Unlike campaign come-ons cast off, fudged or reversed, this president unstintingly commits to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, boldly gearing up a still mission-less, thus inexplicable “war of necessity.” Didn’t Vietnam forever teach both generals and voters no foreign occupation force, however fortified or plentiful, defeats indigenous, ferocious insurgents posing as “freedom fighters”? Ditto Iraq.
What a nasty irony, to discover the erstwhile, anti-Iraq war candidate, at home more cautious than Scaredy Cat, strictly keeps his word, proactively ordering a high-risk second surge in this “graveyard of empires.” What’s disheartening isn’t only the ominous magnitude, but that this bright newcomer is so much the conformist: 1) unwilling to escape historic quagmires, or 2) why no army has ever subdued or centralized Afghanistan while 3) buying whole hog into hawkish delusions outsiders can resolve inside tribal-religious wars.
Even if supporters accept his glacial notions of change, Obama the candidate repeatedly rejected “more of the same,” foolishly staying the course yet magically fantasizing different outcomes. A surge of 30-35,000 real people with real families, added to the 22K escalation last Spring, is Bush-like doubling down. Plus, despite costing $1,000,000 annually per soldier, the 102K troop total excludes massive support personnel, non-combatants and expensive contractors. Estimates of $30 billion a year, my eye!
Kill, baby, kill?
Shrewder Russians next door never matched these numbers before conceding a disgraceful defeat. Are we so special, “too big to fail” here, too? Does Obama expect less public outrage for outmuscling the failed Bush-Cheney invasion, still without timetable, benchmarks or “off-ramps”? For sure, two surges wipe out any fiction Obama’s gung ho Afghan war cries were insurance, verifying this is no cowering, liberal peacenik. Thank God, voters defied the crudeness of mock energy policies called “drill, baby, drill.” Woe to those who forget crude militarism easily morphs into “kill, baby, kill” – and there’s nothing colloquial about looming dead babies.
To his defenders, I ask: how is the Obama on full display not the Obama we have for three years? Twin surges confirm this president, like every other, cements who he is, and will be, in year one. And in December, our smiling, self-promoted warmonger will take home his Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, in debates, Obama endorsed border-busting, anti-terrorist drone bombers, never termed Afghanistan, like Iraq, a “dumb war,” and later abruptly shoehorned in hard-line Bush-era, Patraeus favorite, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to run this war. Along with Bush’s War Secretary Gates and our hawkish secretary of state, this White House answers Tea Partiers: nary a wimpy, cut-and-run loser in sight.
The Legacy of “Trust More Force”
Being predictable doesn’t make big escalation less terrifying, again signaling war and Pentagon brass dominate our foreign policy with an iron fist. How many Obama fans imagined, finally, his biggest, historic “change to believe in” meant amplifying Bush’s accurst smug “stay the course” into newly-minted “trust more force”? Though primitively armed, tribal resistance now outmaneuvers Afghan government, police, and soldiers, plus the once “greatest fighting force on earth” deflated by mountainous terrain.
Further, I predict no Obama promises for dramatic improvements. Expect instead “degrading and dismantling” the terrorist operation, somehow still a dreadful threat. Degraded and dismantled to me sounds like waste management, but what quagmire isn’t about managing losses while praying time is on your side (all evidence to the contrary). Like Iraq, brace for permanent bases: this war soon blasts by Vietnam as our longest ever, lasting presumably until the Rapture.
No one, even McChrystal, talks of enemy defeats, except the Karsai cabal if we leave. So what justifies trading off American fatalities as delay tactic? History for one: depleting resources in remote, drawn-out battles define our misadventures in Korea, Vietnam, South Carolina, southwest Europe, and Iraq. Neo-con overkill only surfaced with Iraq because Dick Cheney blundered into war without better covering his ass. Military-industrial profits aside, failed conquests since Korea no longer pay their wildly expensive way, unlike absorbing California and the southwest or later, Cuban, Pacific or Asian outposts.
Politically, what emerges is Rove-Bush-Cheney re-election expediency: “war presidents” are shoe-ins, even if they botch the wars. Obedient to all-powerful Pentagon brass, seconded by rightwing “patriots,” security and defense contractors, this president is far too risk-adverse to declare victory and withdraw, any more than LBJ could openly admit error or avoid destroying his presidency. War, after all, is about national honor and myths Yanks don’t quit or lose (except when we do). War also means triumphant bipartisanship (at last!) as Republican Democrats, vengeful Republicans and nutty evangelicals, like Palin and Huckabee, rush aboard. Why do fundamentalist Christians so love war, only above torture, rendition, and secret prisons?
In This Corner: the Usual, Puny Suspects
Against this unified, rampant war party stands a motley crew: estranged Democrats, the smartest Afghan experts and terrorist analysts, idealistic clergymen, and irate, if tepid anti-war crowds. Will spineless centrists or Blue Dogs deny funding “for the troops” in a losing vote against their leadership? Don’t bet your lunch money. Other than replicating the ‘60s, with millions of street protesters and bloodied streets matching violence overseas, there’s no war opposition with critical mass. We need a general strike but, without a draft, have general apathy. Our economy is so invested in war-making, no president worries even about growing anti-war majorities. Push comes to shove, Obama’s war reinforces the worst Bush legacy: foreign policy not about diplomacy or negotiation, but armed violence more against non-combatants than cave-dwelling, national security threats.
Most weirdly, Afghanistan is a thrice-removed phantom war – not about winning, nor its marginal logistical value, nor miniscule resident 9/11 terrorists. No, we fight here because we can’t invade Pakistan (with nukes, 100+ million people, many anti-west, pro-Taliban fundamentalists). And to postpone inevitable Indian encroachment as bulwark against its arch-enemy Pakistan (remember Mumbai). We’re not alone as hunters of suicide bombers.
Asia: Still “Something to be skinned”
For six months, the left has complained about the growing fissure between soaring pledges and Obama’s consistently disappointing bottom line. Predictable or not, chronic bait and switch is a bitter pill to activists electing only the second, vaguely liberal president since 1976. If Obama cannot break the Afghanistan stalemate, or likely needs more troops (20K in the plans), that means enduring, mass frustration U.S. armed occupations trump indispensable peace negotiations on which the earth depends.
When Obama’s “trust more force” succeeds no better than Bush’s “stay the course,” history will judge both presidents badly, for allowing anti-terrorist incursions to become brutal, miserable wars against insurgents, in Bill Moyers’ words, “who will still be there when we are gone.” Teddy Roosevelt’s wiser, more humane stance towards conservation extends to overrunning Asia, “We have gotten past the stage, my fellow-citizens, when we are to be pardoned if we treat any part of our country as something to be skinned.” Will the Obama presidency, or the American empire, survive for long by treating Asia as “something to be skinned”?