The war in Afghanistan can now be dubbed "The Mystery War." Why call it a mystery war? The answer is one simple question: Why are we fighting it? The answers to that question are varied, enumerable, controversial, thoroughly confusing to everyone, and add up to zero sum.
Are we fighting for victory, the ages-old reason for going to war? Well, not exactly. Besides, that concept is laughable. Are we fighting for freedom and trying to establish a democratic government in Kabul? No, and that concept is equally laughable, if not more so.
Are we fighting to rid Afghanistan of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization? In a word, yes -- the President even said so in his withdrawal speech on June 22, although he did not use the W-word. He declared, "The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe haven from which al-Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies." However, columnist Eugene Robinson stated, "By that standard, we've succeeded. The troops can come home tomorrow -- all of them." The al-Qaeda leader is dead, and that organization no longer exists in Afghanistan. Robinson adds, "If, on the other hand, the goal is to leave behind a country that can never be used as a terrorist base, then success is impossible. No such airtight guarantee could be made about Canada, let alone Afghanistan. Have the president and his generals forgotten that much of the planning for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks took place in Germany?"
Nevertheless, the President has spoken. Unfortunately, both sides of the issue are in a quandary. He attempted to satisfy the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress, along with his liberal base -- which is screaming for the war to end. Consequently, he satisfied neither side, and both are expressing their angst on his decisions.
Not so incidentally, Obama never used the word "victory" in his speech. However, he did say, "We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place." So goes victory in a war or the freedom approach to creating a democratic Afghanistan. That is straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. As to the latter, that is a very good thing. For thousands of years, and several hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Afghan people have never trusted a central government. They instead, due to their primitive society, rely upon their tribal leaders for governance, because the tribal leaders are closer to the local needs. Readers, did you catch that? Tribal leaders, not provincial governors, nor mayors, nor city or village councils -- they rely upon their tribal chiefs. The U.S. could not change that society in a thousand years of war.
Obama was crystal clear on just one point: For now, the war goes on. Ultimately though, he provided no clear answer as to why this should be so. We need to search elsewhere for answers.
However, before we move on to the supposed reasons we are fighting this war, there is an ominous aspect to of all of this that has his liberal base going bonkers because they have seen it all before in a near decade of war. Even after 2014 was set as the date for completing U.S. combat operations and turning responsibility over to the Afghan government, Robert M. Gates and General David Petraeus, American commander in Afghanistan, regarded the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces as only an "aspirational [sic]" goal, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell. Moreover, Gates and Petraeus have assumed that the military must have the flexibility to continue the military engagement in Afghanistan indefinitely in order to avoid a collapse of the U.S.-NATO position and of the Hamid Karzai regime. Obama stated in his June 22nd speech, "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly , taking into account conditions on the ground." It doesn't take a genius to figure out where this is going.
Returning now to the reasons we are fighting this war, Gareth Porter of IPS states: "Gates has explicitly argued that failure in Afghanistan is unacceptable, regardless of the costs of the war." Visiting Kabul in early June, he said, "The most costly thing of all would be to fail." A reasonable person might ask why that is so. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We have been doing the same thing over and over again in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. From the President to Mr. Gates to the clerk in your local grocery store, we have all experienced failure in our lives. The solution is to acknowledge it and move on with life.
To Gates' credit, he has provided reasons for our war in Afghanistan -- which is more than I can say for Obama. The issue is whether or not they are substantive. Two reasons are mentioned above: to maintain the NATO alliance in Afghanistan (a self-sustaining philosophy) and support for the highly corrupt Karzai regime. Some may ask are these reasons to die for? Are these reasons why a young infant must go father-less or mother-less? Are these reasons why a young teenager must lose a leg or arm or his sanity? Are these reasons worth billions of borrowed money? Many think not, which is a problem for our Commander-in-Chief.
Gates has provided us with another reason for war, although somewhat disingenuous. Melvin A. Goodman writes, "Gates favors a continuation of current force levels in Afghanistan in order to move the Taliban to the negotiating table. He ignores the fact that the Taliban has demonstrated limited, if any, interest in negotiations." What pressure on the Taliban? What Taliban strongholds have been removed? What Taliban cities and provinces have been secured? When was the last NATO attack on a Taliban fortress and how many were killed or captured? In terms of recent memory, this writer has no clue -- and I have searched daily for two years. We are told of unending pressure on the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table, but we are not being told of any developments occurring in this phenomenon. The mystery deepens.
However, we do hear constantly of brazen attacks by the Taliban on NATO bases and convoys, along with numerous attacks on Afghan security forces. The most recent attack involved the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel in the heart of Kabul. Twenty were killed and eight were wounded. It seems the mayor of Kabul, Karzai, cannot even control events within his Capital.
Bearing all that in mind, here is a sobering thought: A U.S. official in the regional command headquarters at Khost pointed out to Washington Post reporters Joshua Partlow and Greg Jaffe last week, "The insurgents can win just by hanging on. And I think we're all aware of that."
Tom Engelhardt argues that the politicians in Washington are even declaring war on American lexicon. Victory: Like defeat, it's a "loaded" word and rather than define it, Americans should simply avoid it. He adds, "In his last press conference before retirement, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked whether the U.S. was winning in Afghanistan." He replied, "I have learned a few things in four and a half years, and one of them is to try and stay away from loaded words like "winning" and "losing." What I will say is that I believe we are being successful in implementing the President's strategy, and I believe that our military operations are being successful in denying the Taliban control of populated areas, degrading their capabilities, and improving the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces [emphasis is mine]."
Speaking as a Marine officer [ret.], I am appalled. Combat Marines are trained to fight for victory, hopefully, not dying in the process. That is their entire objective, and anything less than victory is not an option. They are not diplomats. They are Marines, and they fight. Yet, their Commander-in-Chief is telling them victory is not an option in Afghanistan. In his 13-minute speech on Afghanistan, he never mentioned victory over the Taliban. Imagine that. These guys are shooting at our troops and planting IED's that have killed and maimed many, and the objective is not victory over this enemy? That is insane.
Instead, my Marines and their invaluable counterparts in this war, have been given objectives by the President, their former boss in the Pentagon, and their soon-to-be former Afghan commander, that are nebulous, disingenuous, or downright impossible to achieve. These objectives include maintaining the integrity of NATO, supporting a thoroughly corrupt regime, training Afghans to kill Afghans in the name of Afghan security, and forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table. These are the reasons given to our young troops as to why they fight, why many will die, and why many will lose a leg or two. Is there any surprise why some lose their minds?
Is there any better reason to withdraw our people from this forlorn land...now!