By Dave Lindorff
How pathetic a scene was this: The president of the United States, commander- in-chief of the mightiest war machine the world has ever known, sneaking into one of the poorest countries in the world and meeting with the corrupt leader of that country, where he has committed 100,000 troops to battle, to beg with that corrupt leader to "clean up" his corrupt and profoundly inept government.
Already, a thousand American soldiers as well as many civilian aid workers, not to mention tens of thousands of innocent Afghans, have died in an eight-year war that the US launched in 2001, originally with the intent solely of ousting the existing Taliban government and destroying the bases of mostly Arab fighters who had been assisting the Taliban in their fight against Russian-allied warlords.
Over the years, with the Al Qaeda fighters destroyed or pushed out of Afghanistan, the war has grown and morphed into a grinding and so far losing battle against indigenous Taliban fighters and Afghan nationalists and tribalists who are trying trying to drive out the US. But after eight years of fighting, the goal of the war, on the American side, has only become less and less clear.
That goal now appears to be: crushing the Taliban and creating a modern, functioning nation state with a government that at least has the grudging respect of the populace.
But none of that is really likely to happen.
The US military recently staged a fake, movie-set battle in a rural area of southeastern Afghanistan, claiming it was assaulting a large town of 80,000, allegedly infested with Taliban fighters--an alleged center of the insurgency. With the support of an either duped or incredibly corrupt US press corps, the military went into the area, which was actually a group of scattered farming villages with a central market, claiming it would operate under new rules of engagement designed to protect civilians, and then, after clearing out the Taliban, set up a model government administration.
Things went badly from the start, when the Marines fired a rocket salvo into a home and killed 12 innocent civilians, including children. In the end some 30 civilians were killed, very few actual Taliban fighters were killed or captured, as they fled the scene in the weeks leading up to the highly advertised offensive, and to cap it off, the Afghan soldiers who hung behind as the Marines went into the area, when they did finally enter the battle zone themselves, proceeded to strip the market area, stealing anything of value.
A new "mayor" brought in from outside to administer the "liberated" Marjah region, turned out to be a killer and a thug. So far, a month after the end of the fighting in Marjah, there is no clean new administration there, and there probably never will be. The focus of the US military is now on the one-million population city of Kandahar.
Good luck to the civilians living there.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the war in Afghanistan, scraped together a cheering section of 2500 US marines and soldiers to give some "Boo-yahs!" to the visiting commander-in-chief, but it's hard to believe that the rest of the over 70,000 US troops in the country are cheering. (And forget the NATO "allies," most of whom are preparing to pack it up and go home.)
The government US forces are propping up is so weak and corrupt that it doesn't really "rule" anything but the capital city of Kabul, and it, and its police and army enforcers, are largely viewed by the majority of Afghans as little more than an official mafia. It is well known that President Hamid Karzai stole the last election and thumbed his nose at world opinion (his opponent simply quit the race in disgust during the ballot counting).
And it was this usurper Karzai whom the visiting Obama was left to plead with to clean up the mess of a government he runs. Clean up how? Karzai's own brother is a leading warlord and opium baron. Even the country's opium crop is being left untouched by US forces, for fear of alienating the country's farmers, so we're actually in there fighting to defend the world's leading producer of opium for the heroin trade! How on earth do you "clean up" a government in a country like that?
Incredibly, as stupid and pointless and immoral as was the war in Iraq, Obama has found himself mired in an even more stupid, pointless and immoral war in Afghanistan. And because he has chosen, in his first year in office, to escalate that war instead of wind it down and end it, and has doubled the rate of US casualties in that war, President Obama now cannot do the right thing and end it even if he wants to, because then, how to explain all those pointless deaths? Instead, he is forced to clap soldiers, perhaps some of them already doomed, on the back in the cafeteria at Bagram Air Base, and tell them, in an echo or George Bush's famous sneak visit to Iraq, "I'm proud of you. You guys are doing great work, each and every day."
What a pathetic joke. The only thing missing was the plastic turkey.
But then again, at least there was a turkey there.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net