Midlands Voices: Afghanistan 'wrong war'; democracy elusive dream

Omaha World-Herald
Friday June 3, 2011
By Paul A. Olson 

The writer is president emeritus of Nebraskans for Peace. He is a retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor.

The war in Afghanistan is 10 years old. Our longest war, it’s also one of our most futile.

In his campaign for president, Barack Obama said the war on Iraq had taken our eyes off of Osama bin Laden, allowing things to go to ruin in Afghanistan, and pledged to wage the “right war.”

As commander in chief, he ordered a “surge” of 30,000 troops and changed our strategy from “nation-building” to “peace-building.” We would not seek to transform Afghanistan, he said, but pacify its violent areas and defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban. He set a withdrawal date of 2012.

Today, however, Afghanistan also has become the “wrong war.” Al-Qaida barely exists in the country, operating instead in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia and the United States. The Taliban are no longer uniformly regarded as enemies. We have held a variety of back-channel negotiations that promise to make them friends for as long as we pay them.

The dream of a democratic and stable Afghanistan has receded as President Hamid Karzai engineered a fraudulent election, his brother banked our money in Dubai, and the Taliban and warlords continue to control vast areas of the countryside — funded as they are by heroin trafficking. Bribes run the show, and Karzai threatens to join the Taliban.

Post-Vietnam War analyses said that war failed because we had no partner there. We have no partner in Afghanistan, either.

We have little reason to wage this fight, save for our stake in Central Asian oil and minerals. The argument that we are there on behalf of women’s rights hardly commands respect, since we seem to care little about women’s rights in most of the Muslim world — rights that will ultimately be determined by indigenous Islamic movements.

Unhappily however, we have expended much blood and treasure over there. Counting just the U.S. casualties, as of April, nearly 1,500 had been killed and 11,000 wounded.

Allied forces, on the other hand, have killed thousands of civilians, perhaps as many as 2,000 to 3,000 per year in the past 10 years — many of them villagers who have had little to no role in the war.

We have no serious exit strategy, as evidenced by the two bipartisan congressional proposals calling on President Obama to set a specific benchmarked strategy for withdrawal.

And then there’s the cost.

The fiscal cost of the war is huge, with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimating it as follows:

The cumulative total appropriated from 9/11 for war operations, diplomatic operations and medical care for Iraq and Afghan war veterans is $1.3 trillion, including:

  • $806 billion for Iraq.
  • $444 billion for Afghanistan.
  • $29 billion for enhanced security.
  • $6 billion not allocated.

Because the war-fighting emphasis has now shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, Afghanistan spending is slated to rise to over a trillion more in the next decade. And who’s going to pay for this?

This very minute, Congress is quarreling over whether to raise the debt ceiling above its current $14.3 trillion level. Raising taxes is taboo. Deep cuts in domestic spending are being proposed. But the military budget, so far, has been sacrosanct.

Do we really want to cut Medicare and funding for hungry children for this war?

Under the pseudonym of “Mr. Y,” assistants to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently produced a National Security Narrative, arguing that our national security logic must change. “Y” argues that, internationally, the United States can no longer seek to run the show. Global dominance is not possible. We must move from military efforts to control others, to civilian efforts to influence them.

“Y” notes that we can spend ourselves right into the poorhouse on deterrence and defense against the world’s developing nations, but we would do better to seek a civilian development of the poor and underemployed across the world. We could do so through a reduction in military spending and a demilitarizing of American foreign policy.

In short, “Y” argues that we could recognize our interdependence and make it fruitful in security terms.

Afghanistan could be the testing ground for this new security narrative.

President Obama is an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, who exhorted us to get out of Vietnam and settle issues at home. With the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama has an opportunity to stake out a new strategy for U.S. engagement in the world — the only one, in fact, that promises us the hope of security. 

Copyright ©2011 Omaha World-Herald®. 

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Comments

June 6th 2011

- Thanks for the great research and info. My understanding is Obama has plans to exit Afghanistan starting this summer. I think he would agree with ninety percent of your analysis, but he's in the big seat, which takes away the option of an instantaneous solution. I wonder how any one of us could do better if we were in charge. Let's pray he can pull off the exit he's aiming for.

June 8th 2011

L. W. - My bet, we'll be there for years to come, 'til the nation is bankrupt. Unless and until enough of the people say, "enough". A tipping point of open rebellion at the polls, in the streets. Obama's only doing the bidding of the puppet masters who financed his election, the mega-corporations and banks. Continuity of agenda passed on from Bush neo-cons.Now were in Libya bombing and killing in an Orwellian defined humanitarian mission and staging drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere with a perpetual war strategy.. The UN is now the war-maker, we have their blessings [resolutions] instead of supposed peace maker.The UN is not what too many believe it is. It's in the service of Globalism, political arm of the WTO. Not pessimistic, just stating the facts. I'm optimistic , enough people will eventually wake up from the American [day] dream, hopefully before the majority are on food stamps..