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Why Are We in Afghanistan?
In 1967 Norman Mailer released a novel titled Why Are We In Vietnam? This exercise by Mailer is the story of a couple 18 year-old Texans off on a hunting trip with their wealthy fathers. The quartet are consumed with an overload of braggadocio and testosterone. The story of the trip, which is full of whiskey and tales of past sexual conquests, racial slurs and assumptions of American exceptionalism, is told through the eyes of one of the younger men. It is obviously meant as a psychological metaphor for why the US fought in Vietnam. Like the film The Deer Hunter and a number of other films having to do with killing America’s enemies, the nature of US machismo and its curious confusion with racism and homophobia, Why Are We In Vietnam? puts forth the proposition that not only is the rugged individualism of the white-skinned pioneer essential to the myth of the US conquest of the North America continent, it is also essential to the expansion of US capitalism as well.
If one explores this idea in the context of recent history both on Wall Street and in Washington’s current overseas adventures, it become clearer why very few folks in Imperial Washington – though not in the rest of the country — want to get out of Iraq or Afghanistan. The projection of military power overseas becomes compensation for the shrinking economic power of Wall Street. Liberal and right wing believers whose stock in the church of capital has fallen can still feel good about themselves as long as their mission continues overseas against the Muslim and peasant hordes. As for the heretics within, let the loudmouth preachers of right wing radio condemn those citizens to the mercies of the angry white men and Sarah Palin–their Joan of Arc. Once the heretics have been burned at the stake of right wing rhetoric, the armies of the right will end their Tea Parties, pick up their weapons and take back the White House, installing a white person back in the Presidential bedrooms. Once done, that black man who’s in those bedrooms right now would no longer be a threat, having been emasculated just like a Scottsboro Boy.
So, while Mr. Obama (that black man) ponders whether or not he should continue the US projection of power into Afghanistan begun by his predecessor, Texan George Bush, or pull out, one wonders if Obama is part of the hunting party on par with the plantation’s generals or is he just the guy who must retrieve and dress the kill?
If he accepts General McChrystal’s call for more troops and the consequent increase in bloodshed, does Obama then become a trusted equal to the generals or the Pentagon’s Stepin’ Fetchit? If he rejects this and future calls to escalate this fruitless war, will he be sent back into the kitchen to wait for the bell telling him to bring out the next course or will it represent a defeat for the current crop of General Custers?
Then again, there’s the Biden option. This proposal would repackage the war in Afghanistan under its original wrapping as part of the "war on terror." This repackaging would require a bit of convoluted convincing since national security adviser Ret. General James Jones told the media that "fewer than 100 Al-Qaida (the bogeymen of Islamic terror) are operating in Afghanistan." Of course, the hawks in DC counter this statement with the argument that it is precisely because there are US troops in Afghanistan that Al Qaida’s strength has diminished. However, the fault in this line of reasoning can be found in the supposition of its supporters that the Taliban must be defeated to keep Al Qaida on the run. Why? Because at the same time that Al Qaida’s activities in Afghanistan have diminished, the strength of Taliban and other resistance forces have grown. In other words, even though Al Qaida forces have almost ended operations in Afghanistan, the resistance to western occupation has grown.
Then there’s the question of Pakistan. In recent weeks, US officials have begun to suggest the existence of a Taliban formation in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Furthermore, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson and a junior US diplomat – Deputy Head of Mission Gerald Feierstein in Pakistan — have threatened US air strikes on the city of Quetta where this grouping—called the Quetta shira by western media—are supposed to be quartered. These threats have been met by calls for the expulsion of these diplomats in at least one Pakistani media outlets. If US troop numbers are increased in Afghanistan, the staging of a ground invasion into Waziristan or Baluchistan or air strikes not carried out by drones launched in Nevada becomes that much easier. If changing the situation in Pakistan is a dominant reason for the current debate over mission and troop numbers in Afghanistan and the battle in Afghanistan is considered just part of that equation, then there is little doubt that US troops will remain in that country for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the likelihood of their numbers increasing becomes even greater. On Monday Obama said withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t an option.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com