FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What are We Fighting for in Afghanistan?

by PAUL FITZGERALD And ELIZABETH GOULD

It was the opportunity for the president of the United States to deliver his most important address yet. America was entering a new era after failing to defeat an implacable foe in a far off and forbidding land. His speech was filled with Sturm und Drang, delivered to the finest young men and women the country had to offer and the highest defense and intelligence officials in the land at the world’s most prestigious military academy. It should have been a sacred moment in American history.

For months the world had waited with great anticipation for the president to weigh in on America’s involvement in Afghanistan amidst a bitter debate over the respective consequences of investing more troops and further billions, and the very likely possibility that the United States could lose the war and be subjected to more merciless attacks by Al Qaeda. A varied mix of solutions were offered up, which included negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, and, ultimately, withdrawing current troops.

Had the president leveled with the American people and talked about ethnic cleansing of Pashtun and Baluch tribal areas by Predator Drones, of Blackwater crimes and targeted assassinations, some might have breathed a sigh of relief. Instead the president weighed in with a well worn mantra by offering as his primary justification for sending more troops that “We did not ask for this fight.”

We did not ask for this fight?

For 60 years the United States played both Pakistan and Afghanistan against each other in a Manichean, dualist game of superpower politics with little regard for the consequences. But like the Soviet Union before it, the cold war assumptions of military power that the United States carried with it into Afghanistan have been rendered useless by the ethnic, political and military complexities of the Afghan/Pakistan region.

Before the United States can hope to win anything in Afghanistan it has to decide what it is fighting for. Is it oil, geostrategic positioning, against terror or just to save face. In the last few years U.S. strategy has broken down to a confused mix, dominated by those wishing to withdraw troops and limit the American commitment to containing Al Qaeda and those favoring a robust counterinsurgency campaign requiring a permanent political and military commitment that would last for decades.

General Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s new commander in Afghanistan, is well aware that nothing can be accomplished without a change in the psychology of the American approach, stating in his August 30 report, “Many describe the conflict in Afghanistan as a war of ideas,.. However, this is a ‘deeds-based’ information environment where perceptions derive from actions, such as how we interact with the population and how quickly things move. The key to changing perceptions lies in changing the underlying truths.”

McChrystal realizes that “changing the underlying truths” requires a change in the operational culture to “interact more closely with the population, and focus on operations that bring stability, while shielding them from insurgent violence, corruption, and coercion.”

But whether the very nature of America’s military/industrial/media/academic complex can be moved off its primary directive in order to accommodate McChrystal’s request, remains highly doubtful. The decentralized nature of the opposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan defies the very culture of the Pentagon’s thinking. Like Vietnam, a decentralized enemy is anathema to the rigid, high technology and high-cost Command, Control and Communications approach developed throughout the cold war to decapitate the centralized Soviet bureaucracy. But the Pentagon continues to insist on applying its expensive tools, regardless of its persistent failure to eliminate, let alone define its enemy.

General McChrystal will get 30,000 troops and 18 months to prove his counterinsurgency plan can work. The cost to the United States will be immense, especially to an economy already bled dry by 60 years of cold war and its attendant thinking. If it can establish security for both the Afghan and Pakistani people, somehow spare innocent civilians and roll back extremist terror, it might work. If it doesn’t, no troop escalation or elaborate counterinsurgency doctrine can save Washington’s political class from the fight it went out of its way to ask for.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of “Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story,” published by City Lights. They can be reached at  www.invisiblehistory.com

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of “Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story,” published by City Lights. They can be reached at  www.invisiblehistory.com

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail