Obama’s Not So Peaceful Plans for Afghanistan

The Washington Post and other major news outlets are reporting that President Obama is quietly deploying 13,000 more US troops in Afghanistan. These troops are NOT part of General McCrystal’s request for an estimated 40,000 more troops. From the respected Guardian (UK) website:

President Barack Obama is quietly deploying an extra 13,000 troops to Afghanistan, an unannounced move that is separate from a request by the US commander in the country for even more reinforcements.

The White House and the Pentagon both announced earlier this year that the number of US troops in Afghanistan was to be raised by 21,000, bringing the total at present to 62,000, with the aim of 68,000 by the end of the year.

But the Washington Post, based on conversations with Pentagon officials, said that on top of those an extra 13,000 “enablers” are also being deployed. They are mainly engineers, medical staff, intelligence officers and military police. About 3,000 of them are specialists in explosives, being sent to try to combat the growing fatality rate from roadside bombs.

In addition to the deployments under way, McChrystal has also requested an extra 40,000 troops he says are necessary to prevent the country falling into the hands of the Taliban. That request has provoked an intense debate within Washington, with some political advisers in the White House opposed to any further escalation of a war that is already proving unpopular at home.

The U.S. is NOT at a crossroads in its policy towards Afghanistan. It must be remembered that we have been fighting there already for more than eight years, twice the amount of time it took to defeat Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito. Afghanistan has been the graveyard of formerly great empires: the British Empire and the U.S.S.R. The die has already been cast with respect to American actions in Afghanistan and it is unlikely that Obama will do anything to decisively change the U.S. presence there but to escalate it. Just as Obama did in the healthcare reform debate when he took real reform off the table when he failed to consider single payer, in Afghanistan Obama has already taken withdrawal (and containment that could have followed withdrawal) off the table. And Obama has shown that escalation of the war in Afghanistan is one campaign promise, perhaps the only meaningful one, that he intends to keep.

The Obama administration seems more obsessed with military operational matters (how many troops do we need in Afghanistan) rather than looking at the bigger picture. No one seems to be asking the critical questions regarding our actions toward Afghanistan: does Afghanistan have any strategic importance to the U.S.? What are our goals there? How do they relate to the situation in Pakistan? Is there a realistic expectation of success in Afghanistan and if so, how do we measure success? And what is the exit strategy?

One accomplished observer of the situation, Boston University historian Andrew Bacevich, has written in an op-ed piece at the Boston Globe:

NO SERIOUS person thinks that Afghanistan — remote, impoverished, barely qualifying as a nation-state — seriously matters to the United States.

Bacevich sees Afghanistan as a proxy war for the United States and warned that if Obama embraces McCrystal’s requests, as most expect, that he will then:

· Anoint counterinsurgency – protracted campaigns of armed nation-building – as the new American way of war.

· Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror”).

· Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.

Bacevich further warns that if takes the path set out by the McCrystal’s, he will likely undermine any promise of real change at least as far as national security policy. Bacevich also notes that the war effort will cost billions and billions of dollars, all of which will leave less money in the pot for social and economic reforms in the United States. Tellingly too, such a protracted war will shape the minds of young Americans who will take war (not peace) as the norm:

As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe” obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.

If the Afghan war then becomes the consuming issue of Obama’s presidency — as Iraq became for his predecessor, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson, and as Korea did for Harry Truman — the inevitable effect will be to compromise the prospects of reform more broadly.

At home and abroad, the president who advertised himself as an agent of change will instead have inadvertently erected barriers to change. As for the American people, they will be left to foot the bill.

This is a sobering assessment by one of the nation’s foremost writers on military and national security issues. Writing about Bacevich’s op-ed piece, Glenn Greenwald astutely notes that further entanglement in Afghanistan will also lessen individual freedoms and strengthen the national security state:

It’s not only perpetual war that is the result, but also the endless civil liberties erosions and expansions of government power — detention, surveillance and secrecy — that inevitably accompany it.

Greenwald rightly sees many Democrats (like Diane Feinstein) as enablers of the policy of American Empire. It was not only the GOP and George W. Bush who were at fault. After all, Bush had to work with and get the approval of a Democratic Congress for many of his years in office. The analysis of the famous diplomatic historian — William Appelman Williams — who wrote seminal books more than 50 years ago about America’s propensity toward empire, seems to be proven more and more each day. An enthusiastic admirer of Williams, none other than Gore Vidal, once observed that America really has only one party: the corporate party. It has, Vidal believes, two wings, Republican and Democrat. What we are seeing in Afghanistan is much like what we are seeing in the healthcare reform debate. The Democratic party and the Republican party stand closer to each other than usually perceived.

The Obama administration does have a Rockefeller Republican look: strong on military spending and the extension of American Empire; strong on support to banks and Wall St.; strong on globalism and free markets; and not so much help given to average Americans who are increasingly falling on desperate times. Healthcare reform quickly began to be referred to by Obama as “health insurance reform.” These same administration figures also know that war is generally the death of progressive forces and Rahm and Obama have proven themselves opponents of progressivism.

So now the choice for a further intensification of the war is in the hands of a resident who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by five star-struck Norwegian politicians. Given America’s propensity for outward expansion and empire that William Appleman Williams detected (interesting, too, to see Bacevich moving closer and closer to a Williams-like analysis), given the Democratic Party’s acquiesance and furtherance of the goals of Empire over the past decades, and given Obama’s thin record of actual achievements on the peace front, I fear that the prospects for peace and domestic reform at home to which peace is linked, are poor.

Indeed, what we are seeing now will probably represent Obama’s future strategy: war cloaked as peace, just as his overall strategy in his first nine months in office amounts to the pretense of change and word castles built in the sky instead of true change and reform. So it is that the 13,000 additional troops now on their way to Afghanistan are not being talked about much, their story being broken by journalists and not trumpeted by the White House. Indeed, the White House is scrambling to explain away these 13,000 additional troops as “support troops” rather than “combat troops.” Expect more of the same from the Obama administration: doublespeak-like slogans on how “war is peace” just as we have seen “mandated insurance reform” sold as “healthcare reform.”

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