THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Talking Smack

Obama Doubles Down on Bush’s Afghan Disaster

-“If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer,” Yogi Berra once said. President Obama should do the same.

The president’s recent interview with Canada’s CBC television network demonstrates that he doesn’t know much about Afghanistan. But that isn’t stopping him from talking about it–even while he escalates America’s war there.

“Well, I think Afghanistan is still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America,” he told his interviewer.

How is it possible for this well-educated man–like me, he went to Columbia, which had a superb history department–to be so ignorant? Afghanistan has never been a “launching pad” for a single attack, much less plural “attacks” against the U.S. (Or, as far as I know, Canadistan.) It’s true that, until 2000, there were a few camps in Afghanistan. But the vast majority of the training camps loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda or other militant Islamist groups were, and remain in, Pakistan. Moreover, most of the jihadis who trained there wanted to fight countries other than the U.S.: Chechens seeking independence from Russia, Uyghurs waging a low-intensity insurgency against China, Uzbeks trying to overthrow Uzbekistan’s dictator.

German intelligence officials have said that three of the 19 September 11th hijackers had attended such camps. But that’s an incidental fact. If you’re looking for the men responsible for 9/11, you need to start in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Well-connected religious fanatics and government officials in both countries conceived the plot, recruited its personnel, and provided the money. If jihadi training camps bother you, go where most of them are: Pakistan. Afghanistan never represented a significant threat to the United States. And it still doesn’t.

More disturbing still is Obama’s assertion that Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers are even likelier to die than in Iraq, is “winnable.” To be fair to the president, he admits that “you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means.” But the key word is “solely.” He’s not only keeping troops there–he’s sending tens of thousands more. U.S. and NATO occupation troops aren’t part of the solution; they’re a big part of the problem.

Hamid Karzai, the former Unocal oil consultant hired by Bush to run Afghanistan’s U.S.-supported puppet regime, knows this. “Entering by force our people’s houses is against the government of Afghanistan,” he told foreign dignitaries in Kabul in December. “This way the Afghan government will be destroyed and it will never be strengthened when in my country, the foreign soldiers go and arrest people, hit them and even kill them.”

But Obama isn’t listening. Just last week, another U.S. air strike killed 15 supposed militants in the northwestern province of Herat. Afghans, who live on the actual ground, said all 15 were civilians.

One quarter of all civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2008 were blown up in U.S. and NATO bombing raids.

“Throughout vast areas of the country, 2008 felt like a slow descent into hell,” wrote Chris Sands in The National, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. “Down in Kandahar the Taliban knew they were winning and so did just about everyone caught in the crossfire. Tribal elders who had initially sat on the fence now gave weapons and money to the rebels. They said the Soviet occupation had never been so brutal and, whether that is true or not, they clearly believed it.”

Bush never bothered to clearly define war aims for the invasion of Iraq. Obama is repeating Bush’s mistake in Afghanistan. What would victory look like? He can’t say. He’s all over the place.

“If you’ve got narco-trafficking that is funding the Taliban, if there is a perception that there’s no rule of law in Afghanistan, if we don’t solve the issue of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we’re probably not going to solve the problem,” Obama told the CBC.

The opium issue is more complicated than Obama says. True, the Taliban are buying weapons by taxing local poppy farmers. Put the farmers out of business by spraying their crops, however, and they won’t just pay a tithe–they’ll sign up as soldiers. But if the Taliban wins–an increasingly likely outcome–they may curtail or even eliminate opium cultivation as un-Islamic. Letting the Taliban win is likelier to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets of Amsterdam than staying the course.

U.S. and NATO forces aren’t the solution to anarchy in Afghanistan. They’re its cause. Before we came along, the Taliban had consolidated control over 95 percent of the country. Highways were safe. Rapists were executed. Warlords lived in exile. After the 9/11 the CIA brought back the warlords and showered them with bricks of cash worth tens of millions of dollars. Security vanished. Neo-feudalism took over. Allied forces have never lifted a finger to protect ordinary Afghans from the thieves and murderers in their midst; to the contrary, they installed many of them as officials in Karzai’s corrupt government.

If you were a U.S. soldier shipping off to Afghanistan, what would you think you were fighting for? Obama couldn’t tell you. I think I can: to prop up Karzai’s regime until a new-and-improved strongman can be found to replace him, then to prop him up. To flex military muscle against neighboring countries, most notably China, Iran and Pakistan. And to keep a shot at scoring a piece of the action if the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline oil and gas pipeline is ever finished.

It hardly seems killing, much less dying, for.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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28 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Talking Smack”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    is the last line meant to say::

    “It hardly seems WORTH killing, much less dying, for.”

    seems like there is a word missing…

  2. Anonymous Says:

    is the last line meant to say::

    “It hardly seems WORTH killing, much less dying, for.”

    seems like there is a word missing…

  3. Greg Says:

    When I heard in 2001 that we were invading Afghanistan, I did not protest because I hated the Taliban so much–they reminded me of our own Bible-clutching women-hating flag-humping Neo-Cons.

    Besides, I could not imagine Aghanistan being worse off under American occupation.

    Yes, my powers of imagination are not so good.

    Well, you can protest now, and maybe someone will listen this time.

    President Obama just announced another 17,000 for the grinder.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Great article. Funny how the Taliban halted opium production and the US couldn’t find common ground. Hmmmm… Dorme bene…

  5. Anonymous Says:

    P.S. Right before 9/11. Sheesh

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071809/

    Dorme bene…

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Freakin awesome could use a bit more bite but the best in print right now. Its all a scam

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Left out the part about the trade being run by elements of the U.S.

  8. Grouchy Says:

    Since the 70’s, The U.S.’s relationship with Afghanistan has been so hypocritical it boggles the mind.

    First the CIA funds bin Laden and gang to fight the Soviets–the Soviets falter, so the U.S. drops the Mujahideen, not needing them anymore. We all know how that turned out.

    Then there was the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 courting of the Taliban. If I remember the figure correctly, it was $10 million that they gave these repressive fundamentalists in hopes of getting the pipeline started.

    Ted’s last paragraph pretty much sums up why we’re there. Though I doubt “Obama couldn’t tell you.” I suspect Obama understands that what’s really happening. He knows that speaking the truth would be tantamount to political suicide.

  9. Grouchy Says:

    Since the 70’s, The U.S.’s relationship with Afghanistan has been so hypocritical it boggles the mind.

    First the CIA funds bin Laden and gang to fight the Soviets–the Soviets falter, so the U.S. drops the Mujahideen, not needing them anymore. We all know how that turned out.

    Then there was the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 courting of the Taliban. If I remember the figure correctly, it was $10 million that they gave these repressive fundamentalists in hopes of getting the pipeline started.

    Ted’s last paragraph pretty much sums up why we’re there. Though I doubt “Obama couldn’t tell you.” I suspect Obama understands that what’s really happening. He knows that speaking the truth would be tantamount to political suicide.

  10. Incitatus Says:

    Said Greg:
    When I heard in 2001 that we were invading Afghanistan, I did not protest because I hated the Taliban so much–they reminded me of our own Bible-clutching women-hating flag-humping Neo-Cons.

    Greg, that’s the problem with picking and choosing the wars you like, as most Leftists are wont to do. The so-called Libertarians have a much more consistent pro-peace stance.

    Perhaps it’s time to amend the Spanish saying: ¿Hay gobierno, hay guerra? ¡Soy contra!

  11. For the comment section's general education, Y_S Says:

    Nice coverage of the whole Afghan situation. Since you bought up the training camp thingy let me mention that they are set up to give basic infantry training to any man who seeks them. They are month long exercises in slightly remote regions which are done for the purpose of combat preparation ‘if’ the need arises.
    They can be considered analogous to the training that right wing groups volunteer for in camps in Montana and the farther reaches of the Mid-West.

    *******
    Good summation of US war aims. Might I also add “to strengthen and preserve NATO”?

    Sincerely

    Y_S
    Pakistan

  12. Y_S Says:

    btw Ted, as a journalist who was under surveillance, I think you should contact Keith Olbermann and inform him of the harassment you faced.
    After the publication of James Bamfords "Body of Secrets" Olbermann had on a whistle blower from the National Security Agency for the specific purpose of demonstrating that US Journalists within US Jurisdiction had been surveilled without a wiretap.
    As a Pakistani fan of yours I can inform you that all emails going out of the country are automatically stroed by the country's database for a MINIMUM of three months. With the advancement that storage technology has made since 2006 when this news emerged in Islamabad, I am sure they would be stored longer. What this means is that Ted, you are being surveyed from both ends.
    My recommendation? Go on Keith Olbermann. Not only would it publicise your cause, (the AT & T/Verizon guy's bugging) it would also bring publicity to a crime of the Bush administration. It would also bring you some much needed exposure and your fans could see you talking live on video (something all fans enjoy).

    A freedom of information act on yourself would also not be amiss.

    Take Care
    Good Luck

    Y_S
    Pakistan

  13. Aggie Dude Says:

    Technically it’s not talking smack, it’s talking heroin.

  14. maura Says:

    But if the Taliban wins–an increasingly likely outcome–they may curtail or even eliminate opium cultivation as un-Islamic. Letting the Taliban win is likelier to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets of Amsterdam than staying the course.

    Yeah, except not so much. I mean, I’m sure the Taliban winning would curtail opium production. But I can’t say I really care about that. I’m not the first, or even the 1000th, person to point out that the war on drugs is a failure and a joke.

    Drugs are a scourge, but so is the god-awful suppression of women the Taliban practices. Any advances that women might have made (might being the operative word) would disappear overnight if the Taliban won. There’s also the question of whether they were ever out of power.

    Not that anyone, including Obama, cares so much about the plight of Afghan women, or the production of opium, that they would invade, occupy and bomb the hell out of a country that was already living in the stone age. I gagged when Laura Bush announced her concern for the woman of Afghanistan. Those loud-mouthed, trouble-making, rabble-rousing feminists were talking about it in the mid-90s. It’s just that no one listened to them.

    There’s no doubt in my mind, Ted, that your last paragraph does sum up why we’re there. And, as Grouchy said, Obama could tell us. But he won’t.

  15. maura Says:

    But if the Taliban wins–an increasingly likely outcome–they may curtail or even eliminate opium cultivation as un-Islamic. Letting the Taliban win is likelier to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets of Amsterdam than staying the course.

    Yeah, except not so much. I mean, I’m sure the Taliban winning would curtail opium production. But I can’t say I really care about that. I’m not the first, or even the 1000th, person to point out that the war on drugs is a failure and a joke.

    Drugs are a scourge, but so is the god-awful suppression of women the Taliban practices. Any advances that women might have made (might being the operative word) would disappear overnight if the Taliban won. There’s also the question of whether they were ever out of power.

    Not that anyone, including Obama, cares so much about the plight of Afghan women, or the production of opium, that they would invade, occupy and bomb the hell out of a country that was already living in the stone age. I gagged when Laura Bush announced her concern for the woman of Afghanistan. Those loud-mouthed, trouble-making, rabble-rousing feminists were talking about it in the mid-90s. It’s just that no one listened to them.

    There’s no doubt in my mind, Ted, that your last paragraph does sum up why we’re there. And, as Grouchy said, Obama could tell us. But he won’t.

  16. SDS Says:

    Even the former Bushmen are critical of the militarization of Afghanistan.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090213.wcoessay0214/CommentStory/specialComment/home

  17. Incitatus Says:

    Maura,

    Don’t get me wrong, but you make it sound as if invading, occupying and bombing Afghanistan would be somehow justified if only it was really done to alleviate the plight of Afghan women. I hope I’m wrong.

  18. Susan Stark Says:

    Well, Incitatus, this is the moral dilemma for feminists regarding Afghanistan. Some argued that the invasion was necessary to “free Afghan women”.

    But I personally knew that George Bush had no intention of “freeing Afghan women”. The harsh rules of the Taliban were relaxed in 2002, but the suffering and repression of women are still there.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Greg,
    When I read this:

    “I did not protest because I hated the Taliban so much–they reminded me of our own Bible-clutching women-hating flag-humping Neo-Cons.”
    I thought, wow what an elightened intelligent open minded deep thinking Lib. So I went to your website you linked to. Do you know it’s not 1994 anymore?

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Ted,
    Yes they were Eyptian and Saudi
    fanatics who plotted 9/11 but definitely and emphatically there
    was never governmental involvement
    from these two countries.
    How governments collabrate with
    the poeple who wants to overthrow
    them. The terrorist hated the USA
    because it supported and propped
    these governments!! Check your sources, Ted. You are completely
    off the mark in this one.

  21. Grouchy Says:

    In early 2001, Bush gave $43 million in aid to the Taliban. (Not the $10 million that I remembered.) Read about it here: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20010604/20010522

    They certainly weren’t concerned about the treatment of women before 9/11 gave them the pretext to invade.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Are you attacking the war on Afghanistan or paving the way
    to attacks against Pakistan, Egypt
    and Saudi Arabia.!!??
    I noticed you alway critisize past
    wars where it is too late, a done deal and the damage is already done, but in the same breath you start harping about attacking something else using faulty informations! Is that ring a bell??
    Are you a closet neo-con or neo-liberal.?? Come on, fess up man!!

  23. Mark D Says:

    Canadistan?
    I believe the term is Afghan-ada.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    > invading, occupying and bombing Afghanistan would be somehow justified
    > if only it was really done to alleviate the plight of Afghan women

    Yes, it certainly would, but in fact no war has ever been fought for such a purpose, in the entire history of the world.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    > Yes they were Eyptian and Saudi
    fanatics who plotted 9/11 but
    > definitely and emphatically there
    was never governmental involvement
    > from these two countries.

    I think the hypothesis here is that states are responsible for preventing acts of non-state terror from originating within their borders, regardless of whether they approve or disapprove, and that states that don't stop such acts need to be replaced.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous answered “on 2/23/09 10:50PM
    “and that states that don’t stop such acts need to be replaced”

    That will enlarge the envelope to include almost most countries at
    sompe point of time.
    Following that logic, 9/11
    was hatched in Afghanistan, Germany and Spain. Do you want to
    invade Germany and Spain?
    That logic may also lead to false
    flag operations and framing and
    railroading any country!!

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Hey it’s The Bush Doctrine, not mine.

    I for one am not gonna cry any crocodile tears if somebody wants to overthrow Saudi Arabia. If there was ever a candidate for “nation building” and “exporting democracy” …

  28. Anonymous Says:

    Hey it’s The Bush Doctrine, not mine.

    I for one am not gonna cry any crocodile tears if somebody wants to overthrow Saudi Arabia. If there was ever a candidate for “nation building” and “exporting democracy” …

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