Afghanistan: the new quagmire

| Dec 15, 2009

Noam Chomsky comments

When I shared the article below with noted political analyst Noam Chomsky, I received this e-mailed reply from him:

I don’t think any of those reasons are the primary ones. Afghanistan has strategic value. That’s why it’s been a battleground for thousands of years. Even more now, on the fringe of the major energy producing regions (Middle East, and secondarily Central Asia), as well as South Asia, and a counter to Chinese influence, and particularly useful now when Iraq is not providing the kind of secure military basing area hoped for when the US invaded. So plenty of reasons. And for Obama, a special reason is that he knows that if he withdraws, even with majority US support, he’ll be tarred and feathered by right-wing propaganda, which can easily arouse jingoist sentiments in a country that has always been frightened and in deep ways a warrior state.

Not good ahead.


I am only beginning to learn about Afghanistan, Pashtunistan, Pakistan. Current information about the Afghan war is surprisingly hard to come by. I’m still trying to get a grasp on the basics. To those ends I attended a Veterans for Peace potluck supper in Boulder on Dec. 6, 2009 to hear investigator and historian Doug Vaughan on “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires.”

Stuart Chase has been hosting these potlucks for years at The Arborwood Condomiums Clubhouse, O’Neal Parkway in Boulder. The food was extraordinarily good, not to-die-for, and the featured speaker decided against battling the snowstorm to Boulder.

(Google Map)

(Google Map)

It turned into a fascinating discussion among 14 or 15 people, local veterans of the US military and the peace movement. I wished I had recorded it. We went around the room venting one-liners for a while, then brainstormed the economic motives for the US occupation of Afghanistan ensued.

On Motives

There was the gas and oil pipeline question, the Caspian Sea Oil Pipeline (See Victor Pinchuck’s Interpipe). Was that the motive of the Soviet occupation? Ours now? There was the opium question; whether big pharma and other multinationals seek to gain control of the poppy crop. There was the military-industrial complex and its benefactors being given a bone by Obama; smaller than they wanted, but possibly an endless war to chew on – six to eight years before any complete pull-out can be plausibly defended in the US. There was war for war’s sake, as in American style: to destabilize strategically while trucking in busloads of well-paid, uniformed Americans.

Why occupy Afghanistan? Because we think we can, we think we can, we can we think.

Why do we think we can Mr. President? What happened to your domestic agenda Mr. President? Please, demonstrate public motives and private motives at your earliest convenience, sir…

Some of us were angry.

Some are awed by the pace of the empire’s decline. Boulder’s own David Barsamian of Alternative Radio wrote recently from Kathmandu:

“The left historically over-determines resources – see US wars on Indo-China. Empires operate in odd ways often to their own destruction, as is rapidly becoming evident. The demise of the US by historical standards is rather breathtaking.”

War for the Hearts and Minds . . . of Taxpayers

There was also an interesting discussion about how the war in Afghanistan would be sold.

With new technologies, marketing strategies, and the capability to slice and dice delivery devices, we need to be aware of “narrowcasting,” the targeting of sectors with different messages. Primary targets: women, nationalists, Christian Right, anti-fascist Left, and the military itself.

Sunday morning news programs hosted Hillary Clinton boasting about the 40 percent of Afghani girls now going to school, and that, for this reason, it’s a good fight – for the sisters, could be your daughters, etc.

Selling the war to cold warriors is easy: push the ever-growing nuclear threat from Pakistan, and the Taliban’s expanding control over Pashtunistan, Taliban sympathizers in suits governing provinces in the region.

And for the Christian right, and Rush Limbaugh listeners, there’s the good fight versus the Islamofascists. If the war is framed as the good fight versus fascism, the argument has added value for its ability to recruit liberal and radical left, like back in the good war against Nazism.

Later I spoke with Rabia Roberts. She was in Afghanistan with a Code Pink women’s delegation and was one of six women who voiced concern about the call for an immediate US pullout. She admits her experience was limited, only traveling to Kabul and to the north. She met with a woman who had had her hands chopped off by Taliban fighters for meeting with Western women. She also met one Pashtun, a former Taliban guerrilla, whom she describes as the noblest person she encountered on the trip. He wanted to work convincing Pastuns not to join Taliban militias.

And as for the Afghanistan-Pashtunistan-Pakistan borders, many Pashtuns must feel like Mexicans: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.”

Rabia wonders what it would take for President Obama’s goals to be met, and for the drawdown of troops to begin in the summer of 2011? She even mused, what would happen if even the peace movement got behind a limited military presence to secure supply lines for non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?

At the same time she says, “Kabul is screwed by the aid industry,” and cited a study that showed that 60 percent of funds wind up back in the United States.

We’ve all heard about the corruption among Afghan political leadership, that some sectors of the Afghan government are effectively organized criminal syndicates. Afghan President Karzai asks, in reply, whether Afghan government corruption is any worse than that of the United States.

We Can’t Buy It

So far in trying to understand the reasons and rationale for US policy, the more I learn, the more implausible the promise of a brief US occupation seems, along with the implausibility of training Afghan troops to serve as US proxies throughout the country. Apparently, the majority of Afghan troops are illiterate and a quarter of them real or potential opium addicts. The questions arise: how many US troops will come home addicted to heroin and opium? What other domestic fallout will we have to bear?

President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, while US infrastructure screams for development and Americans scream for jobs, disappointed many of us. We believed the new president would address the economic war on the poor and working class here at home. And, we believed the new Nobel Prize winner to be a man of peace. Maybe he’ll grow into it.

Vets for Peace distributed a letter to the President and envelopes for everyone there to send during the week. This is what it said:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dec 6, 2009

Afghanistan has been called “The Graveyard of Empires” for a long time, and with good reason. No one has ever successfully invaded Afghanistan. From Darius of Persia and Alexander the Great over 2000 years ago to the British in the 1800’s and the Russians in the 1980’s, the Afghani people have defeated every attempt to invade their homeland. They will defeat your attempt as well.

Instead of plunging our country further into debt by pursuing your war on Afghanistan, withdraw all our troops now. Instead of killing tens of thousands of Afghani people, give a little grant money to the nonprofit agencies that are willing and capable of actually helping the Afghanis. Instead of going down in history as just another politician who was too arrogant to learn from history, show that you have the intelligence, the courage, and the vision to put a stop to this war now.