The war in Afghanistan is nearly nine years old — the longest in American history. After the US quickly toppled the Taliban regime in October 2001, the Taliban, by all accounts, came back stronger and harsher enough to control now at least 30% of the country. During this time, US casualties, armaments and expenditures are at record levels.
America’s overseas wars have different outcomes when they have no constitutional authority, no war tax, no draft, no regular on the ground press coverage, no Congressional oversight, no spending accountability and, importantly, no affirmative consent of the governed who are, apart from the military families, hardly noticing.
This is an asymmetrical, multi-matrix war. It is a war defined by complex intrigue, shifting alliances, mutating motivations, chronic bribery, remotely-generated civilian deaths, insuperable barriers of language and ethnic and subtribal conflicts. It is fought by warlords, militias, criminal gangs, and special forces discretionary death squads. Millions of civilians are impoverished, terrified and live with violent disruptions. There is no central government to speak of. The White House uses illusions of strategies and tactics to bid for time. In Afghanistan, the historic graveyard of invaders, hope springs infernal.
Neatly dressed Generals — who probably would never have gotten into this mess if they, not the civilian neocon, draft dodgers in the Bush regime, had made the call — regularly trudge up to Congress to testify. There they caveat their status reports, keeping expectations alive, while cowardly politicians praise their bravery. General David Petraeus could receive the Academy Award in Hollywood next year, as long as he doesn’t say what he really thinks, obedient soldier that he is. Listen to General Stanley A. McChrystal, not known for his squeamishness. Speaking of civilian deaths and injured at military checkpoints, he said: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none have ever proven to be a threat.”
On the ground are 100,000 U.S. soldiers with another 100,000 corporate contractors. The human and economic costs are huge. According to the CIA, James Jones — Obama’s national security adviser — and other officials, there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and 300 to 400 members of the group in Pakistan. The rest have scattered to other nations or just melded back into the population. Affiliates of Al Qaeda have emerged in the southern Arabian peninsula, Somalia, North Africa, Indonesia and other locales. There is something awry about this asymmetry.
The Taliban number no more the 30,000 irregular fighters of decidedly mixed motivations entirely focused over there, not toward the U.S. mainland. President Obama describes the Taliban as “a blend of hard-core ideologues, tribal leaders, kids that basically sign up because it’s the best job available to them. Not all of them are going to be thinking the same way about the Afghan government, about the future of Afghanistan. And so we’re going to have to sort through how these talks take place.”
Helping Obama “sort through” are drones blowing up civilian gatherings — by mistake of course — to destroy suspected militants often casually chosen by other natives because grudges or the transfer of money. Helicopter gunships and fighter planes spread havoc and terror through the populace. “Special forces” go deeper into Pakistan with their secret missions of mayhem. Local resentment and anger continues to boomerang against the US occupiers.
US Army truckloads of hundred dollar bills are paying off various personages of uncertain reliability. At the same time, Obama’s representatives regularly accuse President Karzai of rampant corruption. In between, civilian Americans and USAID try to dig wells and construct clinics and schools that might not be there very long in the anarchic, violent, nightfall world of the Afghan tribal areas.
More military force is expected to clear the way for the assumption of governmental duties and security in 2014 by a central government that is neither central, nor governmental. The locals loath the government’s attempt to collect taxes, and continue to survive by growing poppies (opium).
In early 2001, George W. Bush awarded the Taliban $40 million for stamping out the poppy trade; now Afghanistan is the number one narco grower in the world. US soldiers walk right past the poppy fields so as not to turn the locals against them.
US dollars pay warlords and the Taliban in order for them not to blow up U.S. conveys going through mountain passes, some carrying fuel that costs taxpayers $400 per delivered gallon. The Taliban receive half the electricity from a U.S. built power plant and collect the monthly electric bills in their controlled areas. The more electricity, the more money for the Taliban to fight the American and British soldiers.
Last year, over three billion dollars in cash moved out of Kabul’s airport unaccounted for, while billions of US dollars flow into Kabul for undocumented purposes.
Despite fighting against “insurgents” possessing rifles, propelled grenades and suicide vests, the Obama administration — with an arsenal of massive super-modern weaponry at hand — keeps saying there is no military solution and that only a political settlement will end the conflict.
Tell that to the Afghan people, who suffer from brutal sectarian struggles fueled by American and coalition occupiers and invaders. To them, there’s a disconnect between what Obama does and what he says.
Meanwhile, the war spills over into Pakistan. Its turbulent politics generate more hatred against America. These people had nothing to do with 9/11 so why, they ask, are the Americans blowing up their neighborhood?
President Obama says the soldiers should start coming home next July, depending on conditions. He wants the Taliban commanders, whom he is destroying one by one, to agree to negotiations with Kabul that requires their subservience. His formula is peace through more war. But the Taliban are not known to surrender. They know the terrain where they live and they believe they can wear Obama down, notwithstanding US special forces and drones expected to stay there for years.
Congress — an inkblot so far — needs to assert its constitutional authority over budgets and policy toward the war. Members are regular rubber-stamps of White House recklessness under Bush and Obama.
Furthermore, nothing will happen without a few million Americans back home stomping, marching and bellowing to end the boomeranging, costly invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and concentrate on America’s needs at home.
(Ralph Nader is the author of “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!,” a novel.)