So Obama finally made up his mind. The Commander in Chief has decided and lo! the whole world trembles. Or not. Not much trembling in Afghanistan apparently. As usual the UK is right onside with our very own mini surge of troops. And despite all the talk and briefings nobody seems to be much wiser as to what all these surges are supposed to achieve, let alone why we in the UK should be in Afghanistan anyway.
For there is a contradiction at the heart of the newly announced strategy. On the one hand we are assured that we need to be in Afghanistan in order to protect us in the UK from terrorist actions. Yet at the same time we are assured that we are only going to stay there for a short time and that our surge depends on the good behaviour of the current Afghan government. Now somebody is clearly lying here. If there is a real threat to our safety in the UK that requires us to occupy the country, then we stay there for as long as it takes to get rid of the threat. You don’t state that you’re going to start the pull out in a year’s time. And you most definitely do not make our presence conditional on what the Afghan government does. After all it is supposed to be our security that is at risk. What if the threat has not been eradicated in a year’s time? Do our troops stay on - for ever?
At this moment it is not at all clear just what the end game from the UK/USA perspective is. One thing for sure is that all this concern about the Afghan government is a mere smokescreen. Either we are in Afghanistan for a long, long time or we are already preparing the ground for our withdrawal. In which case the stuff about holding Hamid Karzai and his corrupt government to account becomes the perfect excuse for our pull-out. Look, we did everything we could, but these son-of-a-bitches out there just couldn’t get their act together, so we’re offski.
When you take into account the various crises facing the world - the continuing effects of the financial meltdown, global warming, the rise of Israeli fundamentalism, to name a few - the justification for wasting billions of pounds and dollars supporting a war in Afghanistan is exposed as threadbare. While there seems to be growing instability in Pakistan and many terrorist attacks in the UK seem to have a Pakistani connection, we are stuck militarily in Afghanistan. As the USA National Security Advisor Jim Jones was quoted as saying there may be only less than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in the whole of Afghanistan. What we have in Afghanistan is a civil war and it escapes me completely why I should be funding one side of a civil war and why UK soldiers should be getting killed to support one side of a civil war. It is only arrogance of the worst kind that allows some people in the West to think they have the right to violently decide the future of other peoples half way round the globe. The Taleban are probably not a very nice bunch of people, but that is not a reason for us to go around killing and maiming tens if not hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taleban leader, has already issued a long message to the world, pre-empting Mr. Obama’s speech. It includes the following section which makes clear that the root cause of the violence is the occupation:
Afghanistan is our home and nobody negotiates with anyone about the ownership of their home and about how to share sovereignty and management responsibilities of their home. Nobody will give up their right to be the owner of their home and nobody will wilfully lose their authority in their own home. The foreigners have taken over the home of the Afghans by force and cruelty. If they want a solution to the problem, they should first end their occupation of Afghanistan.
Nick Mills, Associate professor of journalism at Boston University, in an article in the Huffington Post, neatly summarizes the key problem facing our troops:
... the great conundrum of our efforts in Afghanistan is, the more we try to fight for the Afghans, the more we seem to fight against them. There are ways to help the Afghans, but occupying their country with an army isn’t one of them.
Let’s hope we do begin to withdraw soon.
For a fascinating comparison of the rhetoric used by Bush and Obama to justify the surge - basically the same - see this article by the great Glenn Greenwald.
Tom Engelhart has a fine exposė of the figures behind Obama’s surge - there are in fact nine surges in all. You can find this report here.