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Get Some: Obama's New Hard Line on Afghanistan
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Scott Ritter: "I did not believe that the Taliban would impose justice itself, but rather could be convinced through a combination of logic and economic incentive, to disperse al-Qaida and turn bin Laden and his senior leadership over to a third party, presumably an Islamic nation such as Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates."The Obama administration has decided that blood and iron, not hearts and minds, will be the new focus of the American military adventure in Afghanistan. Top Obama officials – anonymous, natch -- used the front page of the New York Times as a conduit for conveying the imperial will to the rabble this week. The basic strategy, it seems, will be the same one that professional nudnik Glenn Reynolds once proposed for the recalcitrant tribes of the Middle East: "more rubble, less trouble."
As we noted here the other day – drawing on a story in the Independent that the Times is just now catching up with – the Obama team is preparing to throw aside Hamid Karzai, the dapper if hapless Washington-picked Afghan president. The NYT uncritically – not to say hilariously – funnels the Obama line that Karzai is being sidelined "because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban."
This is pretty rich, even for Washington, where the comedy of hypocrisy never stops. Leaving aside the staggeringly vast corruption that is the meat and drink, the quintessence, the sine qua non, of the American government, when have our imperial overlords ever been troubled for even a single instant by the corruption – rampant or otherwise – of its various foreign clients? And what was the prime example of this Afghan corruption given by the Obama officials? Karzai's failure to arrest his own half-brother, a powerful local politician, for drug trafficking. Can you even imagine such a thing? A well-connected public official not being prosecuted by the national government for serious crimes? Such a thing could never happen in Washington, could it?
And given the long-running, apparently eternal, thoroughly bipartisan commitment to the ever-ineffectual but highly profitable "war on drugs," it seems a bit churlish -- not to say ignorant -- to blame Karzai for dirt-poor Afghan farmers resorting to such a rich cash crop. As for the gangsters who move the merchandise around the world -- it is the illegality of these substances that makes them so lucrative on the street; legalize them, regularize them, tax them, and they would lose nine-tenths of their allure for the criminal syndicates. But then, what would our civilized governments do without all those juicy, draconian "anti-drug" powers. (For more on all this -- and its connection to Afghanistan -- see "Gainspotting: Terror War Meets Drug War.")
In any case, the drug trade is "flourishing" in Afghanistan because the American-led "regime change" operation there removed a government that had practically eliminated the Afghan drug trade -- the Taliban -- and replaced with it a gaggle of drug-running warlords. Now Washington is shocked -- shocked! -- to find drug-running going on there. Comedy gold, I tell you.
But of course, Washington's displeasure with Karzai has nothing to do with the corruption of his government or the Afghan drug trade. It stems from two main concerns: first, Karzai's increasingly strident protests against the growing number of Afghan civilians being killed in American and NATO operations; and second, the need to find a scapegoat for "the resurgence of the Taliban." Preferably, this scapegoat will be some local stooge, a fall guy to divert attention from the fact that the main reason for this resurgence is Washington's witless, blunderbuss, blood-and-iron approach -- the very same approach that Obama and his anonymous tough-guy leakers are proposing to escalate. And what better fall guy than some loudmouth who keeps going on about how destructive and counterproductive the American approach is?
But do let's be fair to Team Obama, which, as we all know, is motivated solely by the most humane and progressive motives. The NYT story makes clear that if Karzai -- supposedly the independent president of a sovereign nation -- grovels sufficiently to his new masters in Washington, they might keep him on for a bit longer:
These demands include arresting not only his half-brother but various other Afghan officials -- many if not most of them the same warlords, druglords, crimelords and religious extremists brought to power by the Americans themselves.
Meanwhile, our tough new "progressive hawks" are going to downplay all that sissy-mary "development" stuff -- off-loading it onto the effete Europeans -- while they concentrate on killing them a whole shitload of gooks -- sorry, Talibans:
Yes, that's change we can believe in: being even more militaristic than George W. Bush! We look forward to some really, really positive results from this approach.
Then again, I guess we've got to do "whatever it takes" to win this thing -- because this the "good war," after all, isn't it? The war that all "serious" progressives were quick to say that they wholeheartedly supported, even while voicing their opposition to the invasion of Iraq -- which was "the wrong war at the wrong time." Indeed, their main complaint about the murderous berserking in Iraq was that it "took our eye off the ball" from the "central front in the War on Terror" in Afghanistan. This was the line consistently peddled by Obama (who never once declared, or even hinted, that the Iraq operation was an inherently criminal operation -- a horrendous moral abomination, a sickening mass atrocity -- and not just an inconvenient or ill-timed or badly-conducted endeavour). No, the Afghan War is the war "we had to fight," our progressive hawks all tell us, so we've got to see it through.
But is that true? Is it a war we "had to fight"? Even if one accepted as gospel the ever-shifting "official" versions of the origins of 9/11, was there perhaps another way, a road not taken? Scott Ritter, who knows a fair bit about Afghanistan and the higher machinations of Washington courtiers intent on war, thinks so. In a recent column -- describing an encounter in October 2001 with Obama's new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke -- Ritter outlines an approach that doubtless would have been far more effective:
In his suggestions for "covert action," Ritter here indulges in the usual American predilection for arranging the internal affairs of other countries to suit Washington's agenda. [Although it must be said that in the perverted moral scales of state action, a little proxy covert action would have been "better" than all-out war.] But for the most part, he is dead on. What's more, the Taliban -- under Mullah Omar -- was already prepared to do exactly what Ritter was proposing in October 2001. The Taliban made clear to Washington that they would turn bin Laden over to a third-party Islamic country -- if the United States would provide evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. And although Colin Powell famously declared at the time that he was compiling just such a dossier of evidence to prove al Qaeda's guilt "to the world," this dossier was never produced. In any event, Washington rejected the Taliban's offer out of hand. They did not want to "get" bin Laden. They did not want to pursue legal justice for the attacks on 9/11. They wanted to invade Afghanistan. And by god, that's just what they did.
As Ritter notes, this bloodthirsty exercise of power was fully embraced by Democratic paladins like Holbrooke:
Ritter also notes rightly that the "expertise" offered by Holbrooke in the situation will be worthless at best, and dangerous at worst:
Yes, but historic mistakes are what empires do; it's what empires are. So it's no surprise that the new managers of our empire -- who have avidly sought and freely embraced the cruel, inhuman machinery of military domination -- are careening headlong down another horrendous dead end. "Get some!"
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published on January 28, 2009.
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