Friday, September 18, 2009


(Image courtesy Troy Page of Truthout.)

Alexander the Great failed there. Genghis Khan eventually failed there. Same goes for the Turks, British, Soviets and other empires and occupying nations. The rocky, impoverished, oil-poor Afghanistan is the place where empires and conquerors go to die and fail.

Afghanistan is almost a cursed country, guaranteed to bring defeat and ruin to those even with the best of intentions. In our one true victory in Afghanistan, when Congressman Charlie Wilson of Texas was wringing more and more money from Congress for the mujahadin to take on the Soviet gunships, Wilson inadvertently gave rise to the al Qaeda network. Osama bin Laden, while a Saudi, eventually used the training, backing and cover he got by being a CIA asset to become the world's number one terrorist.

And that was when we actually had something approximating a noble purpose (not necessarily freeing the Afghan people but stopping Soviet expansion). Imagine how badly this war and occupation will turn out after eight years of reckless and illegal military adventurism that had no rational basis, no exit strategy and no objective other than momtentarily routing the Taliban from power.

At the start of the invasion in 2002, we had 5,200 US troops and few coalition forces to support us. By the end of this year, we will have nearly 70,000. John F. Kennedy inherited the Bay of Pigs from Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, the original architects. Yet, rather than commit more troops to Cuba to fight the Soviet-backed Castro, Kennedy needed to get his ass kicked just once before backing away and took the blame.

Obama inherited a dying but still hyper-expensive war and occupation in Iraq and has done little if anything to actually wind it down. We still have over 130,000 troops there even though the terms of the SOFA stipulated we begin drawing down by the June 30th deadline. Instead, we and the Iraqis redrew lines on a map so we could technically say we were no longer in Baghdad without actually withdrawing US forces.

Obama also inherited another war that not only isn't dying down but is ramping up years after the Taliban had begun taking back key cities and provinces. When George W. Bush proposed a 20,000 troop surge in Iraq on January 10, 2007 (which quietly ballooned into 30,000+), the media made much of it and the progressive blogosphere was up in arms. Yet it's telling when Obama proposed his own 20,000 troop surge in Afghanistan soon after taking over, the progressive blogosphere was oddly silent, as if afraid to admit to themselves that their democratic hero was making exactly the same mistakes as his predecessor and Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and Leonid Brezhnev and so many others. The press, also, did not make as much of Obama's surge, refusing to even use the word "surge", as they did Bush's own escalation.

Yet the occupation of Afghanistan makes as little sense, if not less, as the other one in Iraq. While Iraq was garnering much of the war coverage of the MSM, it was as if we were fighting a Cold War in Afghanistan, one largely forgotten until a year or so ago.

It's obvious to even the casual observer that the Obama administration is already making more inroads to killing or capturing Taliban fighters and al Qaeda terrorists than we saw during eight years of Bush. But the Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. The Taliban is a regional religious fundamentalist group that was not threatening us or UN member nations. While the Taliban was brutal to Afghanis, particularly women, there are other dictatorships and ruling military juntas, especially in Myanmar and Somalia, on which we can drain our crusading human rights energies. An occupation of Afghanistan is not necessary even when one considers the fragility of neighboring Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal.

And even if the conduct of our military was exemplary throughout this illegal and illogical invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, our spreading footprint would still be reprehensible and counterproductive. Yet it's foolhardy and tragically naive to expect a large occupying force like the United States military to maintain strict military discipline, adhere to the rule of international law and to not expect crimes against humanity whereever it goes.

Case in point: The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, an aid agency, said in a recent report that not only were American forces occupying and raiding hospitals for possible wounded insurgents, they were actually killing innocent civilians, hospital volunteers and ambulance drivers, just for doing their jobs. Doctors were often kept from emergency rooms and even innocent patients who came in looking for medical treatment either died from the lack of it or were forced to flee from the hospitals. Hospitals, when the US military came, became among the most dangerous areas in the country.

Snipers routinely shot ambulances, drivers and volunteers in clear violation of the 4th Geneva Convention and the US Constitution. As in Fallujah during our pair of 2004 crackdowns, doctors, patients and visitors in Afghani hospitals were tied and made to lie down while being monitored at gunpoint by US Marines and soldiers. Doctors were forced to choose between violating the Hippocratic oath and giving up insurgents they were expected to identify and report or keep information from the US military at the risk being labeled an insurgent themselves.

The US Navy says such complaints are rare but in fact, they're pretty common. These tactics not only expose our brutality and lawlessness but the very act of looking for alleged insurgents after they're wounded and seeking medical treatment also makes us look desperate and even cowardly. These are the kind of thuggish tactics we've long since come to expect from the Bush administration.

But Bush is no longer in power. Obama is. Yet far from the 5,200-15,000 troops that we generally saw in Afghanistan from late 2001 on, we're now looking at 68,000 troops by year's end. The more US troops, the more potential for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. And throughout it all, the Obama administration justifies it all, albeit more quietly than the Bush administration, that such extralegal tactics are necessary since we're fighting an unconventional war. Yet this isn't the first time we've taken on local insurgents and engaged in guerrilla warfare. Busting into hospitals to kill or capture wounded enemies is the kind of tactic you would expect
from the German SS, the East German Stasi or the Mafia.

We should be better than this. Obama was supposed to be better than this. Yet time and again, Obama has proven to be the best friend war criminals like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ever had. He's backed away from closing Gitmo. He's backed away from making CIA torture documents and photographs public. He'd opposed Attorney General Eric Holder's investigation into CIA torture. He's already way behind on his August 2011 withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. We still have more contractors in both countries than we have US troops. And we're about to commit roughly half as many troops into Afghanistan as we had at our peak involvement in Iraq. We still have the same Defense Secretary who passively oversaw the last year of abuses under the Bush regime.

We're not talking about mere sticker shock or buyer's remorse. We're just now uncomfortably beginning to settle into the reality that the man who rallied and energized the masses with a mantra of change has offered us anything but. It's gradually turning into the third Bush term that we thought we had to fear under McCain.

The wingnuts and astroturfers are right when they talk about Obama's thuggish brownshirts. But they're not maiming and killing people they're supposed to be protecting here in the US but doing it, instead, in Afghanistan and Iraq.


At September 18, 2009 at 3:43 PM, Blogger Greg Salvatore said...

Occupying armies rarely leave as liberators, even if they came in that way (which wasn't even the case in Afghanistan).

Since you mentioned brutal regimes in your blog entry, I'd like to ask a question that I have yet to come up with an answer to: short of going to war, how does one remove brutal regimes from power? Russia may have imploded on its own, but its worst dictator was long dead by that time, and most brutal regimes are small enough to survive with the few trade partners that they have.
Until we find an answer to that question, we will continue to not only have dictators, but also leaders who occasionally use dictatorial methods, since they will never have to answer to the world, only to their citizens, who in many cases do not have enough power to stop them on their own.

After all, without the help of France, the U.S. would still belong to England.

At September 18, 2009 at 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to recommend for your reading list 'A Bed of Red Flowers'. It will lead to a better understanding of Afghanistan, it's people and it's culture.



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