Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"The Best of the Worst": Obama and Afghanistan

by Norman Markowitz

These are brief responses to President Obama's speech calling for a major troop increase for Afghanistan last night. A good friend and colleague of mine, a non Marxist economist of progressive views who supports the administration strongly(and who was born in India) called the speech the "best of the worst" in regard to the it being the best face that you could put on what is a bad and hopeless policy. For the policy to work, my friend noted, the U.S. would need at the very least two things---clear support and positive development from the government of Afghanistan and clear support and positive development from the the government of Pakistan. Neither, my friend contended was a serious possibility, much less a likelihood, and I agree strongly.

President Obama contrasted Afghanistan with Vietnam and became the first U.S. president to concede that the U.S. was fighting against a popular movement and mass forces in Vietnam, unlike Afghanistan, which is essentially true. But the Soviet Union in support of the Afghan Communist party and in opposition to the rightwing Muslim guerrilla-terrorist forces who directly threatened the security of what were then Soviet borders wasn't fighting against a popular movement and mass forces either, but against brutal warlords and the groupings who later became the Taliban---this in a context where the Soviets were much more knowledgeable about the ethnocultural realities of the region and were supporting a government which, however, ineptly, was struggling to bring about a social economic revolution in one of the most backward impoverished regions of the world. And of course, the Soviet intervention ultimately was a disaster.
The U.S. in the Reagan and Bush I years aided and abetted the rightwing guerrilla war in Afghanistan to the tune of billions, working with and through its Pakistani henchmen, who are still in place. In the process, it created both Al Qaeda and the later Taliban regime, which came to power in the mid 1990s after defeating the warlords who fought with each other after they seized Kabul in 1991. A decade later came the World Trade Center Attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan, the disastrous Iraq War, and now a situation where there is an ineffective corrupt government based in Kabul, rival warlords and Taliban forces engaged in warfare against U.S. NAT0 forces, themselves and the Afghan people. There is no military solution in Afghanistan and, frankly, it is difficult to see any solution which would benefit the people of the region, even any effective "pacification" program, which another more conservative colleague of mine, an ancient historian, says only worked thousands of years ago with the invasion of Alexander the Great and his forces.

Even if one believes that the military "surge" worked in Iraq(which I don't) there is no reason to believe that it can work in Afghanistan, which is a very different place, with an economy whose major export is opium for heroin, an economy far far below Iraq in both its level of productive forces and potentialities.

My economist friend contended that the only real policy that makes sense is to work to achieve regional economic cooperation, which would bring India, China, Russia and a number of former Soviet Republics in with Afghanistan and Pakistan to work to create developmental projects and trade that would raise Afghan and Pakistani living standards. These are good ideas. In terms of military action, I would say that this should be undertaken by regional powers with the assistance of the United Nations, not the U.S. NATO bloc, whose members after all bring with them the history of colonialism and imperialism.

President Obama has taken a very wrong turn in Afghanistan, both for his administration and for the U.S. and for the people of the region. As Dennis Kucinich said on CNN, it gets away from the question of jobs, what is happening with the trillions given to Wall Street, the major problems facing the working people of the U.S. who elected Obama to focus on those problems, not to continue what has been a thirty year adventure in Afghanistan, beginning with the decision of the Carter administration to "aid" the Pakistani backed Muslim guerrillas fighting the Afghan Communist government in 1979 in order to provoke a Soviet intervention that would lead them to "fall into the Afghan trap." Yesterday, Obama took a big step into that trap. Those of us who want this administration to succeed in regards to the promises it made to the people in 2008 have the duty to fight against this policy, which only aids the forces of reaction in Afghanistan and in the U.S.
Norman Markowitz