“Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away” is the reason President Obama gave for forging “a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan…” Yet Americans, in their anger over 9/11, need to ask if subjecting Afghanistan to escalating conflict in order to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and/or punish the Taliban, is the way to go about it.
If past is prologue, once the Pentagon’s war machine revs up, there will be a wave of new civilian casualties, more wedding parties slaughtered on misinformation, more children killed in their beds, more hospitals bombed by accident, more people that want to live just as much as you and I do who will never see another sunrise. Since 2006, according to a report in The Nation magazine, U.S.-NATO bombings have increased, tripling the number of civilians killed, and up to 500 Afghan civilians are dying monthly from U.S. cluster bombs, “most of them children and teenage boys.”
Hasn’t Afghanistan suffered enough? Back in the 1980s, when the CIA was arming Osama bin Laden and the Taliban against the Soviets, the fighting turned Kabul, “once a major center of Islamic culture, into a facsimile of Hiroshima after the bomb,” author Chalmers Johnson writes in Blowback (Henry Holt).
The U.S. already has 32,000 troops, and its NATO allies 30,000 more, in Afghanistan, and the Obama Administration proposes to deploy another 30,000 soldiers there. “What the hell is he (Obama) thinking!?!” ask Editors Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer in the February The Hightower Lowdown. They argue Obama risks “bleeding his words about peace and world leadership” uttered in his Inaugural Address “of all substance.” If the U.S. objective is to stop terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven, escalating the military’s presence there “is not the best way to achieve this goal,” they point out.
“Instead of more air strikes on Afghan villages,” Hightower and Frazer write, “let’s seek more collaboration with (and give more support to) tribal leaders, citizen groups, and regular folks who reject violence; let’s fund locals to build their own schools and clinics; let’s enlist more American teachers, nurses, carpenters, and others to help provide humanitarian aid; and let’s seek a true regional coalition to take the lead on security, with as little American military visibility as possible.” This sounds like a prescription for the Peace Corps, not the Pentagon. Yet Obama’s “new and comprehensive” strategy appears to be largely military.
The U.S. is already pumping $2 billion a month directly into Afghanistan that goes for “killing and destruction,” (and more funds indirectly through NATO,) Lowdown notes. “Our money has bought little real development and won few friends.” That’s because Bush “privatized the effort, issuing no-bid Halliburton-style contracts to such politically connected corporate profiteers as DynCorp, Bearing Point, and Louis Berger Group. The result has been a nightmare of shoddy work, missing funds, and more Afghan anger.”
After eight years of fruitless and illegal military action that has not succeeded in capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan and has made everyday life unbearable for the people of Iraq, it would be refreshing for USA to show the Middle East it has a Peace Corps and that this nation can do an honest job of rebuilding and reconstruction. How novel it would be for the U.S. to commit tens of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers, not GIs, to a grand assignment.
USA at last has a brilliant politician in the White House capable of using the arts of diplomacy to the fullest. If his response to long-suffering Afghanistan follows the cruel and pig-headed approach of his predecessor, he will doom thousands of Afghans and his presidency as well.
If he truly reveres the example of Martin Luther King, Obama will forge a non-violent response in Afghanistan that will lead to a peaceful resolution. King strongly opposed the illegal war in Viet Nam and, had he lived, he undoubtedly would have opposed the illegal wars USA is waging today. Americans who celebrate King’s birthday but do not stand up against those wars only pay lip-service to his ideals. Those who knew Rev. King know there is no way he would walk the perilous road Obama is in danger of taking.
Sherwood Ross is a veteran reporter and public relations consultant. He formerly worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, the Chicago Daily News, and as a columnist for wire firstname.lastname@example.org)