Wednesday, January 07, 2009

AFGHANISTAN: OBAMA'S IRAQ?

Tom Hayden, Huffington Post - The war in Iraq already is fading from public view, although more than 140, 000 American troops remain stationed there. The major television networks have withdrawn. US casualties are far fewer than in traffic accidents on American streets. Iraqi violence is down as well, with 8,955 civilian deaths in 2008 compared to 51,894 in the bloodiest years of 2006-2007. The shift is towards a low-visibility counterinsurgency war like those that ravaged Central America in the 1970s.

The conditions for a massive social movement against the Iraq War are ebbing, for now, unless large-scale fighting suddenly resumes or President Obama unexpectedly caves in to the Pentagon and blatantly breaks his promise to withdraw combat troops in 16 months and all troops by 2011.

That makes Afghanistan the growing focal point for public debate over what counterinsurgency gurus call "the long war" against Islamic jihad. . .

The Pentagon paradigm is to defeat al-Qaeda militarily while refusing to address, and thereby worsening, the dire conditions that gave rise to the Taliban and al- Qaeda operatives in the first place. . .

There are some 36,000 US troops stretched across Afghanistan, another 17,500 under NATO command, and 18,000 in counterinsurgency and training roles. It costs the Pentagon $2 billion per month to support the American troops. . .

Even Afghanistan's client president, Hamid Karzai, complains of extra-judicial killings and civilian casualties from the American air war, a pattern of repression and suffering which will only worsen with more American troops pouring into combat zones.

Meanwhile, the war in Pakistan and other Central Asian countries will expand as the additional US troops seek to recover supply lines closed by recent Taliban attacks. [. . .

The question is not simply a moral one, but whether the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fueled by troop transfers from Iraq, is winnable, and in what sense?

Transferring an additional 20, 000 American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama proposes, is symbolic, a step on the treadmill of escalation. The American troop level will be pushed to 58,000, in addition to 30,000 other foreign troops. Obama may be proposing an escalation simply in order not to lose, a pattern well documented in Daniel Ellsberg's history of the Vietnam War.

The questionable premise of the coming escalation is that military success must precede any political solution. . . But it could deepen the quagmire and turn more Afghans against Obama and the US as well. . .

If Obama appears to be negotiating a diplomatic solution with some success, he will enjoy wide support within the media and Congress. If the additional 20-30,000 American troops appear to be "stabilizing" the situation, public criticism may be modest in scale. But there is widespread, if latent, public opposition to anything resembling an occupation or quagmire in Afghanistan-Pakistan, especially with the American economy in dire straights. The time is coming when these will be known as Obama's wars, and seen as an unproductive distraction from his main mission as president. . .