After nine years of war the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan lacks support at home and is widely recognized as a drain on the domestic economy in a time of severe economic contraction. The billions of dollars in U.S. economic assistance to the Hamid Karzai government has created an unsustainable class of Afghans who are dependent upon the American largesse and military presence that would be impossible to sustain by local taxes. It is a puppet government that wouldn’t last a day without American arms and money.
As it was with South Vietnam’s “Army of the Republic of Vietnam” (ARVN) it is futile to try to train locals in Afghanistan to kill their own people on behalf of foreigners. There will be desertions, spies, informants, corruption, and low morale. Those few who might be prepared to fight will fear the abilities of their Muslim brothers because they fight with fire in their bellies, which cannot be measured or quantified. There are no meaningful “metrics” with which to gauge success or failure. America’s Afghan enemies aren’t going anywhere. They’re in it for the long haul. Ten years, twenty years, fifty years – it doesn’t matter. It’s their country and they have nowhere else to go.
As the journalist Michael Hastings recently revealed in his Rolling Stone article, which ultimately led President Obama to fire General Stanley McChrystal as his top commander in Afghanistan, there are turf battles and divisions between the diplomats (or “nation builders”) and the military personnel saddled with the dismal task of trying to kill an enemy that lives and works among the civilian population.
The Afghan guerrillas have access to vast sanctuaries in the tribal regions on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan “border,” hence, the term “Af-Pak.” They cannot be expected to make themselves easy to wipe out and there is every indication that the Pakistani government is hedging its bets not wanting to alienate these mujahedeen fighters because for decades these elements have proved themselves useful to Pakistan in its fight against India over Kashmir.
The widespread corruption in Afghanistan cannot be realistically controlled or even substantially reduced. Lining the pockets of corrupt officials at the highest echelons of Afghan society is not only a waste of money but it also costs the lives of American and NATO soldiers. The Karzai brothers are deeply involved in the illicit opium trade and this opens the door for all manner of mischief by America’s enemies.
Karzai is a lot like Ngo Dinh Diem was in South Vietnam: If the CIA overthrew him the situation would most likely grow even more unstable, which is probably the only reason why Obama’s national security team has chosen to allow him to stay in power despite the corruption, incompetence, and unpopularity of his regime.
Going back to October 2001, the United States’ policy in Afghanistan has been beset by faulty analyses, false premises, and lies. The white-hot desire for revenge following 9-11 led the American government to an aggressive policy that failed to include serious long-term planning. Diverting the U.S. military’s attention to Iraq in March 2003 only rendered impossible the attempt to stabilize Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted.
The American and NATO soldiers, along with their hapless Afghan counterparts, are not fighting in Afghanistan for “liberty” and “freedom” as Western society has come to understand these concepts since the Enlightenment. The warlords and tribal chieftains with whom the United States is allied have little desire to transform their homeland into a modern secular society.
Michael Hastings’ reporting also suggests that among the U.S. military officers in Afghanistan there are a number of ticket punchers. General McChrystal himself demonstrated this tendency when George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld promoted him after he showed that he was willing to cover up the truth about the friendly fire death of Cpl. Pat Tillman.
Congressional oversight of the Afghan war has been lagging with politicians flying in for photo ops and flying out again only to hold press conferences extolling the “progress” that is being made. Congress has failed to ask the tough questions about this war and has instead given the American people a steady stream of platitudes about “winning.” The constant killing of civilians undermines winning the “hearts and minds” of the people. “Apologies” and payouts to the victims’ families have little effect in quelling the seething animosity that most Afghans hold toward the occupying Westerners. Another $33 billion for Afghanistan is another $33 billion wasted.
William Pfaff, in The Irony of Manifest Destiny, writes:
“The proposition that the United States can or should devote the next fifteen, or fifty, years to ‘making’ modern nations of Afghanistan or Pakistan, by means of a massive introduction into those countries of American officials, advisors, and teachers, as well as soldiers to suppress military uprising or resistance to such an effort, seems to me not ignoble, but simply breathtakingly ignorant, impractical, indifferent to historical experience and the political limits on nations, and contrary to the will as well as the interests of all of the peoples involved.” (p. 158)