It’s time to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the occasionally independent client of Washington in Kabul, went on record again on July 19, 2009 in favor of this move. In unequivocal terms, he told the London Sunday Times “I don’t think the increase in troops will address the problem,” Karzai said. “We need to concentrate on finding other avenues of defeating terrorism and seeking peace. We must engage in negotiations…” Despite the fact that the US and NATO have been increasing the number of their troops in the country and have escalated ground and air operations, the battle with the Taliban and other resistance forces shows no signs of ending with a US/NATO victory, or at all.
In the recent press coverage of newsman Walter Cronkite’s death, one of the moments in his storied career often referred to was his editorial comment on February 27, 1968 when he stated quite firmly that he believed that “it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” He went on to call for negotiations to end the war, telling his audience “the only rational way out … will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” This statement was made a few short years after the Kennedy administration began increasing the number of troops in Vietnam and only three years after Lyndon Johnson began the bombing of northern Vietnam.
It is not necessary to wait until the US commitment in Afghanistan equals that in Vietnam or even in Iraq. The fact that Washington has been leading a military campaign to subdue the people there and create a friendly regime for almost eight years without success is enough reason to take the path of negotiations. The current implication being put forth by the Pentagon and the Obama White House that escalating the conflict will somehow make it possible for Washington to get exactly what it wants in Afghanistan flies not only in the face of history but also of common sense. If the killing and special ops designed to win the Afghan people’s hearts and minds have not worked in seven years, why would an upsurge in killing work now? This is an especially important question when one considers the inverse relationship between the increase in killing and the ebbing of support for the US occupiers. This phenomenon has been documented by US and other sources in Afghanistan and in Iraq. To pretend that the opposite will occur this time around is plain foolishness.
Recently, there have been a couple pieces in the US media–most notably the Washington Post and The Washington Monthly–that have made a case for not only staying the course in Afghanistan, but escalating the conflict even more. This case is now also being pushed by US military commanders at the Pentagon and overseas. Indeed, recent news reports indicate that General McChrystal is considering asking for at least 45,000 more troops within the next twelve months. The rationale used is that the surge in Iraq worked, so it should work in Afghanistan as well. Of course, this argument assumes that the current situation in Iraq is an appealing one and that it should be replicated wherever Washington considers it necessary for its empire. It naturally enough ignores the facts of the US occupation of Iraq. In other words, it ignores the weak government, the ongoing violence, the number of Iraqi refugees and the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure six years after the US invasion and almost two years after the “surge.”
Underlying the entire argument around the ongoing battle in Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq, and the overall imperial project are two fundamental suppositions. The first is the supposition that these operations are somehow part of the United States’ manifest destiny. The second is that Washington can not help but emerge the victor. Of course, the latter is philosophically linked to the former and is shared by almost every US citizen except for those who understand the nature of the US empire and are opposed to it precisely because they do understand it. As for the triumvorate of the GOP, the Democratic Party, and a substantial part of the leadership of the pathetic US antiwar movement: they all assume that what’s good for Washington is also good for those nations it considers its subjects. They believe, like Mr. Cronkite did in 1968 that the United States military represents “an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” What this means for the aforementioned triumvirate is that the call for negotiations is not a radical idea, but a reasonable one.
So, to hearken back to Mr. Cronkite in 1967 and Mr. Karzai in 2009, the only honorable and reasonable way to end the sad and murderous exercise known at the Pentagon as Operation Enduring Freedom is to negotiate, without conditions and with the only expectation being that US/NATO troops will leave Afghanistan before they become further entrenched and that much of the bloodshed will end as a result. After all, how much more of this freedom can the Afghans endure?
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: firstname.lastname@example.org