The Grand Guignol in Afghanistan plays on, growing ever more absurd and macabre. A farcical election that makes the recent balloting in Iran -- the subject of such stern denunciation at the imperial court in Washington -- look like an exercise of the strictest civic probity. A "counterinsurgency" doctrine that churns out insurgents like an assembly line, manufacturing discontent with mass murders of civilians, and armed support of vicious warlords and corrupt officials. Influential voices on influential platforms calling for the establishment of an extermination program that killed up to 40,000 innocent people the last time it was tried. A skulking, scheming general hoping to parlay two disastrous wars into a run for the presidency. A failed "surge" about to be re-"surged" with thousands of more troops and billions upon billions of more public dollars poured into the pockets of contractors, weapons dealers -- and vicious warlords and corrupt officials. A weak and feckless president, who -- just like the cool, good-looking progressive played by Robert Redford in "The Candidate" -- obviously had no program or principle beyond getting elected, and is plunging headlong into a quagmire created by his despised predecessor, using the same war team, the same policies, and the same shifting, bogus "justifications" for continuing -- and widening and deepening -- a conflict so ruinous and pointless that even some of the Empire's most gung-ho cheerleaders are getting the vapors about it.
By any reckoning of reason, morality -- or even practicality -- it is a monstrous, evil folly. And yet it goes on and on, worsening by the year, by the month -- and with every major player in the ghoulish game declaring that it will keep going on, for years and years, if not decades. And despite the war's increasing unpopularity both in the United States and Britain, there is evidently nothing or no one that will stop it -- as long as the militarists hold to their long-running, highly successful tactic of not instigating a draft, and instead fighting their wars with overstetched, stop-lossed volunteers drawn from the poor (a burgeoning pool, thanks to the bipartisan continuity of the Bush-Obama oligarchy protection policies) -- and with a vast horde of out-of-control mercenaries and third-world indentured servants slaving away to keep "war-fighters" enjoying all the comforts of home. It seems more and more apparent that the majority of Americans are willing, if not always happy, to let the War Machine devour the national treasury, kill thousands of innocent people, destabilize the world and create generations of enemies for the United States -- as long as they or their children are not forced to fight the wars themselves.
I hope I'm wrong. I'd love to be wrong. I hope there is some great turning going on out there beyond the Beltway and the blogosphere. And by that, of course, I mean a turning toward justice and enlightenment -- not an unfocused, confused, inchoate rage that will likely take many sinister forms as it explodes. But I fear the latter is more likely.
Meanwhile, Tom Englehardt provides us with some chilling metrics of the monstrosity in "Afghanistan by the Numbers: Measuring a War Gone to Hell." He marshals an array of thoroughly sourced facts to paint a damning picture of where we are now in Afghanistan -- in free fall toward the fiery pit. Read the whole thing -- and know rage and despair.
These are remarkably grim days; remarkable to watch a government commiting the same awful crimes, making the same murderous mistakes, displaying the same brutal arrogance and sheer pig-ignorance that we have seen over and over and over again, decade after decade. Every story out of Afghanistan reads like a dispatch from the botch and butchery in Korea, or the blundering frenzy in Vietnam, or the still-boiling bloodbath in Iraq. No lesson is ever learned from these depraved episodes, save one: empire means money and power for the few -- so do whatever the hell you have to do to climb into that golden circle and stay there.
If you don't believe that our leaders are that venal and stupid, if you think they are doing anything other than scrambling around blindly, heedlessly, trying to find ways to keep their little racket of power and privilege going, then attend to this quote from Englehardt, as he zeroes in on the great statesman-like wisdom of Richard Holbrooke, Obama's personally appointed "special envoy" to the killing fields in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
Sometime later this month, the Obama administration will present Congress with "metrics" for... well, since this isn't the Bush era, we can't say "victory." In the style of special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke, let's call it "success." Holbrooke recently offered this definition of that word, evidently based on the standards the Supreme Court used to define pornography: "We'll know it when we see it."
"We'll know it when we see it." What are we fighting for? "We'll know it when we see it." What is the reason my son or daughter died? "We'll know it when we see it." What is the reason that thousands of innocent civilians -- children, women, peaceful men, whole families, the sick, the old -- have been torn to shreds by bombs and bullets? "We'll know it when we see it."
This cynical, "savvy," tough-guy phrase is the perfect emblem of our age: blustering, inhuman, cruel and ignorant.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on September 10, 2009.