Flexible Objectives in Afghan War

Washington and its willing mouthpieces in the media have for years been trying to sell us the preposterous war in Afghanistan. While they attempt to convince us that the war is predicated on a faultless military logic and moral wisdom, it remains in fact a tragic adventure with no decipherable objectives, and involving several countries, private contractors, and all sorts of firms seeking to make a quick buck.

The intellectual cowardice of some should not blind the majority to the fact that the war in Afghanistan is morally indefensible and militarily unwinnable.

The decision of the US to continue with its brutal military adventurism in Afghanistan can only be understood in terms of its limited and highly selfish political logic.

Let us start by ruling out some of the ridiculous assumptions that have permeated this war since it began in 2001. First, we were told that the war was aimed at eliminating al-Qaida. However, a retied CIA Station Chief who has served in the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff, has claimed that, “al-Qaida is finished in Afghanistan.” He further argued that, “the Obama administration, like its predecessor, claims we are fighting terrorism there. That is simply not true. It is a pure counterinsurgency issue.”

Indeed, even the most ardent war hawks are exerting little effort to delineate the link between Taliban and al-Qaida. If the link is infused, it is readily unleashed to demonstrate al-Qaida’s links to Pakistan’s tribal areas, thus urging ‘action’ in that part of the country, and not in Afghanistan.

Thanks to the random military ‘strategy’ of the US and its allies, al-Qaida has spread in all sorts of directions and branched off to many al-Qaida offshoots in various parts of the world. Without a centralized leadership in the military sense, al-Qaida inspired groups and individuals now are now working for localized sets of objectives and respond to different stimuli.

So if it’s not al-Qaida that is inspiring the awesome, although largely futile firepower and military surges in Afghanistan, then what is? This is where the idealists come in. They talk of nation-building, Western-style democracy, regional security and so on. Some of them genuinely mean what they say, and some don’t believe the present military surges and Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rural area fight to the death will yield its intended results. Still, they contribute to the illusion that good intentions – starting with the initial hype about saving Afghani women, then ‘liberation’ from foreign terrorists, then democracy and nation-building, and so on – had anything to do with this bloody war. With their insistence on using such positive terminology, they continue to provide Washington’s political elites – and Kabul’s as well – with the benefit of the doubt that while we may disagree with their methods, we still trust their overall intentions.

It behooves those democracy-inspired, nation-building enthusiasts to remember that Washington has done much to stifle genuine democracy movements around the world since its occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Palestine and Lebanon remain the most obvious examples. As for nation-building, compare the astronomical amounts invested in financing the destructive war in Afghanistan and to prop up the corrupt puppet regime in Kabul, to the miniscule sums devoted to enhancing the country’s stone-aged economic infrastructure. The US military budget for this year is set to exceed $693 billion, not counting the $42 billion set aside for Homeland Security. According to CostofWar.com, the financial cost of war in Afghanistan alone has exceeded the $256 billion; both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are approaching the $1 trillion threshold.

The war in Afghanistan cannot possibly be defended on any moral grounds. The official death count of Afghani civilians in 2009 is estimated at 2,412. The actual death toll is probably far, far higher, as polls do not account for the many more who perished in distance villages across the south and east, areas that are not accessible to outsiders. The death of these innocent people alone should silence the few who still speak of ethics and morality in relation to the disastrous war.

But not everyone is so overtly misguided in their assessment of the war. Some fully understand that the war in Afghanistan is a self-seeking, political and strategic venture. Still, they giddily welcome it, including one Con Coughlin whose recent article in The Telegraph was tellingly entitled, ‘India and Pakistan must bury the hatchet for the Taliban to be crushed.’

The India-Pakistan rapprochement is seen as beneficial only insofar as its potential to ‘crush’ someone else. And considering that that someone else is not a band of aimless terrorists, but a well-grounded, grass-roots, popular insurgency, the price of that “crushing” is likely to be tens of thousands of innocent people. Coughlin uses the same haughty and generalized language of “militant Islamist groups” to be crushed, failing to understand or appreciate the distinctiveness of each and every situation, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere else. Instead, Coughlin nonchalantly expresses concern about the danger these militants pose to “the survival of the ruling classes” in Islamabad. What a compelling reason to get Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s special envoy to the region all fired up over the need to preserve the survival of the ruling classes, not just in Islamabad, but in Kabul and Delhi as well.

The war in Afghanistan has turned into find-an-objective-as-you-go military march to nowhere. It is proving futile and indefensible on every ground, be it political or military or moral. Moreover, as Haviland Smith concluded in his grim assessment, “it doesn’t really matter that we think of ourselves as benevolent liberators, it only matters that Afghans think of us as foreigners occupiers.” When will we all face up to this reality?

RAMZY BAROUD is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net