Thanksgiving weekend was an active time for the news junkies and armchair analysts of my acquaintance. First, there was the suggestion that racial profiling works in reverse. The question spread through cyberspace was, imagine what would have happened had the White House party crashers been black – how far would they have gotten?
Then there was the Tiger Woods story. Early on there was little doubt in the minds of my correspondents that the story being given out wasn’t the real one.
For myself, there was wonderment that the governments of Panama and Costa Rica had decided to go along with the U.S. State Department and declare in advance that they would accept the results of Sunday’s bogus election in Honduras. That the New York Times wouldn’t explore the question was not surprising given the generally sorry state of the paper’s Latin American reporting (That the editors chose to downplay for four days the Dubai economic developments remains a mystery).
But the most intriguing question was raised by a good friend across the Bay who obviously read with bitter consternation Saturday morning’s news report that jobs were being offered to members of the Taliban. With the U.S. prepared to spend one million dollars each to send military personnel to Afghanistan, and additional cash to employ Afghans, one has to wonder why the country can’t provide jobs for the nearly 50 percent of African American youngsters who can find any, he wanted to know?
“The nation’s unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, a 26-year high. These people will be waiting to hear Obama explain how adding to the $10 billion monthly price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan will help them find work. African American men, 17.1 percent of whom are unemployed, want a word from Obama on this,” wrote Columnist Colbert King in the Washington Post last week.
“The White House has said that every increase of 1,000 troops will cost $1 billion. So if the Administration sends 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as rumored, that’s an additional $34 billion.”
“‘Where’s it going to come from, Mr. President?’ The unemployed and their families will want to know. Obama needs to address that question. This country has an accumulated debt of $12 trillion that is forecast to rise to $21 trillion in 10 years.”
There is nothing new about U.S. tax receipts to buy off members of insurgencies. The celebrated success of the “surge” in Iraq was to a large extent the result of dollars paid out to opposition fighters who agreed to at least pretend to switch sides in the conflict there. Most were young men rendered jobless by the war. “This is not about handing bags of money to an insurgent,” a U.S. official said about the Afghan job offers. However, that exactly what has happened in Iraq.
It is not at all clear that all of the funds dispersed to Afghan insurgents will be in the form of paychecks either. “In a defense appropriations bill recently approved by Congress, lawmakers set aside $1.3 billion for a program known by its acronym, CERP, a discretionary fund for American officers,” reported the Times. “Ordinarily, CERP money is used for development projects, but the language in the bill says officers can use the money to support the ‘reintegration into Afghan society’ of those who have given up fighting.”
Now get this: According to the Times, the jobs are being offered the Taliban rank and file “in development projects that Afghan tribal leaders help select, paid by the American military and the Afghan government.” “Most of the Taliban in my area are young men who need jobs,” said one tribal leader. “We just need to make them busy. If we give them work, we can weaken the Taliban.” You can bet that there are a lot of U.S. mayors that could make similar statements and would just love to initiate work-creating development projects of their own choosing. Lord knows, there’s a lot that needs doing.
On the other hand, I don’t need to cite the obvious: as long as the employment situation facing young people in the U.S. remains in the pits there should be an ample supply of fresh men and women to go to Afghanistan.
Finally, as the Administration prepares to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan and offer jobs to young Afghans who can find none in the war-torn country, came Sunday’s new report that: “With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.” Terribly, things seem to be going in the wrong direction.
President Obama has made his decision. He has been convinced to, or conned into, escalating the war in Afghanistan. He is sending thousands of young women and men off to fight and die in the name of “finishing the job” – whatever that job is. It’s said to be fighting the Taliban; actually its waging war on the Pashtun people – that make up 42 percent of the Afghans – who view our presence there as an occupation and will go on resisting it as they did the Soviets. It will result in nothing good for Afghanistan, Obama or us. And, it will be costly.
Of course, those in Washington opposing healthcare reform or effective action to put the unemployed back to work on grounds that such measures would involve deficit spending and push up the nation debt remain silent about the cost of the two ongoing wars.
The other day I was riding around listening to the late Donny Hathaway singing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It was written in 1970 during the escalation of the war in Vietnam and a lot of troubles here at home. The message: We don’t need to escalate. War is not the answer.
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