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Obama's War Rests on Dubious Assumptions

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Headlined to H1 12/5/09

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A quick analysis of President Obama's speech on Afghanistan suggests that it relies on several dubious propositions. He is backing up an Afghan government that, to the extent that it exists at all is largely a hub of corruption. He is relying on eventually turning the war over to Afghan security forces that seem to be a fictional extension to the basically nonexistent Afghan government. He is sending troops to Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida bases that for the most part are in Pakistan. Furthermore, he began his speech on a note that should arouse skepticism among critical thinkers. In invoking the memory of the 3000 people who perished on September 11, 2001 to justify his actions he is resorting to the innuendo that the Bush administration has used to justify a war on the Muslim world.

Recounting a brief history of events since then, Obama reiterates a theme that he has used repeatedly of blaming our current situation on his predecessor. In this case, he does so with much more subtlety. While that may have some truth to it, he understates the lack of legitimacy of the Kharzai government. He does not mention that this government at best only controls parts of the capital city of Kabul.

While admitting that the recent elections in Afghanistan were "marred by fraud", he says that the government is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution. The critical thinker may question the legitimacy of these laws and constitution. Are they for real or are they a device for fooling ourselves into believing that we can remake this remote, tribal nation in our own image? Do they have any meaning to the average Afghan?

Obama asserts that Al-Qaida retains safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. To the extent that these safe havens really exist, are they present in Afghanistan at all? To the extent that they exist at all, isn't the important point that they are located in areas that are not readily accessible to military forces, be they American, Pakistani, other NATO, or Afghani? Will a surge of our military into Afghanistan destroy safe havens not in Afghanistan?

Later on in his speech Obama asserts that this area is the "epicenter" of al-Qaida extremism. He says that we have "apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror." Early on in his Presidency he had strongly implied that he bought into the story of the mountains of Afghanistan as a nesting ground for terrorist plots to be carried out by individuals who crossed many borders into advanced nations. Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the 9/11 attacks were carried out as we were told, does that mean that other attacks, such as the bombings in Bali, London, and Amman, would require the centralized planning and control that we are told characterized the 9/11 attacks? If the alleged safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan were destroyed, does that mean that al-Qaida's operational capabilities would be destroyed with them? Is it not possible that the keys to al-Qaida's capabilities lie in its use of international financial and communications networks and networks of alienated Muslims residing in urban areas? If al-Qaida actually strikes in these areas, are they not best foiled by law enforcement? Al Gore said in his book The Assault On Reason that many of the 9/11 terrorists were already on terrorist watch lists. Had there been better coordination among our authorities, the 9/11 attacks might have been foiled at far less cost in lives and resources. FBI agents in the field had reported suspicious activities at flight schools but were ignored at the highest levels of the Bush administration. A highly-publicized plot based in London was foiled because decent Muslims living in Britain informed on the plotters. It should be troubling that stories of plots originating in far-off bases are put forth without any supporting evidence or details. Obama invokes innuendo in place of fact to justify war.

Another aspect of Obama's presentation that seems dubious is the notion of Afghan security forces. Are these for real? Absent an actual central government, to whom are these supposed security forces responsible? The people of Afghanistan defeated the Soviet Union. Why then do they need our training? Obama asserts that "it will be clear to the Afghan government - and more importantly, to the Afghan people they will ultimately be responsible for their own country." I propose that the people of Afghanistan were running their own country long before the great powers violated their borders. He further asserts that previously, Afghanistan was terrorized by the al-Qaida forces within its borders. Was it al-Qaida or the Taliban who were terrorizing the people of Afghanistan? Moreover, will the people of Afghanistan accept the notion that alien forces from a faraway land combined with the armed forces of a terribly corrupt government will protect them from the Taliban? This looks an awful lot like Vietnam, even though Obama tells us that this is different. The differences he cites are more illusory than real. There were forces from other nations such as South Korea and Australia involved in Vietnam, to no avail. While our enemies in Afghanistan may not be exactly the same as the enemy in Vietnam, the similarity of a people set upon by a foreign army with awesome firepower but no organic connection to the people whose land they are occupying outweighs the differences.


President Obama rightly understands that al-Qaida must be denied fertile ground from which to base its operations. He specifically mentions Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Our presence in Afghanistan, however, may actually legitimize al-Qaida in the eyes of millions of Muslims as a force fighting the infidels invading the Muslim world. He says that the Pakistani people have turned against the outside extremists who have infiltrated their country and that the Pakistani army is now waging offensives against the Taliban within their borders. To the extent that this is true, they are doing so without the help of American forces.

President Obama concludes by asserting that our country is different because we do not seek world domination. The majority of the American people want to believe this assertion. Unfortunately, the picture that is emerging of our role in the world does not particularly fit the image of the benign protector that we imagined ourselves in the years following World War II. Rather, the metaphor that comes to my mind is that described by George Orwell in his prophetic work, 1984. The world of its protagonist Winston Smith is one where his country is perpetually waging war in some frontier area of the world against an unspecified enemy. The people are constantly told that their country is on the verge of victory. One can easily imagine Obama's war becoming a realization of Orwell's prophetic vision.

 

I am a sometime software quality assurance engineer who lives in Martinez, California. These days I amuse myself by playing harmonica. The harmonica is a wonderful musical instrument. It is easy to play, expressive, cheap, and portable. I always (more...)
 
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