The firing of General Stanley McChrystal by President Obama should give Americans, Canadians and the people of other NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan a moment to reflect on why their daughters and sons are dying and killing there.
Not because of McChrystal’s departure, but for President Obama’s renewed commitment to a ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy that is stalled and failing.
Obama said, “This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy . . . to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.”
The core of this strategy is based on winning support from the Afghan people and having a ‘reliable’ government as a partner.
There are many reasons why Afghans I have interviewed believe this policy is doomed. Firstly, most Afghans hate the narco-warlords at least as much as the Taliban.
When I was in Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, from Kandahar in the south to Mazar el Sharif in the north, I heard one unifying theme – disarm the warlords. This request to the US forces went unheard. Instead, the Americans handed the state to warlords, many of whom were subjects of investigation by the UN as war criminals. Fronted by Hamid Karzai, they were handed a drug empire they could not even have dreamed about.
There will not be a “reduction in corruption”, a “reliable” government or “popular support”, based on a policy that includes the continued power of a gang of men responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own people. Their lawlessness is what led to rise of the Taliban in the first place. Yet, we treat them as allies and gentlemen.
Now that we all know about the massive Afghan minerals find (the Saudi Arabia of lithium we are told), the Pentagon has found a reason to stay in Afghanistan long after the date for the draw down. Gen. David Petraeus testified in the Senate that one role of the US armed forces is to create a “foundation of security” so that the minerals can be exploited. That’s clearly not happening within a year. But it’s unlikely that lithium is what’s driving Petraeus.
The US army will not have it seen that they lost this war. They will not allow another Vietnam, a defeat that made it almost impossible to launch major wars for decades. They will insist on staying until, like the sham success in Iraq, they can declare a victory no matter the reality.
Why? Because the projection of US power around the world rests on a global belief in US military supremacy. It’s the critical glue that holds an entire jigsaw puzzle of regimes in power; it protects a system that favors the wealthy powers over the poorer ones. This is what makes Republican Senator Lindsey Graham literally shake whenever he contemplates “defeat”. For such leaders it’s worth thousands of lives and billions of dollars to avoid the US being seen as strategically weak .
Can Obama risk being known as the President who lost the Afghan war? Not likely before the election of 2012. And then, Presidents do like their place in history. As unpopular as this war gets, Obama has shown himself to be far more afraid of his right flank than his left. That is, unless Americans rise up against this war in a way that is yet to be seen.
I don’t believe most Afghans want the world to walk away and leave them to the brutal mercy of narco-warlords and the Taliban. They don’t want perpetual war either.
And the world does owe the Afghan people . . . this horrifying chain of events was set in motion by a US policy that “sucked” the Soviet Union into a savage invasion, Pakistan’s nurturing of the Taliban, and of course, to quote Brzezinski’s Grand Chess Board, an American/Western view that they must dominate Eurasia if they are to dominate the world.
There is no magic answer to all of this. A good place to start would be to tell our leaders, projecting American power does not serve us, no matter how much oil, gas or minerals there may be. We don’t want to prosper based on others misery.
As for al Qaeda, a policy based on the interests of ordinary Afghans might make their country less fertile soil for those who want to blow themselves up seeking revenge, justice or martyrdom.
Find out more about my film “Return to Kandahar”
Watch our interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski on how the US drew the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan: The Afghan war and the ‘Grand Chessboard’
Watch our interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson: “McChrystal’s counter-terrorism without McChrystal”.
Our interview with Mohammad Junaid, a Pashtun scholar, gives a fascinating insight into the situation in Kandahar: US troops by day, Taliban by night