Afghanistan Is Obama’s Gordian Knot

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Pfaff

2011-09-28T055836Z_1463891316_GM1E79S131I01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

U.S. soldiers from Charlie Battery, 321st Field Artillery Regiment fire a 155MM M777 howitzer at a Taliban enemy position from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostic, in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan September 28, 2011.   

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Useful advice can be found in the past. Gordius, King of Phrygia (in modern Turkey), tied an intricate knot, ever since called the Gordian knot. An oracle told Alexander the Great that whoever could untie it would master Asia.

Alexander drew his sword and slashed the knot. He then conquered the lands between Persia and Afghanistan, pushing on as far as the Punjab.

There his exhausted troops rebelled, and his retreat from Asia began.

The oracle should have known that the mastery of Asia ultimately belongs to Asians.

Barack Obama has promised a withdrawal of many or most American troops  from Afghanistan in the months to come. He has not promised the departure of the enormous State Department and mercenary force of state-builders and democracy-creators and defenders already there.

This, at least, is the plan—a bad and dangerous one that can be relied upon to fail because it refuses to face reality.

The Gordian knot by which this American project is bound is the simultaneous conflict and collaboration of the United States and nuclear Pakistan, certain to end in a wounded American withdrawal, if only because Pakistan lives, and has lived since antiquity, in this particular place in Central Asia, and the United States lives in a different world—geographically, psychically and morally—having arrived in Central Asia yesterday, and being destined to leave tomorrow.

The Gordian knot may be described as follows: The United States and Pakistan are formally allies. They are both at war in Afghanistan, the United States officially, to defeat (or come to a settlement that cannot be interpreted as a “defeat”) the Taliban, radical Muslim nationalist and fundamentalist fighters, and members of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. The Taliban are held responsible by Washington for collaboration with al-Qaida (or what is left of it) against America-in-Asia. At the same time, Washington is held responsible by the Taliban for invading and attempting to control their country, which they want to control themselves.

The United States and Pakistan are actually enemies, with opposed national interests. The Pakistani army clandestinely supports the Taliban, and has done so for many years, so that Afghanistan can eventually be ruled by their clients. Pakistan’s leaders look upon Afghanistan as furnishing strategic depth to their army in case of war with India—their great enemy since the partition of British India in 1947. The United States, in recent years, has been cultivating close relations and nuclear cooperation with India.

The United States and Pakistan are even close to declaring their enmity. The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune reported as much on September 27. There have been repeated Pakistani attacks on U.S. troops, “incidents” considered to be retaliation for American drone attacks inside Pakistan. The drones have targeted individuals and assets thought to be linked to the Taliban or enemies of the CIA.

Civilians have also been killed. The American command says civilians killed in drone attacks are accidental victims. The target selection system for the drones reportedly functions on visual- and radio-surveillance of suspected sites, which identifies everyone connected with these sites, including innocents. The drones are reputed to be considerably less accurate and discriminating than advertised.
The Haqqani network, another target, once part of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Russians, is currently described by some Americans as a group of criminals exploited by Pakistani army intelligence. The Haqqani have been accused of responsibility for the September 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy inside its fortified compound in Kabul. Last Sunday, there was also an attack, fatal to one victim, on Americans inside the CIA annex to the Embassy, by “an Afghan employee” of the CIA.

What is all of this accomplishing for the American taxpayers who are paying millions to finance both Afghan and Pakistani governments, while supporting their own expeditionary force, plus the Afghan army, and part of the NATO force which is inconclusively warring with the Taliban?

What American or Western interests are served in this Gordian entanglement of conflicting interests and useless casualties?

Obama has not dared to challenge the Pentagon because it holds him hostage politically due to his lack of military service. The military will not break off the war because they will not accept “defeat,” and they are driven by a confused geo-strategic notion of America’s need to dominate global energy resources for the future. Even a Republican president could find himself in Obama’s position, for which Republican politician has served in combat?

I can only imagine a noble self-sacrifice by a president, to save his country and people. Who will seize Alexander’s sword and slash the knot, ordering American troops, ships, spies, mercenaries, diplomats, aid workers and democracy promoters all home?

The United States since the Cold War has stubbornly resisted the principle that people must be responsible for themselves. The Afghans must settle their own national destiny. Pakistan and India know their own interests and must be responsible for them. An American president is accountable to the American people.

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

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The Unanswered Question in Afghanistan: Why?

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jim Hightower

America’s long, long war in Afghanistan has drained more than 1,500 precious lives and a trillion dollars from our country. But, finally, this enormous outlay paid off this year with the capture and killing of that al-Qaida demon, Osama bin Laden, who attacked America and was the reason our military went into Afghanistan.

Oh, wait — Osama wasn’t in Afghanistan, was he? He was comfortably ensconced in an urban compound in Pakistan, whose leaders are supposedly our allies in the bloody Afghan War. And it wasn’t the war effort that got bin Laden, it was old-time spy work, culminating in a raid involving a small team of Navy Seals, a dog and two helicopters.

So why have two presidents and a decade of Congress dumped so many lives and so much money into a country that poses no threat to us? Afghanistan is an impoverished, anarchic, largely illiterate land that’s split into ancient tribal factions and innumerable fiefdoms controlled by rival warlords. They have no desire or ability to attack us, some 8,000 miles away.

The only reason we’re given for being in Afghanistan is that we must keep the al-Qaida terrorists network from establishing bases there. But — like bin Laden — al-Qaida left this country years ago and now operates transnationally in Pakistan, Yemen, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, including England and Germany.

Yet, we’re told we must continue to pour American lives, dollars and reputation into Afghanistan. But … why? To create a central, democratically elected government with a 300,000-member army and police force, we’re told. But why? To stabilize the country, they say. But, why? To keep al-Qaida out, they repeat, closing the endless loop on a Kafkaesque rational.

Yes, President Obama has finally started a slow withdrawal of U.S. troops, but that’ll take at least three years, more than $300 billion and untold numbers of shattered lives. The questions remains: Why?

At least one person was giddy with excitement upon hearing President Obama’s announcement on June 22 that all of America’s combat troops would depart from Afghanistan by 2014: Hamid Karzai.

“A moment of happiness for Afghanistan,” exulted the incurably corrupt, inept, weak and pompous Afghan president. Our leaders put this ingrate in power, and both the lives of our soldiers and billions of our tax dollars have been spent to prop up his sorry excuse for a government — yet he’s the one saying “good riddance.” It puts the dumb in dumbfounding.

The dumbest and most shameful aspect of America’s 10-year Afghan War is the pretension that Karzai represents an exercise in democracy-building. Installed in the presidency by dictate of the Bush-Cheney regime in 2002, he is widely despised and ridiculed by the people and has clung to power only through flagrant electoral fraud, not only in his two presidential “elections,” but also in last year’s parliamentary contest.

Karzai was PO’d that 62 candidates he favored lost or were disqualified by the country’s independent election commission because of fraud. So, Hamid haughtily set up his own special court to review those results, while also bringing criminal charges against several of the independent election commissioners.

Last week, only one day after Obama’s withdrawal announcement, Karzai’s kangaroo court disqualified the 62 parliamentary winners, replacing them with his chosen ones. Of course, the 62 winners are refusing to budge from their seats. This has created a governmental stalemate, but that suits Karzai perfectly, for it allows him the defacto power to rule without parliament. As a top opposition leader puts it: “Karzai does not believe in the rule of law; he thinks democracy doesn’t work in his favor.”

It’s both insane and immoral for our leaders to cause even one more American to die for Karzai. Tell Obama to bring all of our troops home, pronto. The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111, or www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

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