America’s Longest War
by Eric Margolis
Goodbye fire-breathing Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and your Special Forces “Mafia,” who were supposed to crush Afghan resistance to western occupation.
McChrystal was fired after rude remarks he and his staff made about the White House were printed in the American magazine, Rolling Stone. President Barack Obama should have fired McChrystal when the loose-lipped general went public with demands that 40,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan
McChrystal was the second US commander in a row in Afghanistan to be fired, an ominous sign that the war was going very badly. He will now likely enter the Republican ranks as a martyr and become a Fox TV critic of Barack Obama.
A more cerebral and political general, David Petraeus, quickly replaced McChrystal.
In Iraq, Gen. Petraeus managed to temporarily suppress resistance due to a mixture of deft bribery, good luck, and Iran’s orders to Iraq’s Shia Mahdi Army militia to temporarily end resistance. Washington hopes Petraeus will do the same in Afghanistan, though the two countries are very different.
Last week, the usually cautious Petraeus vowed from Kabul to “win” the Afghan War, which has cost the US nearly $300 billion to date and 1,000 dead Americans (figures for Afghan dead are carefully guarded). The problem: no one can define what winning really means.
Afghanistan has become America’s longest-running conflict.
The escalating war now costs US taxpayers $17 billion monthly. President Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 more troops will add another $30 billion. Each time the US reinforces, Afghan resistance grows stronger. The Soviets ran into the same problem in the 1980’s.
The Afghan and Iraq wars – total cost to date $1 trillion – are being waged on borrowed money when the US is drowning in $13.1 trillion in debt. History shows that more empires have been brought down by waging ruinously expensive wars on borrowed money than by foreign invasion. Look, for good example, at the swift collapse of the British Empire after 1945.
Today, America has become addicted to debt and war.
The US Congress, which alone can declare and fund war, ducked responsibility and shamefully allowed Presidents Bush and Obama to usurp the power to make war.
Polls show a majority of Americans now oppose the imperial misadventure in Afghanistan. Yet most politicians, save a courageous few, fear opposing the war lest they be accused of “betraying American soldiers.” Americans are so steeped in militaristic propaganda and jingoism that questioning the gargantuan defense budget and foreign wars can be politically suicidal.
Even so, dissent is breaking into the open.
Last week, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele let the cat out of the bag, admitting the Afghan War was not winnable. Steele also went on to absurdly claim that Obama had initiated the war in Afghanistan, ignoring George W. Bush’s role in plunging the US into this morass.
I recall Bush’s mistake vividly, because right after 9/11, I wrote an op-ed column for the Los Angeles Times newspaper in which I warned that military action against al-Qaida be swift and limited, and that US forces should get out of Afghanistan ASAP before they got sucked into a horribly confusing and likely endless conflict.
Not surprisingly, I was deluged by hate mail from legions of sofa samurais and armchair patriots who wanted to fight to the last professional American soldier in Afghanistan.
Back to Steele. Republicans, who seem to cherish war and torture, erupted in rage, all but accusing Steele of high treason. Many of Steele’s most hawkish Republican critics had, like George Bush and Dick Cheney, dodged real military service during the Vietnam War.
Republicans (I used to be one) blasted McChrystal’s sensible policy of trying to lessen Afghan civilian casualties from US bombing and shelling. There is growing anti-western fury in Afghanistan and Pakistan over mounting civilian casualties that have become a primary recruiting tool for Taliban and its allies.
By clamoring for more aggressive attacks that endanger Afghan civilians and strengthen Taliban, and by advocating torture of detainees, Republicans again sadly demonstrate they have become the party of America’s dim and ignorant.
President Obama claimed he was expanding the Afghan War to fight al-Qaida. Yet the Pentagon estimates there are no more than a handful of al-Qaida small-fry left in Afghanistan.
So why is the US in Afghanistan?
Obama owes Americans the truth.
After nine years of war, the immense military might of the US, its dragooned NATO allies, armies of mercenaries and hundreds of millions in bribes have been unable to defeat resistance to western occupation or create a popular, legitimate government in Kabul.
Drug production, which was halted when Taliban was in power, has reached new heights. The US now rules the world’s leading drug exporter of heroine. Americans leading allies in Afghanistan are also kingpins of the heroin trade.
As the United States fêted its independence from a foreign oppressor on 4 July, its professional soldiers were using every sort of weapon in Afghanistan, from heavy bombers to tanks, armored vehicles, strike fighters, helicopter and AC-130 gunships, fleets of killer drones, heavy artillery, cluster bombs and an arsenal of high-tech gear.
In spite of this might, bands of outnumbered Pashtun tribesmen and farmers, armed only with small arms, determination, and limitless courage have fought the West’s war machine to a standstill and now have it on the strategic defensive.
This brutal David v. Goliath conflict brings no honor upon the Western powers waging it. They are widely seen abroad as pursuing yet another pitiless colonial war for resource domination and strategic geography against a small, backward people
Interestingly, the Americans and their allies accused Taliban of “terrorism” and “cowardice.” In my view, as an old soldier and war correspondent, using heavy bombers to attack tribal levies or employing gunships and drones against tribal compounds is cowardly. To Afghans, honorable warriors fight man to man in the field.
It reminds me of the ditty by the Victorian writer Hilaire Belloc morally justifying mowing down natives during the British Empire’s colonial wars because “we have the Maxim guns, and they have not.”
Most Afghans yearn for peace after 30 years of war. But efforts by the Karzai government, Taliban, and Pakistan to forge a peace are being thwarted by Washington, some of its NATO allies, Afghanistan’s Communists, and now the Indian-dominated Tajik Northern Alliance.
India is waging an undeclared struggle to wrest Afghanistan away from Pakistani influence, using the Northern Alliance, a small army of intelligence agents, and $1 billion in bribes to date. Meanwhile, rebellion seethes in Indian-held Kashmir.
It’s a huge and growing mess. Simplistic thinking in Washington does not begin to understand the complexity or subplots in this lethal farrago.
The heretical Mr. Steele was speaking truth when he said this ugly, pointless war is unwinnable. But Washington’s imperial impulses continue. Too many political careers in the US, Canada and Europe hang on this war.
So, too, does the fate of the obsolete NATO alliance that may well meet its Waterloo in the hills of Afghanistan.
No wonder Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires.
July 14, 2010