Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Afghanistan Debacle



If we want to understand the Bush Foreign policy in Iraq, we only have to look at Afghanistan. The basic principles are identical.

There are approximately 11,000 American servicemen currently in Afghanistan, most of whom are stationed at military facilities, and most of whom contribute nothing to the overall stability or reconstruction of the country. Some are involved in the ongoing campaign against the resurgent Taliban in the south, although this has been mainly limited to bombing missions and special-ops (paramilitary raids). There has been no expanded effort to normalize life outside of Kabul, and the warlords and drug traffickers are basically left alone to carry on as they please.

An 11,000 man army is minuscule when it comes to meeting the obligations of restoring security to a country the size of Afghanistan. The Bush Administration knows it cannot be done with a force this size, and so should we. The notion of democratizing Afghanistan is a carefully nurtured illusion whose only reality is in the speeches of George Bush. There are no plans for rebuilding or unifying Afghanistan, the limited presence of the military proves that point.

The trifling commitment of resources also shows that the US will make no real effort to honor its commitments in Afghanistan. Prior to the war, Mr. Bush promised a “Marshall Plan” for the beleaguered country. Nothing even remotely resembling reconstruction has taken place. The current budget appropriation for Afghanistan is $3 billion, $2.3 billion of which goes directly to military and security requirements. That leaves a paltry $700,000 million for random “pet projects” that will look good for Mr. Bush during an election year. Perhaps, the contractors at KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root; Halliburton subsidiary) will slap together a girl’s school or women’s shelter to illustrate the peerless magnanimity of the occupier, but nothing of any consequence will really transpire; nothing that will improve the lives of the average Afghani.

These two factors, the insignificant size of the troop deployment and the insufficient funding for reconstruction, should prove beyond a doubt that the administration is not working to establish a democratic Afghanistan. Mr. Bush has kept his campaign promise of eschewing “nation building.” Instead, Afghanistan has become another client state that will never experience normal security as long as the present occupation persists. The security vacuum spawned by the war and fostered by the callous disregard to the needs of the people insures that Afghanistan will continue to follow a downward trajectory into mayhem.

The Bush Administration has devoted considerable time to the formation of the Karzai Government, even though the government has no democratic legitimacy. Representatives of the Bush Administration interrupted the original Loya Jirga (Grand Council) to make sure that their man, Hamid Karzai, was selected, and that’s exactly what happened. The former king, Zahir Shah, who was the popular choice of the people (He actually received 800 of a possible 1500 delegate votes in the first balloting) was sent packing after back-room dealings by the US produced the desired result. Since then, Shah has returned to his retreat in Italy.

Karzai may be a puppet, but he’s an affable puppet, and one who has shown an uncanny ability to survive the numerous attempts on his life. He is sarcastically referred to as the “Mayor of Kabul”, since his authority doesn’t extend much further than the city limits. His cabinet is mainly comprised of American educated ministers, some who used to work at the World Bank. We can be certain that they passed the “free trade” litmus test required of all Bush appointees, and share the view that directives from Washington must be scrupulously followed. When the time comes for them to sign away Afghanistan’s resources to America’s rapacious energy giants, we can expect they will comply without any embarrassing displays of patriotic loyalty to the fatherland.

Outside Kabul, the central government really has no power. The countryside is a checkerboard of warlords, bandits and drug traders. The Taliban have been mounting resistance in the south, but their firepower is simply not equal to that of the US Military. The best they can hope for is to be a disruptive element, and try to win over the disenchanted peasantry. The American Military will maintain its preeminence over the disparate groups regardless of their attractiveness to the greater population and in spite of their ability to initiate hit and miss acts of terrorism.

Things are no better for the people living outside of Kabul than they were under the Taliban. The warlords and narco-traffickers are no less brutal then their predecessors and justice is as arbitrary as it was before. Although, both the UN and NATO have indicated that they will accept some role in bringing law and order to the countryside, nothing yet has materialized. As Mullah Omar was recently quoted, “How successful have the American’s been in bringing democracy to Afghanistan?”

Not very successful at all.

Operation Enduring Freedom has been a great marketing tool for promoting aggression, but it has failed miserably in establishing democracy or providing even the minimum level of security for the Afghan people.

This same pattern of neglect is now appearing in Iraq. The military, which has been woefully understaffed from the onset, is now withdrawing to eight bases outside of Baghdad. This will preclude their further involvement in the arduous work of maintaining security. From their new location, they will conduct their paramilitary raids, fly-overs and routine maneuvers, but as far as being engaged in bringing peace to the beleaguered Capital, (and risking American lives in the process) that period is about over.

The oil fields have been secured; the pipeline routes will be protected, and business should be brisk. Everything else is incidental.

Just like Afghanistan, most of the money provided by Congress is being spent on military necessities and contractual obligations (Halliburton, Bechtel etc)

Only a small portion of the funds are being allocated for reconstruction, ($20 billion) and it has not had a measurable affect on the lives of Iraqis. The Bush Administration’s promise of “liberation” and “democracy” looks like just more empty rhetoric, devoid of any real substance.

The proof of America’s commitment to Iraq should come in the form of increased security and a positive move towards free elections. The US has made neither of these available. Instead, the administration is trying to control the outcome of the electoral process, while at the same time, pulling its troops out of Baghdad.

This can only result in disaster.

Iraq is a tinderbox, and whether the Bush Administration is able to manipulate the elections or not, will make no difference if they withdraw before order is established. Baghdad will simply descend into anarchy.

The administration has made a calculated judgment that they have to stop the daily hemorrhaging of American lives to get re-elected, so they have decided to pull back and let the Iraqis fend for themselves.

We have already seen the results of this strategy by the dramatic increase in the death toll among the Iraqi police force. This pattern won’t reverse itself without American intervention.

The Bush Administration is playing a dangerous game in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As the situation tilts more steeply towards catastrophe in both countries, the policy failures are more sharply defined. Even with a media that papers-over calamity, and an administration that can regurgitate lies on demand, the Bush plan for these countries is becoming more evident. It’s a plan that provides only minimal troop deployments to control entire populations and their resources. This suggests that no importance is attached to the inevitable collapse of the existing social order or the violence that derives from that situation. It implies that whole states will break down along ethnic and tribal lines and devolve into a continual state of infighting and reprisal.

This is what we are seeing in Afghanistan two years after the war; a fragmented, failed state with no central government (of any consequence) and no effort by the occupying power to establish one. The drug trafficking, factional fighting and security vacuum are the logical corollaries of this new reality.

This model of societal disintegration is now being passed on to Iraq. The Bush apologists in the media will try to convince us that that this predictable chaos is actually the genesis of democracy, but the facts prove otherwise. If anything, Afghanistan is further away from democracy or even a coherent form of government than it was before the invasion.

Never the less, Afghanistan looks to be the paradigm that the Bush Administration is holding up as a symbol of success. It shouldn’t surprise us then that they are trying to duplicate this model in Iraq or that the results are turning out to be equally tragic. The carnage appearing daily on the streets of Baghdad seems to have no affect on our pious President. We remain doubtful that any display of human misery will deter these men from executing their grand scheme.

MIKE WHITNEY can be reached at:


MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Comfortably Dumb
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Michael Munk
Getting Away With Terrorism in Oregon
T.J. Coles
Confronting China: an Interview with John Pilger
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Norman Pollack
America at the Crossroads: Abrogation of Democracy
Bill Quigley
Six Gulf Protectors Arrested Challenging Gulf Oil Drilling
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Uri Avnery
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Dave Reilly
Complete the Sentence: an Exploration of Orin Langelle’s “If Voting Changed Things…”
Jonathan Woodrow Martin
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Charles R. Larson
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”
David Yearsley
Bach on the Election