Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve).
It is already a thirty-year war begun by one Democratic president, and thanks to the political opportunism of the current Commander-in-Chief the Afghanistan war is still without end or logical purpose. President Barack Obama’s own top national security adviser has stated that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and that they are not capable of launching attacks. What superheroes they must be, then, to require 100,000 US troops to contain them.
The president handled that absurdity by conflating Al Qaeda, which he admitted is holed up in Pakistan, with the Taliban and denying the McChrystal report’s basic assumption that the enemy in Afghanistan is local in both origin and focus. Obama stated Tuesday in a speech announcing a major escalation of the war, “It’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place.” But he then cut off any serious consideration of that question with the bald assertion that “we did not ask for this fight.”
Of course we did. The Islamic fanatics who seized power in Afghanistan were previously backed by the US as “freedom fighters” in what was once marketed as a bold adventure in Cold War one-upmanship against the Soviets. It was President Jimmy Carter, aided by a young liberal hawk named Richard Holbrooke, now Obama’s civilian point man on Afghanistan, who decided to support Muslim fanatics there. Holbrooke began his government service as one of the “Best and the Brightest” in Vietnam and was involved with the rural pacification and Phoenix assassination program in that country, and he is now a big advocate of the counterinsurgency program proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to once again win the hearts and minds of locals who want none of it. The current president’s military point man, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, served in Carter’s National Security Council and knows that Obama is speaking falsely when he asserts it was the Soviet occupation that gave rise to the Muslim insurgency that we abetted. Gates wrote a memoir in 1996 which, as his publisher proclaimed, exposed “Carter’s never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen–six months before the Soviets invaded.”
Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asked in a 1998 interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he answered, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” Brzezinski made that statement three years before the 9/11 attack by those “stirred-up Muslims.”
So here we go again, selling firewater to the natives and calling it salvation. We have decided to prop up a hopelessly corrupt Afghan government because, as Obama argued in one of the more disgraceful passages of Tuesday’s West Point speech, “although it was marred by fraud, [the recent] election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.”
To suggest that the Afghan government will be in seriously better shape 18 months after 30,000 additional US and perhaps 5,000 more NATO troops are dispatched is bizarrely out of touch with the strategy of the McChrystal report, which calls for American troops to restructure life down to the level of the most forlorn village. Surely the civilian and military supporters of that approach who are cheering Obama on have been giving assurances that he will not be held to such an unrealistically short timeline. Evidence of this was offered in the president’s speech when he said of the planned withdrawal of some forces by July of 2011: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.”
A very long haul indeed, if one checks the experience of Matthew Hoh, the former Marine captain who was credited with being as successful as anyone in implementing the counterinsurgency strategy now in vogue. In his letter of resignation as a foreign service officer in charge of one of the most hotly contested areas, Hoh wrote: “In the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan…I have lost understanding and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. … I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.”
Maybe they should have given Capt. Hoh the Noble Peace Prize.