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Comment
Last Updated: 12/01/2009
Military Escalation Will Harm Afghan People, US Interests
John Nichols

"I know that Obama's election has brought great hopes to peace-loving people in the United States. But for Afghans, Obama's military buildup will only bring more suffering and death to innocent civilians..."

-- Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya


The only humane and proper response to the mess in Afghanistan is the rapid withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from that country.

The makers of the brilliant documentary "Rethink Afghanistan" have after interviewing savvy diplomats, honest intelligence operatives and frustrated military men and women -- as well as human rights activists, feminists and sincere reformers in Afghanistan -- concluded that:

Expanding the war in Afghanistan will make Americans less safe, not more so. Less than 100 members of Al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan. The Karzai government we once supported is controlled by warlords and is riddled with corruption. Pakistan's stability will be gravely imperiled by an expansion of the war. Hundreds if not thousands of troops will be killed, along with countless civilians.

Anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world will be inflamed by civilian bloodshed, facilitating recruitment by terrorist organizations. The war will cost billions of dollars when we can least afford it, and will stymie your domestic agenda. The cost of sustaining a military force in Afghanistan is $1 million per soldier per year – that's close to $100 billion dollars annually with the troop increase. With the economy in shambles, the deficits generated by these enormous costs will compromise your domestic legislative agenda both fiscally and politically.

The United States has no vital interest in Afghanistan. If you choose to further escalate troop levels in Afghanistan, you will be making the biggest mistake of your presidency.

These points are have been confirmed again and again by savvy observers who have been on the ground in Afghanistan, including Americans such as Matthew Hoh, a decorated military officer and diplomat who until this summer served as the senior U.S. civilian official in that country's strife-torn Zabul province.

Says Hoh: "The presence of our ground combat troops is not doing anything to defeat al-Qaida."

So what are our troops doing there?

"We're involved in a civil war in Afghanistan," explains Hoh, who recently resigned from the U.S. foreign service because of his objections to the occupation. "We're only taking one side in that civil war. And, our presence there is only encouraging the civil war to go on."

Hoh and others like him, in the U.S. and Afghanistan, are the voices of reason.

Unfortunately, it appears that President Obama has chosen not to listen to the voices of reason.

Instead of preparing to bring the troops home, all indications are that Obama is preparing to dramatically extend the U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan, and in the dirty work of defending what is unquestionably one of the most corrupt and cruel governments on the planet.

There is no need to worry about whether the president -- who will announce his long-delayed response to the request by some generals for a troop surge in Afghanistan on Tuesday -- is misguided, befuddled or scared of taking more criticism from Dick Cheney.

It does not matter.

What does matter is that Obama's expected decision to surge of as many as 34,000 additional troops into a quagmire that is turning more deadly, destructive and expensive with each passing day represents a rejection of the counsel of diplomats, intelligence operatives and retired military commanders -- all of whom have said that Afghanistan is not the frontline, or even a line, in the war on terror.

So what will U.S. troops be doing in Afghanistan?

The president and his aides would have us believe they are on some sort of humanitarian mission.

This is not the case.

The U.S. troops who are now occupying Afghanistan are honorable men and women.

They are good soldiers.

But they have been sent on a bad mission.

They have been placed in the awful position of defending the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai, who secured the presidency of Afghanistan through foreign interventions, intimidation and election fraud.

Karzai is a despicable despot. The notion that one drop of American or Afghan blood would be shed in his defense is not just unsettling. It is grotesque.

Obama should be listening to the honest democrats and feminists in Afghanistan, who have for a number of years now been arguing for an end to a U.S. occupation that protects Karzai's warlords and drug runners while doing nothing to improve the circumstance of the great mass of Afghan people who did not choose Karzai or his corruption.

In her compelling new book, A Life Among the Warlords, Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya concludes her call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from her country with a direct message to the American president who is now in a position of deciding her country's fate:

I hope that the lessons in this book will reach President Obama and his policy makers in Washington, and warn them that the people of Afghanistan reject their brutal occupation and their support of the warlords and drug lords.

In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women's rights for decades. Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops. As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves.

Matthew Hoh, the decorated U.S. soldier and diplomat, agrees.

"It's really a question of these people wanting to determine their own existence and… govern themselves," he says, in arguing for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan.

Obama appears to have rejected the counsel of the true democrats, the true feminists and the true reformers in Afghanistan and in the United States.

But the American people should be listening to the honest dissenters from a dishonest policy.

No matter what arguments this president attempts to muster, no matter what fantasy he attempts to spin about how things will be made better by a deeper and longer occupation, no matter what vague promises are made about an eventual exit strategy, this occupation is wrong.

It needs to end.

And it can end responsibly.

Matthew Hoh offers a reasoned, experience-based proposal for an exit strategy:

You're either characterized as all in our all out, and that's wrong. I don't think anyone is calling for us to completely wash our hands of Afghanistan and just walk away. When I call for withdrawal I call for stopping combat operations because it just doesn't make any sense; all it does it just prolong the conflict. I call for some kind of political reconciliation to end the fighting there. So a withdrawal would have to be somewhat gradual while negotiations were going on.

The proper response to the president's announcement is to recognize that the president is wrong.

Then act. Join groups such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action and Progressive Democrats of America, in arguing that: "We need an exit strategy from Afghanistan."

Call Congress and say: "This occupation is wrong. It is not making America any safer. And it is making the lives of the great mass of Afghan people worse, much worse. So don't give the president the money he expand the occupation. Provide the funds needed to organize an responsible and orderly withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Bring the troops home and let the people of Afghanistan begin -- with appropriate humanitanian aid -- to rebuild their country as something other than the a playground for brutal warlords, drug runners and the rest of Hamid Karazi's cabal of cruelty and corruption."

This article is cross posted from John Nichols' blog "the beat". The original article can be accessed through the Nation: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/501535/military_escalation_will_harm_afghan_people_us_interests


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