Barack Obama has decided to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 21,000 additional soldiers he ordered there earlier this year. This will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to over 100,000.
Millions in the U.S. and around the globe are undoubtedly asking why Obama, who was elected with what many viewed as an anti-war mandate, has decided to escalate what is an increasingly unpopular and seemingly unwinnable war.
Opposition to this decision has already begun to mount. As popular filmmaker (and Obama supporter) Michael Moore wrote on his website, “If you go to West Point … and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple.”
According to an AP-GfK poll taken in early November, 57% of Americans now oppose the war, and 54% would oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan (11/5-11/9/09). Protests are being organized in cities across the country against the surge, as the anti-war movement attempts to regroup.
Recent months have seen U.S. casualties in Afghanistan reach their highest point in the entire 8-year war, as the Taliban have gained in strength throughout the country. Morale among U.S. soldiers is deteriorating, reflected in what the NY Times labeled a “near epidemic” of suicides among troops, with Army suicides rising by 37% since 2006, including 16 in October.
$232 billion has already been wasted by the U.S. on the war in Afghanistan, and thousands of lives lost in 8 years of war, and for what? All the justifications originally floated for the war – from liberating women, to bringing democracy, to preventing the spread of terrorism – have lost their credibility. Afghanistan remains the fourth poorest country in the world – and the second most corrupt (Transparency International, 11/17/09).
Thousands of ordinary Afghans have been killed by U.S. and NATO airstrikes and military operations, including over 100 civilians in Farah province in May, where, the NY Times reported, "The bombs were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies. Several villagers said that they could not distinguish all of the dead and that they never found some of their relatives." As the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan put it, “What have the people of Afghanistan received from the Coalition? They lived very poorly before, and they still live poorly — but sometimes they also get bombed by mistake” (Newsweek, 2/9/09).
The bombings of civilians has generated major anger among the Afghan population toward the foreign occupiers. Yet this is just one aspect of the brutality of occupation and the puppet government in power. Officials in the Canadian government are currently under fire for turning over prisoners to the Afghan intelligence service, which routinely tortured them, with the Canadian military’s knowledge. In Germany, the military’s top general was just forced to resign from the government for his role in covering up civilian deaths in a September 4 airstrike, the largest bombardment carried out by the German military since World War II.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government is marred by corruption. As Malalai Joya 30-year-old women’s rights activist who was ousted from her position in the Afghan parliament by right-wing religious fundamentalists and warlords put it, “Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords… The U.S. brought the same misogynist warlords back, and the only difference between the Taliban period and now is that all of these crimes are happening in the name of democracy.” (Independent (UK), 7/28/09).
Yet even the claims of bringing democracy will no longer hold, as the recent elections, which the U.S. hoped to use to provide a façade of democratic legitimacy to the occupation, were marred by massive fraud. Journalist Michael Boyle writes in The Guardian, “An election that had been designed to bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan government has had precisely the opposite effect, producing a president elected only through widespread and systematic fraud. Worse still, a counter-insurgency strategy dependent on improving the legitimacy of the Afghan government has foundered as the US finds itself in a similar position to the one it faced in South Vietnam: supporting an illegitimate government with a diminishing ability to control its own territory, all the while trying to find a way not to lose the war” (11/3/09).
The real reason for the continuation of the war has to do with the prestige of U.S. imperialism, which, already reeling from the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, cannot afford to admit defeat simultaneously in Afghanistan. Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan reflect his accommodation to serving the interests of the U.S. corporate and military elite, despite the hopes of many who voted for him that Obama would be an “anti-war” president. In addition, Obama and leading Democratic Party strategists likely fear being labeled as “weak” on defense by the Republicans and fear the electoral consequences of this (even though this decision is likely to further the growing disillusion of the Democratic base). Similar calculations drew the Johnson administration into the quagmire in Vietnam during the 1960s, at great cost to the Vietnamese people and social programs in the U.S.
Once again, to defend the power and prestige of U.S. imperialism, hundreds of thousands more U.S. soldiers must be torn from their families to risk their lives in an unpopular, unjust military occupation. For this, the Afghan people must continue to suffer the humiliation of a foreign occupation propping up a corrupt government of warlords and the rich. Hundreds of billions more dollars must be wasted on bombing and occupying one of the world’s poorest countries.
Justification for Escalation
In his speech, Obama presented the war as necessary in preventing the Taliban from returning to power and providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda to operate. Yet, as his own national security adviser, General James Jones, admitted: “The Al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies” (AP, 10/7/09). Further, Al Qaeda’s attacks have been largely planned and coordinated from within Western Europe.
Far from protecting ordinary Americans and others around the world from the threat of terrorism, escalating the war in Afghanistan will only further aggravate the underlying problems at the root of terrorism, including the anger at the brutality of the U.S. occupation, which has been responsible for numerous bombings of wedding parties and innocent civilians in their homes, as well as disgust with the injustice of the corrupt Karzai regime. This comes on top of outrage at the invasion of Iraq, the torture of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon’s unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians, U.S. support for Israel’s brutal war in Gaza, etc.
Obama’s speech also outlined a “timeframe” for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.S. exit strategy is based on increasing “Afghanization” of the war, meaning training more Afghan soldiers and police to take over security from U.S. and NATO forces. However, thus far this process has been a near complete disaster, despite the claims of U.S. officials. According to professor Thomas H. Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason,"[T]he U.S. military touts 91,000 ANA soldiers as 'trained and equipped,' knowing full well that barely 39,000 are still in the ranks and present for duty” (Foreign Policy, 8/20/09).
As journalist Ann Jones reports, “When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through Afghan National Army training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name… In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training… American trainers have taken careful note of the fact that, when ANA soldiers were given leave after basic training to return home with their pay, they generally didn't come back.”
Jones concludes, “Why is it that Afghan Taliban fighters seem so bold and effective, while the Afghan National Police are so dismally corrupt and the Afghan National Army a washout?… The Taliban fight for something they believe -- that their country should be freed from foreign occupation. "Our" Afghans try to get by… "our" Afghans are never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seem about to ratify in office, despite incontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud.” (TomDispatch, 9/20/09).
The months of deliberation and debate over how many troops to send reflect the mounting anxiety among U.S. political and military leaders over the situation in Afghanistan, and the lack of any real solutions to the crisis they face.
Economic Costs of War
To pay for any escalation, Congress will have to approve supplemental funding, on top of the $65 billion already allotted for the war in Afghanistan for 2010. The Congressional Research Service estimates that every additional U.S. soldier in Afghanistan will cost $1 million a year, potentially doubling the $3.6 billion a month already being spent on the occupation (thehill.com, 10/14/09). The U.S. has already spent $233 billion on occupying Afghanistan, and the costs to sustain it now surpass those of the war in Iraq (costofwar.com).
This heightened war spending comes as U.S. workers and families suffer from skyrocketing unemployment, and state and local governments face budget shortfalls forcing cuts in social services, tuition increases, etc. The Obama administration has called for all domestic agencies to prepare to freeze or cut spending by 5% next year (AP, 11/13/09).
Military spending knows no such limits, however. According to the nonpartisan budget monitoring magazine Government Executive, the Obama “administration’s request for $538 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 2010 and its stated intention to maintain a high level of funding in the coming years put the president on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II.” The cost of expanding the war in Afghanistan will only add to this amount.
The Republican spin machine is already moving into top speed, calling for postponing health care reform until war funding is approved, and calling for cuts in domestic spending to pay for the war. Many analysts say Obama is likely to need their votes in order to gain approval for expanding the war.
Yet As Michael Moore wrote in an open letter to Obama on Afghanistan, “Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, "No, we don't need health care, we don't need jobs, we don't need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, 'cause we don't need them, either… What would Martin Luther King, Jr. do? What would your grandmother do? Not send more poor people to kill other poor people who pose no threat to them, that's what they'd do. Not spend billions and trillions to wage war while American children are sleeping on the streets and standing in bread lines.” (MichaelMoore.com, 11/30/09)
Rebuild the Anti-War Movement
Obama’s troop surge will not provide any solution to the problems in Afghanistan, but rather only lead to increased violence and drag the U.S. further into a quagmire, with no end in sight.
The anti-war movement, largely scattered and disorganized and perhaps at its weakest point since early 2002, desperately needs to reorganize itself to build the strongest possible movement against the war in Afghanistan. The growing opposition among ordinary Americans, not to mention people all over the world, provides a huge opportunity, if activists are prepared to seize it.
Activists in many cities are organizing emergency response demonstrations against Obama’s decision to escalate the war. Groups should consider organizing demonstrations on December 10, when Obama receives the Nobel Peace Prize, pointing out the hypocrisy of this award and using it to mobilize people against the war. These can be the jumping off point for revitalizing local and national anti-war coalitions, drawing in new activists – including some who may have been in elementary school when this war started 8 years ago. Since Congress will have to approve any funding for the war, senators and representatives can become a focal point for actions.
Ultimately, stopping the war in Afghanistan and the continued crimes of U.S. imperialism is going to require a real challenge to the two-party system. The fact that the Democrats now control the White House and Congress, and yet we are witnessing an escalation of the war, a growing military budget, and the continuation of policies favoring Wall Street bankers (with, at best, minor reforms for working people), shows how the Democrats are also a party of war and big business, beholden to their corporate backers and defending the same fundamental interests as the Republicans, despite their differences. Independent anti-war, anti-corporate challenges in the 2010 elections to any Democrats who vote to fund the escalation and continuation of the war would be a step in the direction of what is really needed in this country – a new, fighting political party that stands for the interests of workers and youth and in principled opposition to unjust wars and occupations.
For more analysis, see: Afghanistan: An Inescapable Quagmire