Obama’s good war goes bad
In the protracted Washington debate over the war in Afghanistan, the most concise analysis so far has come from America’s top soldier: “If we don’t get a level of legitimacy and governance (there), then all the troops in the world aren’t going to make any difference.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was speaking two days after Hamid Karzai was declared the winner, by default, in August elections so massively rigged that a U.N.-backed electoral complaints committee threw out about a million Karzai votes. That forced a run-off from which his challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah withdrew, saying the second round would be just as fraudulent as the first.
So much for an exercise in democracy President Barack Obama had used as his rationale for escalating the war a few months after he took office. “I did order 21,000 additional troops there to make sure that we could secure the election, because I thought that was important.”
It was. It showed that the United States and its NATO allies are fighting on the side of a corrupt and discredited government in a war, now in its ninth year, for which, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, there can be no purely military solution.
An angry assessment of the Afghan leader last year by Thomas Schweich, a former top anti-narcotics official in Afghanistan, has proved prophetic. Karzai, he said, had been playing the Americans like a fiddle ever since he came to power. “The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends would get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term.”
U.S. officials, including Admiral Mullen, are now calling on Karzai to purge Afghanistan of corrupt officials by arresting and prosecuting them. This is an unlikely prospect. In his victory speech, Karzai said he would work to wipe off “the stain of corruption” but said that could not be done simply by removing corrupt officials.
The implicit notice that there would be no major house-cleaning followed a telephone call Obama made to Karzai to say it was time for “a new chapter based on improved governance (and) a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption…” If previous promises from Karzai are any guide, the new chapter will remain unwritten.
BOXED IN BY RHETORIC
Obama is close to making a decision on a request by General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan for as many as 40,000 additional troops. If the president followed the logic of Admiral Mullen’s analysis, he would send none. But he will, because he is boxed in by his own portrayal of Afghanistan as the “good war” (as opposed to the war in Iraq) and his definition of why the U.S. must be in Afghanistan.
“This is not a war of choice,” he said in a speech in August. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
One of the most passionate arguments against this reasoning has come from Matthew Hoh, the first State Department official to resign in protest over the war. Hoh, a former Marine Corps captain, said in his letter of resignation that if the U.S. strategy really was to prevent al-Qaeda from regrouping in Afghanistan, then America should also invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – all countries with an al-Qaeda presence.
“Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. To…follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan.”
Instead, he wrote, the U.S. was following the example of the Soviet Union, a previous and unsuccessful occupier, by bolstering a failing state.