The Commander In Chief with his Troops
President Obama Must Not Expand The War
No American President has been confronted with more disasters upon entering the Oval Office than Barack Obama. And of all the crucial decisions he has been required to make, none is more critical to the fate of his Presidency than the direction he chooses to take in Afghanistan. Fortunately, President Obama is showing the better part of wisdom by not allowing the Generals, and the congressional chicken hawks who repeat their demands like a Greek Chorus cheerleading for war, to stampede him into sending thousands of young Americans into the murderous quagmire that is Afghanistan. Any careful analysis of the facts on the ground in that treacherous terrain, and how this war relates to our strategic objective of defeating Al Qaeda, raises troubling questions that must be addressed before committing more American blood and treasure to that perplexing country – which is called “the graveyard of empires” with good reason.
In the wake of the most deadly month since our invasion of that country – with casualties running better than one a day – I have carefully analyzed the situation, and concluded that not only should the President refuse to order more troops into Afghanistan, he should withdraw the ground forces that are already deployed there. I can envision no scenario where anything that is commonly understood as a “victory” is achievable in that country. First of all, there is not a single instance in the historical record where a full blown insurgency, or people’s war, has been defeated by a foreign occupier. This is true whether we are talking about the French in Vietnam or Algeria, or the Portuguese in Africa – both of whom committed myriad crimes waging near genocidal wars in their attempt to defeat the insurgents. Even after years of warfare with France the Vietnamese still managed to defeat the mighty US military machine in a protracted war.
The white supremacist, American Exceptionalist and militarists among us have never reconciled themselves to this humiliating defeat resulting from our misguided attempt to resurrect a failed French colonial project. Hence they view the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a chance for the US to redeem ourselves and reclaim America’s status as an invincible warrior nation. This attitude is particularly powerful among some members of the warrior class and militaristic policy wonks who presided over the Vietnam debacle. That’s a major reason why I opposed John McCain’s bid for the presidency. (see “John McCain is Not qualified to be Commander-In-Chief.”) It was abundantly clear from McCain’s rhetoric that he would seek redemption for his humiliation in Vietnam by making a stand in Afghanistan. I am convinced such a policy would result in another disaster on the scale of Vietnam.
Afghanistan is a more difficult theater to wage war than Vietnam. Aside from the mountainous geo-physical profile of the country which renders conventional warfare ineffective, there are qualitative differences in the nature of the enemy. The Vietnamese revolutionaries were atheistic political militants whose strategy and objectives were firmly rooted in Mao Tse Tung’s theories of protracted warfare; which were in turn rooted in the doctrine of Prussian military strategist Von Clauswitz. The fundamental conception of all warfare in this view is that war is an extension of politics. Mao put it this way: “Politics is war without bloodshed, war is politics with bloodshed.”
The Taliban on the other hand is made up of religious zealots who are convinced that they are the carrying out the will of God; hence they are indifferent to the objectives of those who are motivated by politics. Whereas politics is the art of the possible and thus the strategy of political actors is shaped by that reality, the Muslim Jihadists are concerned with crushing the infidel invaders and establishing Sharia law.
Mullah Omar, a fearless warrior and the supreme leader of the Taliban, which began as an organization of militant seminarians from a Madrassa where he once taught, epitomizes this other worldly view. And if one is carrying out a mandate from God compromise with earthly realities is not an option. Hence, the Taliban take a very long view of their mission – after all, the Sunnis and Shiites have been slaughtering each other for more than a thousand years over a theological argument and they are still going strong. Furthermore the Taliban leaders – having defeated a Russian army of a half million men – know that Americans will eventually tire and go home. It is in the nature of things. The only question is: How much American blood and treasure, along with innocent Afghan lives in collateral damage, will be spent before American armed forces pack up and go home? I am arguing that the time to get out is now!
An Authentic Afghan Rebel Leader
Although I could write a book on why we ought to remove our ground forces from Afghanistan, I shall confine myself to minimum essential reasons for withdrawal. First of all we have lost any moral authority because we are presently, and for the foreseeable future, supporting a thoroughly corrupt gang of dope dealers and criminals who do not have the trust or support of the majority of the Afghans. Thus they had to steal the last election to remain in power, and the Afghan people know it; what is worse is they know we know it too. And it remains to be seen if holding a new election will assuage the cynicism of the Afghan people toward the Karzi government. It will not in any case win the Taliban, because as believers in Sharia they desire a theocracy.
Hence it is to the rest of the Afghans that American policy must be directed in the battle with the Taliban for the allegiance of the Afghan people. General McCrystal correctly argues that we cannot win this war without winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people first. At present our soldiers who are entrusted with training the Afghan army to fight the highly motivated Taliban forces, who are inspired to selfless sacrifice by visions of an after life in Paradise with a harem of beautiful virgins at their beck and call, report that Karzi’s army is fueled by hashish and Yankee gold. Check out the video “The Hashish Army” on You Tube and witness the impossible task our young people have been assigned! The footage in this video was shot on the front lines in the Afghan mountians, and I think it would be criminal to continue sending brave young Americans – many of whom joined the military because they lacked opportunities in civilian society – into this deadly quagmire.
Thirdly, the mountainous landscape and difficulty in identifying the enemy means that American forces will continue to kill innocent people attending weddings and funerals that our armed forces mistake for Al Qaeda conclaves. And this is certain to increase hatred for the “Infidel American invaders.” It is the best recruiting tool the Taliban and the entire Islamic Jihadist movement could wish for. The recognition of this simple fact led William Hoh, a Foreign Service officer serving in Afghanistan, to recently resign his post after concluding that the very presence of American forces in Afghanistan is the major factor fueling the armed insurgency!
Indeed, the recent statement from Mullah Omar marking the end of Ramadan, the holiest period on the Muslim Calendar marked by intense fasting and prayer, supports Mr. Hoh’s conclusion. “”The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama,” the statement reads, “who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war… “The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan from the time of the Alexander…Still, if they are bent on ignoring the history, then they themselves saw with their own eyes the events of the past eight years. Have they achieved anything in the past eight years?” Those who are hell bent on pursuing this war will argue that the lack of progress in a war that has already lasted twice as long as world War II is the natural result of bungling on the part of the Bushmen, who squandered the resources in a war of choice in Iraq that they should have committed to a war of necessity in Afghanistan. A month ago that was my position too.
However when I consider Mr. Hoh’s comment in light of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s recent observation that before he joined the Foreign Service Mr. Hoh was a Marine officer who had commanded combat troops in Afghanistan, just as Ellsberg had once done in Vietnam before he became a national security analyst and opposed that war, therefore Hoh should be regarded as a more reliable authority on the military possibilities than the Generals, I am confirmed in my conclusion that now is the time to quit Afghanistan! The President should turn the global war against terrorists over to Special Ops and the CIA; and focus on their destruction with the precision of a laser beam. Policing and restraining the murderous repressive policies of the Taliban – especially their treatment of women and girls – is a noble calling to be sure; but it is a task that should be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and regional organizations with generous American support.
But let there be no mistake: escalating the war in Afghanistan is dangerous folly – as the distinguished historian Barbara Tuchman – who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for historical writing – defined it in her seminal book: “The March Of folly.” Which is a term she coined to explain the decision of leaders throughout history who pursue policies that all the observable facts testify is against their nation’s interests. For Lyndon Johnson the motivation was ego; for George Bush it was ignorant macho. Barack must not bog this nation down in Afghanistan to prove he is a man, not the wimp the Republicans are sure to label him should he decide to pull out. For saving face is not worth a single drop of American blood.
Commentaries On The Times
Harlem New York
October 28, 2009