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Country Joe McDonald said it best in his iconic "Fixin’ to Die" Rag: "Oh, it’s one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for? Don’t ask me. I don’t give a damn." In fact, we were fighting for nothing in Vietnam. It was a war that started out because the US didn’t want the Commies to win a battle in the so-called Cold War, and even though it was on the farthest side of the world, in a poor nation of peasants, even though they had been struggling to throw off colonialism for years and we had simply become the new colonists, no president dared to admit the obvious–we had no business being there, and all the killing and dying had no point.
Afghanistan is the same thing all over again. We "got in" surreptitiously for the same reason. Russia had helped organize a coup to take over what passed for a "central government" and had found itself mired in a brutal war of occupation, and the US had begun, back in the ’70s, organizing and providing arms to the forces fighting the Russians, not because Afghanistan–a country even more remote and meaningless in terms of US interests or security than Vietnam–had any importance but because it was a way to "stick it to" the Russians in the waning days of the Cold War. But things have a way of coming back to bite you, and the folks we armed turned out not to like us very much either. So when we helped set up the foreign fighters–mostly Arab volunteers–in Afghanistan, we set up a force of people who saw us, in their home countries, as the oppressor and backer of vile and corrupt regimes back home. It was only a matter of time before they began turning their attentions to us. When 9-11 happened, we went after these people in Afghanistan, and the government of the Taliban, which we had formerly helped to power. In short order, what we managed to do was substitute ourselves for the Russians.
What are we fighting for in Afghanistan? Don’t ask me. I don’t give a damn. And neither do most Americans. For a while, Afghanistan was the "good war" in many Americans’ minds, because they bought the lie that conquering Afghanistan was necessary to defend the US from terrorism. Of course that was silly. Terrorists don’t need countries. They are as mobile as a nuclear submarine or a flu virus. But once you put large numbers of troops in a foreign country and have them storming around shooting up the place, and once you start bombing the crap out of villages and killing people indiscriminately, you create a new situation where you become the occupier. So here we are, fighting another war that makes no sense, has no purpose, and has no end. Good war? Necessary war? What a joke!
What are we fighting for in Afghanistan? Don’t ask us. We don’t give a damn. And yet President Obama is now on track to add more troops–maybe 20,000, maybe 40,000. Hell his general on the ground, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, is asking for as much as 80,000, which would put the total up to what it is in Iraq, where we’re still bogged down in an occupation quagmire.
That’s where Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler" comes in. "You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run."
We had a chance to walk away from Afghanistan back in 2001. The Al Qaeda forces had been routed, the Taliban government had collapsed, and people in much of the country of Afghanistan, who had been largely spared any violence during the American attacks, were largely grateful at having the yoke of fundamentalism lifted off their backs. But the US didn’t leave. A low-level war continued. More and more innocent people were killed, or arrested and stuffed into a concentration camp and torture hell-hole at Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, or shipped off to the other hell-holes in Guantanamo Bay or other CIA secret sites. And the Taliban were able to regroup and reposition themselves as saviors of the nation. Now the US is cast as the occupier. We can’t just "walk away" anymore. We have to "fold ’em" and "run."
Will Obama have the sense of a gambler with a bad hand? So far the signs are not good that he will. We are now in the position of having 70,000 US troops, soon to be closer to 100,000 troops, fighting, killing and dying in a country run by a corrupt, vote-stealing leader whose brother has long been known to be a leading profiteer in the global opium/heroin trade, in which Afghanistan has become the world leader (80-90 percent of the market) and, according to the New York Times, for eight years and counting a paid CIA asset in charge of a nation-wide death squad that is working on contract for The Agency. Polls show that most Afghanis, understandably, want the US out of their country. Wouldn’t you?
A hand doesn’t get much worse than that.
It’s time to fold and run.
If we don’t get the hell out of Afghanistan, then we’ll all be singing Country Joe’s song, but with modified lyrics (which I just premiered at a solo performance at a fund-raising dinner last week in Philadelphia for the local chapter of Veterans for Peace):
Come on all you young women and men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself into a terrible jam,
Way off yonder in Afghanistan.
You ain’t got a job, so pick up a gun!
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun!
All you folks in the National Guard,
You won’t be protecting your back yard.
We may have floods and hurricanes here,
But you’ll be dodging bullets in the desert there.
But if that’s not what you signed up for,
We’ll send you there a few times more!
General McCrystal, jump right in!
Your big chance has come again.
The VC whupped us back in ’74,
But now you can show some Muslims what-for,
And maybe even earn you a medal or three,
Sittin’ at your desk in DC.
Oh it’s one, two, three what are we fightin’ for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.
Next stop’s Afghanistan.
And it’s five, six, seven, open up the Pearly Gates.
Ain’t no time to wonder why.
Whoopee! We’re all bound to die!
Come on mothers, here’s the plan,
Send your son off to Afghanistan.
Come on fathers, it’s all cool,
Send a daughter off to Ka-Bool.
And if they die, they come home free,
And nobody has to see.
Okay Wall Street, here’s the deal:
Middle East oil is yours to steal.
Afghani blood, American too, is being shed now
Just for you!
And you can charge whatever you dare,
Cuz Washington don’t care.
Bush and Obama, you’ve done your best,
You’ve made the Middle East into one sweet mess!
But that’s okay, there’s still a plan:
To divert attention just bomb Iran!
And if that seems a bit unwise,
Well hell, you’ve got the Nobel Prize!
And it’s one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org