Obama has spent several weeks deliberating on how to respond to McChrystal and the worsening military situation in Afghanistan. "Reliable sources" now say that Obama plans to send at least 30,000.
If he does so, it will become harder to say no to each succeeding request for escalation, just as it was for President Johnson in Vietnam. Thousands more American soldiers and Afghan civilians will lose their lives and hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars will be wasted.
The standard argument of those who support our continuing war in Afghanistan is that, as President Obama said last August, "If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans." This rationale collapses under scrutiny.
The remnants of the Afghan al Qaeda are now living in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. If they want to plan another operation, why can't they do it there (or elsewhere)? Much of the planning for 9-11, according to the 9-11 Commission report, was done in Karachi, Pakistan and in Hamburg, Germany.
The government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai is utterly corrupt and incompetent. On August 20, Karzai "won" the first round of this year's presidential election by massive fraud. When he agreed to a second round, his opponent dropped out, claiming that the second round would also be fraudulent because it would be run by the same election officials. On Nov.2, Karzai became the winner by default.
President Obama immediately recognized Karzai as the "legitimate" president of Afghanistan. He said that he told Karzai by phone "The American people and international community as a whole want to continue to partner with [Karzai] and his government." When I heard this, I wanted to shout: "Not in my name!"
Afghanistan produces 92% of the world's opium. The domestic profits from this trade are a major source of funding for the Taliban insurgency and are also distributed to many members of Karzai's government (including Karzai's brother). Ironically, when the Taliban were in power, they banned poppy cultivation and nearly wiped out opium production in 2000.
Supporters of the Afghan war often claim that it will liberate women from oppressive treatment by the Taliban. In fact, under the Karzai regime women are regularly beaten at home and murdered if they become politically active. According to a July 8 report of the UN's Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, "[Afghan] women are denied their most fundamental human rights and risk further violence in the course of seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them."
For America to continue to fight alongside a corrupt and oppressive Afghan government is downright irrational. Obama's apparent willingness to escalate may in part be out of fear that if he were to start a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, he and the Democrats would be hammered by the GOP as "soft" on defense or terror.
This fear is a symptom of an underlying militarism that has gripped our culture and shaped America's conception of its role in the world.
There is an important difference between having a strong military and militarism. The proper role of a military is to defend the nation from external aggression. It is only one of many means by which a nation, through its government, secures its way of life.
In a militaristic nation, the military becomes the predominant function of government. There is a means-end reversal in which the nation's resources are increasingly subordinated to the preservation and expansion of a military establishment (including defense contractors).
According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ((3-10-09), the number of American bases outside the U.S. is between 865 and 1000. This empire of bases includes 227 in Germany. The entire planet is divided up into five American military "commands" ( NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM AND PACOM). The purpose of many overseas bases is to preposition heavy military equipment. These bases are platforms to which the U.S. can quickly airlift personnel for offensive operations.
Fred Kaplan of Slate.com reports that the annual U.S. military budget (including current projections for Iraq and Afghanistan) is $713 billion, roughly equal to the total military expenditures of all other nations combined. Yet we are told that we can't afford to provide health insurance for all our citizens.
We have spent trillions of dollars in three strategically unnecessary wars (Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) in the last half-century. They cost the lives of about 63,000 American military personnel and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
We fear to look "weak" anywhere in the world, and this makes us afraid to stop waging an unnecessary war. Our greatest national weakness is the militarism that causes this fear.