, that there is little if any prospect for success, and that no one has any idea how long we will be involved. All of which makes the answer to the question posed in the lead title for this blog an affirmative one, Afghanistan will most certainly become Obama's Vietnam. This is bad news for Obama and much worse news for the country and those being sent to die there.