Does the Afghanistan War Represent Graveyard Thinking?

Why is America becoming so deeply involved in the mess that is Afghanistan?
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"I fear that President Obama, finding himself embroiled in an unwinnable war, with too much invested in treasure, lives and reputation to just pick up and walk away, will share the fate of another liberal Democratic president whose dreams for a "Great society" had to be abandoned because of his decisions to become involved in quagmire."--Professor Camillo Bica

Afghanistan has become America's war -- a very expensive war at that and one with no exit strategy or timetable. Let us examine the facts.

At present, 38,000 American troops are stationed in Afghanistan. According to military sources, that number is expected to increase to 68,000 by the end of this year. Not included in the number, however, are the hundreds of U.S. civilian specialists and diplomats also being sent to Afghanistan.

The current cost of the war in Afghanistan is $2 billion per month and will most likely increase by 60% this year. In fact, "following George W. Bush's example of keeping war funding off the books," writes author and journalist Dahr Jamail for, "President Barack Obama is seeking $83.4 billion in additional 'emergency' funding for the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, if approved, would bring the 2009 funding to around $150 billion and the overall costs of the two wars to nearly $1 trillion." Ironically, Obama, as a senator, was a harsh critic of the Bush administration tactic of avoiding placing the costs of both occupations in the overall military budget.

Moreover, this latest request by President Obama is in addition to the $534 billion military budget his administration recently unveiled. That budget was for fiscal 2010 and was an increase over the last Bush administration military budget from 2009.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending $4 billion this year alone on "road-building" activities in Afghanistan, with that same amount or more pledged in 2010. And $2 billion of American taxpayer money has already been spent constructing facilities for the Afghan army and police forces, with another $1.2 billion budgeted for this year.

Now, the Obama administration has voiced its intention to expand U.S. military efforts in Pakistan as well. President Obama is currently seeking as much as $3 billion over the next five years to train and equip Pakistan's military, in addition to $7.5 billion in civilian aid. Thus, as professor Camillo Bica recognizes, "Obama's 'new strategy' acknowledges and accepts without discussion and debate that we are as much at war in Pakistan as we are in Afghanistan (maybe more so)."

In the words of British journalist Gerald Warner, it is becoming increasingly apparent that "Afghanistan is Obama's Iraq--and threatens to become his Vietnam." As Warner writes:

America and its allies, like the Soviets before them, are being defeated in Afghanistan. The countryside is completely in the hands either of the Taliban or of warlords. Even the cities are now beleaguered: within the past 10 days suicide bombers have killed 27 people in Kabul and insurgents temporarily occupied the Ministry of Justice. The government of Hamid Karzai, whose younger brother Ahmed Wali is accused by Western security agencies of being a major drug baron, is corrupt and impotent. In 2005 opinion polls showed 83 per cent of Afghans favourably disposed towards America; today it is 47 per cent.

Why are the allies in Afghanistan? To stamp out the drugs trade, we are told, and to prevent the country becoming a base for attacks on the West. But the Taliban extinguished the heroin industry: only since the allied occupation has the trade flourished again. And what kind of terrorist attack can be planned against New York or London in Helmand Province that cannot as effectively be plotted in Waziristan, just over the border, which the Taliban now rules? Or in mainstream Pakistan? ...The Taliban is winning. If it encounters superior US forces it will retire, then resume the offensive when suitable. It can play this game for years or decades, ratcheting up the American body count.

The fact is that "today's Taliban are something of a Frankenstein monster created by the United States," writes journalist Skeeter Sanders. "The Islamic group that ruled Afghanistan with a reign of terror from 1998, when the Soviets pulled out, to 2003, when they were ousted by the Americans, began as the Mujaheddin resistance against the Soviets. The Mujaheddin received direct aid from the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran -- and even China, which at the time was locked in a bitter ideological feud with the Soviet Union for supremacy of the communist world and saw the Moscow-backed regime in Kabul as a threat to Beijing's sphere of influence."

Thus, the question: Why is America becoming so deeply involved in the mess that is Afghanistan?

Why -- at a time when the U.S. economy is failing, when America is beholden to countries like China to bail us out financially, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs and homes with little hope of recovery in the immediate future -- are we continuing to sink billions and billions of dollars into a country whose government is corrupt and whose people are resistant to American efforts?

One possible answer may lie with those who advise the president and often make the decisions affecting foreign policy. As author Tom Engelhardt of the American Empire Project notes, President Obama's "foreign policy team is made up of figures deeply entrenched in Washington's national security state -- former Clintonistas (including the penultimate Clinton herself), military figures like National Security Adviser General James Jones, and that refugee from the H.W. Bush era, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They are classic custodians of empire. They represent the ancien régime."

George W. Bush, a spokesman for the ancien régime, told Americans that we invaded Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. Later, Bush rationalized an American military presence as necessary to liberate the oppressed Afghan people. Then it was to stamp out the opium trade. Yet eight years later, little progress has been made in any of these areas. And now American war efforts, underwritten by our taxpayer dollars, are about to expand into the corrupt regime of Pakistan.

The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, but the one that remains constant is that we are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex (the illicit merger of the armaments industry and the Pentagon). After all, there is money to be made in war. And what allegedly began in 2001 as part of an effort by the Bush administration to root out al Qaeda, which had supposedly taken sanctuary in Afghanistan, has turned into a goldmine for the military industrial complex.

Just consider: In the wake of September 11, George W. Bush's $2.13 trillion budget (which put the country $80 billion in the red) increased the Pentagon's annual account to $451 billion by 2007. This is more than the budgets of the next fifteen largest militaries combined. As of 2003, the U.S. was spending more than $400 billion per year on defense and another $100 billion a year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This in effect means that the Department of Defense is the largest industrial entity in the United States, and the president is its CEO.

The U.S. is also the leading arms supplier to the developing world, accounting for more than 45% of the arms transferred globally in 2007, with the majority going to undemocratic governments or regimes that engage in human rights abuses. Of the 27 major armed conflicts that took place internationally in 2007, 20 involved some form of U.S. arms or military training.

Moreover, in the summer of 2007, the Government Accountability Office issued a report indicating that the Pentagon could not track approximately 30% of the weapons distributed in Iraq since 2004. These included 110,000 AK-47 rifles and 80,000 pistols, in addition to 135,000 body armor pieces. The concern is that many of these very same weapons are being used against U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Incredibly, despite reports of corruption, abuse and waste, the mega-corporations behind much of this ineptitude and corruption continue to be awarded military contracts worth billions of dollars.
For mega-corporations such as Halliburton, KBR, DynCorp and Blackwater, which still operate in Afghanistan and are some of the nation's largest military contractors, war equals profit. And there are exorbitant amounts of money to be made in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In addition to the enormous financial burden laid upon the beleaguered American taxpayers to maintain a colossal military machine, not to mention the enormous strain on the country's economy, there are also moral, political and social costs, as well as human costs, to consider. Nearly 5,000 U.S. military service members have been lost in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, with more than 32,000 wounded. This does not include the "invisible wounds" of war, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury. And according to the British polling agency Opinion Research Business, in Iraq alone, there have been more than 1,000,000 civilian casualties (which, of course, include women and children) as of 2008. In other words, war profiteering equals death and maiming.

As the old adage goes, those who forget the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. For example, an estimated 620,000 Soviet troops fought in the USSR's nine-year occupation of Afghanistan. Of these, nearly 54,000 were wounded and an incredible number of Soviet troops -- nearly 416,000 -- fell ill from local climate and sanitary conditions. More than 115,000 contracted hepatitis, over 31,000 developed typhoid fever and more than 140,000 contracted other diseases. And more than 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in action.

Simply put, America has entered a new universe. Domestically, our country is in a mess, and we are now embarking on a journey to countries where insanity rules. As Tom Engelhardt writes:

In the end, as with the Obama economic team, so the foreign policy team may be pushed in new directions sooner than anyone imagines and, willy-nilly, into some genuinely new thinking about a collapsing world. But not now. Not yet. Like our present financial bailouts, like that extra $30 billion that went into A.I.G. recently, the new Obama plan is superannuated on arrival. It represents graveyard thinking.

For the sake of the nation, I hope this assessment is wrong.

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