Victory in Afghanistan? A Fool's Dream
ongress is being asked to vote on another appropriations bill for billions more dollars to fund military operations in Afghanistan despite reservations among many members about the corrupt regime of Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai. Operations that many in the Pentagon are beginning to question from both an tactical and strategic standpoint:
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2010 (IPS) - Although Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's plan for wresting the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar from the Taliban is still in its early stages of implementation, there are already signs that setbacks and obstacles it has encountered have raised serious doubts among top military officials in Washington about whether the plan is going to work. [...]
The outlook at the Pentagon and the White House on the nascent Kandahar offensive is also pessimistic, judging from the comment ... by an unnamed "senior administration official". The official told [WaPo reporter David] Ignatius the operation is "still a work in progress", observing that McChrystal's command was still trying to decide how much of the local government the military could "salvage" and how much "you have to rebuild".
The irony of this "strategy" is that its goal, as stated in the Pentagon's own report on conflict, the to bring the Taliban to the table to negotiate. But isn't that why we went into Afghanistan 9 years ago? To get rid of the Taliban and its extremist Islamic fundamentalist government which provided a haven for terrorists? So now, after all this time, we hope to coerce these people to come to a peace conference. Doesn't this remind you of the Christmas bombing campaign Nixon ordered to get North Vietnam to come back to the Paris peace conference and cut a deal with Henry Kissinger? And we all remember how that turned out. We had our "Peace with Honor" which was simply a cover for the admission that the war had failed, and it was time for us to leave.
Apparently. General McChrystal still hopes to "win the war" but by convincing Obama that we need to maintain a significant military presence in Afghanistan past 2011, Obama's stated goal for withdrawing our troops. The problem w have is that justifications like these were used in Vietnam to escalate and prolong that war as well, with ultimately no benefit to our country or the people of Vietnam.
The Soviet Union cracked in large part because they couldn't win the war in Afghanistan despite a military "footprint" far larger than the one we have deployed there. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether it is worth the cost of staying in Afghanistan indefinitely?
With the world economy still fragile and ready to tumble into another crisis at any moment, with rampant unemployment at home, with a oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and floods in Tennessee what benefit do we really gain from pouring ever greater resources into Afghanistan?
We don't need thousands of more troops to deploy predator drones and Special Forces units of that is the route Pentagon analysts see as the most viable means to degrade the terrorist presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If we really wish to occupy vast stretches of this mountainous country don't we really require hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground there for generations to come?
Even the most rabid neo-conservatives are unlikely to support a military project of that scope and duration. Any politician who proposed such an effort would be committing political suicide. So why are we continuing this incremental escalation of a war that cannot be won by such measures? All for a war whose true costs won't be fully known for years to come:
As economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz demonstrated in The Three Trillion Dollar War, their book on the cost of the Iraq war alone, adding in debt payments on moneys borrowed to fight that war, long-term care for veterans wounded in it, the war's impact on energy prices, and other macroeconomic impacts, the current tax bill for the Iraq war must be at least tripled and probably quadrupled or more to arrive at its real long-term cost. (Similarly, the cost in lives must be multiplied by all those lives that could have been saved through other, better uses of the same funding.) The same obviously applies to the Afghan war.
The fact is that military spending is destroying the US economy. An excellent report from the National Priorities Project, "Security Spending Primer", provides a summary of research that supports these basic and well-documented facts:
# Investing public dollars in the military produces fewer jobs than cutting taxes.
# Cutting taxes produces fewer jobs than investing public dollars in any of these areas: healthcare, education, mass transit, or construction for home weatherization and infrastructural repair.
# Investing public dollars in mass transit or education produces more than twice as many jobs as investing in the military.
# Investing public dollars in education produces better paying jobs than investing in the military or cutting taxes.
# Investing public dollars in any of these areas: healthcare, education, mass transit, construction for home weatherization and infrastructural repair has a larger direct and indirect economic impact than investing in the military or cutting taxes.
Ask yourself this question: Whose interests are really being served by continuing these mad military misadventures in Southwest Asia? One thing we know for certain: it isn't in the interests of the vast majority of American citizens.
It isn't even in the interest of the military itself. The Soviet military was more than decimated after the end of the Cold War, in large part because of the money wasted on trying to occupy Afghanistan and keep it in the Soviet Union;s orbit. Defense Secretary Gates himself, no liberal dove by any means, has already stated that Defense spending must be cut back in the current economic climate:
Increasing health care costs, a top-heavy uniformed and civilian management force, and big-ticket weapons systems are swelling the military's budget at an "unsustainable" rate, Gates said. In response, Gates said, he has ordered the Defense Department's military and civilian leaders to find savings of 2 to 3 percent -- more than $10 billion of the Pentagon's roughly $550 billion base budget -- and shift spending toward war-fighting costs.
Wars are costly in terms other than dollars. They spread misery and set the stage for more conflicts in the future. Ultimately, if they do not pay for themselves (and no one can argue that Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a treasure trove of tribute) they can ruin a nation' economy, and poison its politics for decades. Just ask the French, the English, the Germans and the Russians about the costs of two world wars, the first which led inexorably to the second. Costs in lives and human suffering for which no price can be calculated.
Our own experience with Vietnam (the political polarization, the rise of extremism on the right, the economic slump of the seventies) is being repeated today, but on an even larger scale. To be blunt we simply cannot afford to continue to occupy Afghanistan unless we wish to destroy the the underlying foundation for our nation's future. We need to spend our resources wisely to rebuild what a decades of conservative policies and the active neglect of our greatest resource, our people, have destroyed.
The National Priorities Project is correct. A nation's ultimate security is based on the health and well being of its people. The wars we are fighting are like parasites sucking away our national lifeblood for the benefits of a few. It is time to just say no to more war funding. Our real national security as at risk: our democracy, our economy, our politics and our opportunity to act as a force for good in the world are all at stake.