Afghanistan, “So It Goes”

Afghan-surgeFanciful prescriptions for “success.” Voters who value peace demoralized. Siding with war hawks to triangulate against progressives. Another $30 billion the American people will have nothing to show for.

As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “So it goes.”

President Barack Obama has decided to prolong the debilitating American military commitment to Afghanistan. He is sending another thirty thousand American soldiers into “the graveyard of empires” to fight a counterinsurgency war.

Decades of relentless warfare in a decentralized, rural and fragmented society have plagued the Afghan population with a collective PTSD. History has shown that when foreign soldiers try to police their territory Afghanistan’s tribal, religious, and ethnic identities solidify in resistance. The American troop presence is an irritant that fuels nationalism, tribalism and insurgency. Most Afghans might not have gotten the “memo” that went out in the late-18th Century announcing the Enlightenment, but they are keenly aware of the mischief and intrigue colonial occupiers bring.

Why should Afghans who live in widely dispersed village-states with their own mechanisms for choosing organic local leaders recognize the legitimacy of any hand-picked “leader” from the distant U.S.-backed government in Kabul?

On FOX News the other day John McCain said he’s “confident” that with the “right strategy” the United States will “succeed” in Afghanistan in “about eighteen months.” But when the inevitable failure comes you can be sure that McCain will denounce President Obama for not following the “right” strategy.

We’re told the U.S. is going to “train Afghan security forces,” which raises the question: Train them to do what exactly? Kill their countrymen in behalf of foreigners? And how can the U.S. stop insurgent elements from infiltrating this new and improved Afghan security service? How can the CIA bribe warlords and buy off opium smugglers while haranguing the Karzai government to crack down on “corruption?”

President Obama cannot win the narrative on “national security.” Harry Truman “lost” China and it took a Republican to clean up Korea. Lyndon Johnson, fearful of suffering the same accusations Truman faced from Republicans, launched what still stands as the most savage and intense aerial bombing campaign in the history of warfare. And it still took a Republican, Richard Nixon, to extricate U.S. military forces from Vietnam (albeit slowly). The best-case scenario is Obama is really smart and he’s planning to follow the Nixon strategy in Vietnam: trickle out the troops just in time for your re-election. But our recent history shows that a Democratic president cannot “cut and run” from any military engagement no matter how futile lest he (or she) suffer the full-throated wrath of the Republican assault. LBJ’s “Great Society” died in Vietnam and so goes Obama’s domestic agenda in the foreboding mountains of Afghanistan.

“Vietnamization” failed and so will “Afghanization.” False premise number one is that the Afghan people want the United States to “succeed” in propping up a Western-oriented government in Kabul. False premise number two is that Afghans will be willing to kill their fellow Muslims and fellow Pashtuns in the name of imposing a neo-colonial relationship with the U.S.A.

Afghans have about a 90 percent illiteracy rate and are largely a rural people. The Americans appear as if from the planet Mars carrying gear on their bodies worth the amount of money most Afghans will earn in their lifetimes. False premise number three: Who, exactly, is the U.S. going to “recruit” to man this sizeable Afghan security force? Young illiterate men who’ve witnessed beheadings from the age of six? Children right now are freezing to death in refugee camps in Afghanistan and the Karzai government won’t lift a finger to help them — yet these people are going to fight and die for Karzai?

As with Vietnam, the problem in Afghanistan is political, not military. The United States can stay there forever if we want to — But is it worth it?

So it goes.

The Obama people are brilliant tacticians but I don’t think they truly understand how utterly demoralizing escalating a futile war is to core Obama voters. Some issues warrant reasonable compromise — health care, the stimulus bill, etc. — but others are more categorical. And war is among them. Whether the U.S. is in Afghanistan for eighteen months, eighteen years, or eighteen centuries, it doesn’t really matter. Like Vietnam, the U.S. can stay in Afghanistan forever given its technological and material advantages. They could never really throw us out just as the Vietnamese couldn’t (we only had about 25,000 military personnel in Vietnam in April 1975). Nixon declared victory and (slowly) withdrew (with about 20,000 Americans needlessly killed). Obama’s 30,000 troop “surge” is an admission that over 60,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of NATO soldiers and others cannot even realistically protect enclaves. The 1968 Tet Offensive showed that in Vietnam the U.S. couldn’t secure enclaves even with 500,000 soldiers.

So it goes.

The 2010 midterms will thin the ranks of the Democratic majority in Congress. The 2012 presidential election campaign (unfortunately) begins the day after the 2010 midterms. Obama will be forced to further water down his agenda given the political realities. We will then witness the “Clintonization” of the Obama presidency, i.e. triangulation and a hundred “Sista Souljah” moments. Obama has chosen LBJ’s “Goldilocks” option. I know that behind all the hawkish rhetoric Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are celebrating right now.

So it goes.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

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