The beginning of the end of the Afghanistan war

Why did we go there again, so many years ago? Oh ya, to throw out AlQaeda. And we did that, in a jiffy. Then we stayed. Why did we do that again? Oh ya, because we wanted to throw out the Taliban, that’s it. And why the Taliban? Because we didn’t want them to let AlQaeda back in when we left. Well, history is very, very clear on whether this is possible:

not possible

Afghanistan has been occupied by foreign forces for a very long time. None have had success there since Genghis Khan, who ruled by just murdering everybody. But want to do more than kick out the “enemy,” we want to replace it with “good guys.” Our good guy of the day is a despiccable, corrupt fellow named Hamid Karzai. His brother is the biggest mafia boss in the country, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who handles billions of dollars in drugs every year.

The CIA has been paying him stipends for a long time to get him to be on “our” side. So for the moment, he is. Some experts on Afghanistan estimate that if the US withdrew completely, the Karzai government would fall in less than three days. Even if it is in three weeks, the point is it has no effective control over the population, nor over what goes on in the vast terrains of the Afghan landscape. Instead, those with control are local tribal bosses. For the US to effectively control this landscape, it would need, literally, millions of soldiers there. We’re still counting in the tens of thousands. There’s no way we’re ever gonna get close to that big of a number, so there’s no way we’re ever gonna control more than microscopic sections of the terrain. Instead, the alternative has been to try to “grow” a local government that could act as an effective US puppet. That’s where Karzai fits in. He was installed by the US, has no legitimacy whatsoever to the local people, and is nothing more than a puppet. There were democratic elections a year ago, but there was such massive fraud that no one can still see Karzai as legitimately elected and his claim to democracy is a farce that no one, not even the US administration, buys into.

I said above that history shows that there’s no way the US can win. If our goal were to dominate Afghanistan in the imperial sense or the conquering sense, we could do that by dropping huge bombs or nuclear weapons over the civilian population. But since the era of imperialism and naked aggressive state violence is over, the world would immediately abandon and isolate the US. If our goal is to accomplish what the French were after in Algeria or what the Americans were after in Vietnam, then we’ll not get far either, as these two examples show us. The local forces of resistance are synonymous or overlapping with the civilian population, leaving the unwieldy military with no military bloc to conquer, and ever susceptible to guerilla and sniper attacks. The military sees these two dead-ends, and so is betting on a third strategy, counterinsurgency, or COIN, which basically means conquering an area, holding it, and operating a “government in a box,” in the words of none other than the top general in Afghanistan (until yesterday), Stanley McChrystal. This has obviously not been working either though, at all. Not even close. Not even some progress. As John Stewart pointed out in his last show, the rhetoric about winning in Afghanistan has regressed to “trying to slow the Taliban’s momentum.” If that’s our goal today, we’ve come a long way from where we started, and we’re taking steps back not forward.

The Vietnam War ended mostly because the public stopped supporting it, and hence it got harder for the president to keep funding it. It goes like this: presidents want wars, congressmen want to get elected, and public polls rule congressional decisions. In the Vietnam case, live journalism from Vietnam brought back the gruesome realities of war. That was the first time in history there was such a living view into the horrors of war, and people quickly decided it wasn’t worth the blood and guts and death to play out the abstract game of “Domino theory.” Since the Vietnam war, the government has carefully coopted the media and kept images of war from getting to the public, lest the public actually see what war consists of. War can sound pretty in the abstract, never in the concrete. War can be the stuff of blockbuster movies and flag-flying chants when it’s fiction.

But the public is finally, even without much glimpse of the gruesome reality (though some limited progress has been made on this front), beginning to reject the war. Two recent polls (one and two) show that Americans are increasingly convinced that Afghanistan is unwinnable. In both polls, only a minority of American actually think there’s a chance we’ll come out on top. This is major, because as soon as the public is out of the war, congressmen supporting it become unelectable, so congressmen scramble to take the palatable stance of no longer funding it, and war-hungry presidents (or presidents having inherited a war hungry political machine) are left stranded. This is the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan war.

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