Back in 2002, President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney managed to snooker the people of the United States, or at least a large number of us, into believing that Iraq, a pathetic Third World country ruled by a corrupt tin-pot dictator, was a grave danger to America, akin to Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1940. We learned how absurd that claim was when two hundred thousand American troops backed by the mightiest air force the world has ever seen, slammed into the country in March, 2003, and the Iraqi military simply folded up, and the Saddam regime along with it.
Now, President Obama appears ready to make an even more absurd claim, namely that the gravest threat facing this nation is posed by the country of Afghanistan. Now I’ll grant that Afghanistan, with a population of 33 million, is at third bigger than Iraq, which had a population of 24 million, at least until the US invasion and occupation led to the death of over a million of Iraqis. But aside from that, Afghanistan, a land-locked nation that lies between Iran and Pakistan, is far weaker and more primitive even than Iraq.
By any measure except population, Afghanistan suffers in comparison to Iraq. It has no air force at all. It barely has an army. Most of its people are illiterate and live in rural areas. Its people are extremely poor—among the poorest in the world. In many ways, Afghanistan is actually less a country than a region populated by a variety of feuding tribes—tribes that have different languages and cultures and even different racial backgrounds.
Do we really believe that this desperately poor and war-torn nation poses an existential threat—or any threat at all—to the US?
Okay, we know that there is a gang of mostly Arab terrorists going by the name of Al Qaeda that is hiding out in eastern Afghanistan, and that its leaders have allied this organization with the Taliban—the ousted rulers of Afghanistan who were pushed out of the capital of Kabul by US forces in 2001 following the 9-11 attacks. But since that relatively easy military incursion, all the US and its 34,000 troops in Afghanistan have managed to accomplish, besides installing a crooked puppet regime in the capital city, has been to create more and more hatred for the US as an occupying power, by killing large numbers of Afghan civilians through brutal raids on villages and by use of overwhelming and inherently indiscriminate airpower and remote-controlled missile-equipped drone aircraft.
Based upon the ludicrous premise that Afghanistan is the biggest military threat facing the US today, our new president, Barack Obama, is preparing to send another 30,000 US troops to that country, effectively doubling the number of American soldiers already there. Inevitably, this will mean more killing and more anger towards America among the local population.
Al Qaeda members, meanwhile, have largely moved away from the battle to Pakistan, a much larger nation to the east of Afghanistan, which raises the question: What the hell are we trying to do in Afghanistan?
Let’s get it straight. No Afghan has ever, to my knowledge, harmed the United States. I’m not sure most Afghanis, if they could scrape together the money to go to the US, would even know where this country is. (Okay, most Americans probably couldn’t tell you where Afghanistan is, either, but at least we have libraries, and computers, which the geographically challenged can turn to in order to locate the place. That’s not true for the people of Afghanistan, who have neither.)
For eight years, America has been attacking and destroying a country that is about as dangerous a threat to America as is Mali, or Haiti, or the Comoros Islands. If Obama follows through and doubles the number of troops fighting over there, it will just make this whole policy twice as stupid.
I’m sorry. I know Al Qaeda is a nasty gang, well funded by sources in Saudi Arabia, and well trained in the fine arts of terrorism by the CIA, which back in the day saw the group as a good proxy for harassing Soviet troops that were occupying Afghanistan. But if eight years of constant war by US troops in Afghanistan has been unable to stop or even seriously undermine Al Qaeda, I cannot understand the logic of doubling down on the bad bet.
If the US wants to defeat Al Qaeda, it needs to enlist the support of the governments of the countries where Al Qaeda is operating, and it needs to eliminate the outside financial support for Al Qaeda. The first prong of this strategy would require convincing the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to get serious about driving out Al Qaeda. That should not be difficult. If we stopped killing Afghanis, and if we stopped firing rockets into the sovereign nation of Pakistan, killing innocent Pakistanis in the process, and massively insulting the government of Pakistan, and if we instead offered aid to both countries, contingent upon their taking serious action to eliminate Al Qaeda, we would quickly see these foreign intruders in both countries driven out. As to the second prong, why is the US continuing to treat Saudi Arabia as a valued ally if it continues to allow wealthy Saudis to send financial support to Al Qaeda? Yes Saudi Arabia is a major provider of oil to the US, but the US is the major supplier of arms to the government of Saudi Arabia. It’s easy to see where the US could tighten the screws to end the flow of money to terrorists.
And then there is this: The Vietnam War destroyed the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. The Iraq War destroyed the presidency of George Bush. Obama, if he orders an expansion of the war in Afghanistan, and thus takes ownership of that conflict, will be well on the way to destroying his own presidency.
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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