Ending the War in Afghanistan

Perhaps, there was once a time when most westerners could pretend that the US-led onslaught against the Afghan people was a good thing.  Perhaps they convinced themselves that because the government of that country had allowed Osama Bin Laden to live in the mountains there that there was reason enough to attack his neighbors and destroy what remained of their nation.  Perhaps, too, westerners (especially US citizens) believed that the true purpose of the US-led military mission in Afghanistan was to capture Bin Laden and destroy his terror network.

Yes, perhaps there was a time when the facade of justice and righteous revenge provided enough of a moral veneer to the US war in Afghanistan that even intelligent westerners could live with the death and destruction occurring in their name.  However, that time is long past.  The war has gone on for more than eight years without any sign of cessation.  Indeed, since Barack Obama took up residence in the White House, the casualties in that war have spiked.  There are at least 40,000 more US troops in the country since that date last January and another thirty or forty thousand more getting ready to go there.  In addition, the number of mercenaries has similarly increased. The reasons provided for this escalation range from going after terrorists to creating a civil society.  As I write, another offensive against Afghans is being prepared.  It primary purpose is to install a governor appointed by the US-created government in Kabul.  No matter what the reason, it is painfully clear that those of us expecting a truthful explanation for Washington’s presence in Afghanistan will not receive it from those who continue to send troops and weaponry over there.  Nor will they receive it from those in Congress that continue to fund this lethal endeavor.

Yet, the antiwar movement–which should know better–remains virtually silent.  A day of bi coastal demonstrations is planned for March 20, 2010, but otherwise there is not even a whisper of protest.  Students go to classes while their generational cohorts in uniform face the prospect of death and killing.  Antiwar organizations send out the occasional email or call for action, but there is no action.  Congressmen and women ignore the letters and faxes constituents send them asking that they refuse to vote for the next war-funding legislation.  Furthermore, these legislators refuse to make the connection between the destruction of the US economy and the trillion dollars spent to kill Afghans and Iraqis the past eight years.  The media rarely covers the war except to promote the glory of the men and women sent to do America’s dirty work.  There is no critical debate in the mainstream media.  Opponents of Washington’s imperial program–rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media at any time–are now completely ignored.

Into this dismal void steps a crucial and accessible text by David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis titled Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer.  As up-to-date as a printed text could possibly be, this pocket-sized book is an unambiguous call to end the US-led war in Afghanistan.  Written in a question and answer format, the authors cover the recent history of US involvement in that country from the late 1970s arming of the fundamentalist holy warriors in Washington’s proxy war against the Soviet Union to the recent faux elections in Fall 2009.  The geopolitical meaning of Afghanistan in Washington’s strategy for empire is explained and so is the role of Unocal and pipelines.  The writers challenge the myth that Washington’s occupation and war have made life better for the majority of Afghanistan’s female population.  In fact, they challenge the assumption that this was ever even a goal of Washington when the war was begun.

The recent much-ballyhooed switch from a counterterrorism strategy to a counterinsurgency approach is discussed and dissected.  The Pentagon’s plans to provide humanitarian aid is described in all of its deception.  The supposed division of budgeted funds into eighty per cent reconstruction and twenty per cent military is shown to be a fraud.  The authors write that after all is said and done, the percentages look more like this: 90-95% military and 5-10% actually going to reconstruction.  Even then much of the reconstruction is military in nature.  The idea that an occupying army that continues to bomb villages, kick in the doors of people’s homes, and arrest their sons and husbands will ever win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is soundly rejected in these pages.

Furthermore, it is the authors’ contention that there will never be real progress toward a genuine peace in Afghanistan until the US and other members of the International Security Armed Force (ISAF) withdraw their forces.  Those interested in organizing to end this war (and the occupation of Iraq) should pay special attention to the final forty pages of  Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer.  These pages are where the shortcomings of the antiwar movement are discussed.  Primary amongst these failings was the anti-Bush focus of the antiwar movement of 2002-2008.  Another false move was the assumption by way too many of those who protested Bush’s war that the Empire’s policy would change under Barack Obama.  Bennis and Wildman write that the dynamics between the antiwar forces and the current administration might be slightly different, which could increase the movement’s ability to affect policy.  Of course, we will never know this unless we create a movement that is as larger or larger than the aforementioned one.  Perhaps the key phrase in this section is this: “the moment Congress perceives that the political cost of funding the war has risen above the (political) cost of ending the war, they will do what has become politically expedient–and cutting the war funding will become an urgent political necessity.”  To make this happen is a huge task, but it is the one we must undertake.

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: rjacobs3625@charter.net

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com