Our Afghan War Is Crazy
by Jack Hunter
When the so-called “Bin Laden Hunter,” Gary Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan and returned to the United States last week, the media had fun lampooning the Colorado resident with his heart set on taking out Al-Qaeda’s top man. But Faulkner’s foreign policy is far more sensible than anything Washington continues to promote, and if forced to choose between the colorful construction worker and Obama—it is the president who is acting crazy.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, its alleged mission was not unlike Faulkner’s—to exact retribution against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for 911, including capturing or killing terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden. For most Americans, and indeed most of the world, the reasons for going into Afghanistan made sense.
Today, that war doesn’t make any sense. While there might have been near unanimous support for a kick-ass-and-come-home approach in 2001, almost nine years later, good reasons as to why we are still in Afghanistan are in short supply. Are we there to fight Al-Qaeda? According to Gen. David Petraeus, Al-Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan, a point reiterated last week by CIA Director Leon Panetta. Are we in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban? According to the Los Angeles Times in March, “The Afghan Taliban does not want to be seen as, or heard of, having the same relationship with AQ that they had in the past,’ said (a) senior official, who is familiar with the latest intelligence and used an abbreviation for Al Qaeda. Indications of Al Qaeda-Taliban strains are at odds with recent public statements by the Obama administration, which has stressed close connections among militant groups…”
Last week, after he announced the replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Petraeus, President Obama was asked by a reporter as he exited the Rose Garden, “Mr. President, can this war be won?” Of course, with a very serious war on his hands the president had no time for such an elementary inquiry. Neither does he have time or patience for, what he called on Sunday “a lot of obsession” about ending the war in Afghanistan, as he keeps getting nagged by the press and the entire world about when the US might finally withdraw some 100,000 troops from that nation.
Though the main focus of the controversial Rolling Stone article on McChrystal was the tension and disconnect between the now former Afghanistan commander and the Obama administration, the article was primarily about the utter futility of the war. Author Michael Hastings wrote “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. ‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win’ says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. ‘This is going to end in an argument.” Retired Col. Douglas MacGregor, an architect of Operation Desert Storm, was even more blunt about our prospects in Afghanistan, telling FOX News host Judge Andrew Napolitano, that our presence is a “hopeless endeavor” and a “bottomless pit.”
Today, it is almost considered impolite to bring up our original reason for going into Afghanistan, and such bothersome questions have obviously become annoying to the president. Yet, what is crazier—a man still so enraged by 911 that he insists on going after the top Al-Qaeda terrorist all by himself, or a government that has largely forgotten about Bin Laden and is far removed from its original, stated mission, yet still keeps fighting? Faulkner had a definite and clear cut goal that directly targeted our primary enemy. Our government’s commitment remains unclear and indefinite, yet it bizarrely still claims to be focused on enemies our top leaders admit are no longer in Afghanistan. If it is true that Faulkner embarked on a highly improbable mission, it is even more true that America foolishly continues on its mission impossible.
Our foreign policy is more like a foreign permanency, something columnist George Will breaks down well, “Those Americans who say Afghanistan is a test of America’s ‘staying power’ are saying we must stay there because we are there. This is steady work, but treats perseverance as a virtue regardless of context or consequences, and makes futility into a reason for persevering.”
If there was ever a good reason for going into Afghanistan, we can be certain our leaders have forgotten it at this point, and it’s amusing to see so many now laughing at the one man who insists on remembering—even if to a ridiculous fault. On June 13, Pakistan officials found Faulkner in the woods of northern Pakistan with a pistol, a sword and night vision equipment, trying to help fight the war on terror. The saddest part is that this isn’t even true, as although we are certainly at war and Islamic terrorists still exist—what one has to do with preventing the other is something this president and his officials still can’t make clear. And Faulkner’s approach might have been crazy but this government’s approach is damn near criminal—as we continue fighting the longest war in American history for no apparent reason at all.
|America's Identity Crisis|
Coming to terms with imperial decline.
By Blake Sifton
In the aftermath of the trauma suffered by the American psyche on 9/11, the United States lashed out blindly and irrationally in fear and anger, deploying its military to the corners of the world and weakening itself in the process. Now, over eight years later, with the economy in shambles and the military overstretched, the sun is setting on the American empire and experts say it’s time for the US public to accept their country’s declining prowess, pressure their government to reduce its global military footprint and prepare for a looming national identity crisis.
Political psychologists believe that the shock and horror of the 9/11 attacks damaged the collective American consciousness, causing the country to stumble forward with a misguided and self-destructive foreign policy intended to destroy an exaggerated enemy.
Dr. Deborah Larson, a political psychologist at UCLA, explains, “9/11 removed a sense of invulnerability that Americans had felt, and fear sprang from the uncertainty. We overreacted and tried to gain control of the world to eliminate even a small probability of being attacked. It was totally irrational.”
Dr. Richard Hermann, Director of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University, says, “A weird combination of fear, panic, anger and crude patriotism made us obsessed with an exaggerated threat. The administration’s leadership watched this with excitement and believed it was their chance to shape the world.”
Though the United States has maintained a massive military presence around the world since the end of World War II, the reach of US forces expanded quickly after 9/11. Besides the huge undertakings in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military also established US Africa Command, expanded its presence in Latin America, began launching constant drone attacks in Pakistan, recently approved the sale of over 13 billion dollars in arms to Taiwan and is currently setting up missile defense systems in Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait among other countries.
With upwards of 800 bases in 120 countries, the United States continues to spend almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined at a time when the economy is plummeting and many Americans are struggling.
Wayne Madsen, an investigative journalist and former Navy intelligence officer, believes that military overreach is eroding American power rather than projecting it: “The extension of US influence abroad is unsustainable and unaffordable and it weakens us politically, militarily and financially. We’re trying to be the Roman Empire and we’re going the way of them.”
Dr. Hermann worries that the money spent on military engagements will hurt America’s competitiveness in the future: “We’re spending 100 billion a year in Iraq alone. You could take the top 20 universities in America and fund them, make them free for everybody every year we’ve been there. It’s a terrible opportunity cost that we’ve paid.”
A psychological shift is underway in the United States as the evidence mounts and there is growing public awareness of the detrimental costs of maintaining such a large military. Dr. Hermann explains that a public suffering through the recession is more concerned about its financial well-being than its physical safety: “If you’re unemployed and you’re getting foreclosed on, you’re a lot less worried about al Qaeda.”
Nevertheless, political psychologists believe that guilt keeps the average person from speaking out against the economic effects of imperial overreach. “Only a small fraction of the public is willing to serve in the military and I think the rest of the people feel guilty that they aren’t enlisted and essentially get a free pass. They might not like it but they feel if they have to pay tax dollars its okay,” explains Dr. Hermann.
It is perhaps ironic that the American public still fears terrorism despite being bled dry maintaining the strongest military in human history. “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” says Madsen, “These are ragtag people living in caves.” Hermann is frustrated by the contradiction in military spending and the threat faced: “There is a big disconnect here. There is huge spending on the military but at the same time an understanding that the military can’t protect us against the most likely attacks.”
Guardian columnist and London School of Economics professor Martin Jacques is an expert on the rise of China. He feels that many Americans hold on to delusions of grandeur to keep their pride afloat, denying the reality of waning US power.
“The decline of American power will entail the progressive reduction of American overseas military commitments,” he says. “But a nation in decline finds it extremely difficult to let go. It’s a reluctant process and a form of retreat.”
Jacques watched his own country go through the painful ordeal. “Britain was very reluctant to let go, not just the political elite but also the people. They lived an imperial role and didn’t like losing it. It gave them status, it gave them power and the knowledge that it was our role and responsibility in the world.”
“The military enjoys a very privileged position in the American mind, and the same experience will be had in the United States.”
Military superiority is very closely tied to the American identity and many believe that continued public support for imperial overreach stems from a desire to maintain prestige rather than from pragmatic security concerns.
“It’s very disorienting to lose your national identity. Part of being an American means knowing that you are part of the most powerful military state,” explains Dr. Larson, “If the US were to withdraw from various parts of the world, people would fear that we were declining and were no longer a hegemon. We would lose a lot of our national pride and prestige.”
It is time for the US public to accept that the military cannot maintain a global monopoly on violence and that rather than protecting and enriching them, imperial endeavors invariably become costly, never-ending counterinsurgency campaigns against dedicated, dug-in enemies.
In order for the American psyche to forge a new identity in the face of shifting realities, the US public must demand the change that their president promised, must urge leaders to scale back overseas military commitments, focus on education, technology and innovation and embrace a global leadership role rooted in soft power and diplomacy.