Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, July 26, 2010


What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! (Say it again.)

As you may know, for several years now I have been involved in day to day documentation of the Iraq war, and now the Afghanistan war as well, at Iraq Today. We're mostly just arm-chair aggregators, with the occasional tip-off to something interesting and a habit of linking to local Iraqi, Afghan, and international media.

So, I'm not an official expert on Afghanistan but I do know enough about the situation to tell you that there is nothing at all revelatory about the massive document dump on WikiLeaks. (Most people are probably going to the NYT for their digested presentation of the material, which is fine, but I actually like The Guardian's presentation, I think it's more accessible and better organized.)

First a note that seems strangely necessary: the leaked documents describe Dick Cheney's George W. Bush's war in Afghanistan, not Barack Obama's, which did not take shape until shortly after the leaked documents end. Nevertheless, they describe the situation that was known, or ought to have been known to Obama when he undertook his own version of a "surge," and it is manifest that the essential facts have not significantly changed.

The U.S. and its partners in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) generally cannot distinguish reliably between combatants and innocents, and in any case they are all to be found together. So, killing suspected or even firmly identified insurgents is likely to mean killing innocent people, just as likely including children as well as adults. We have long known this, obviously, but the documents show that most deaths of non-combatants done in our name, with our tax dollars, were kept secret from us.

There is no effective Afghan government, police, or military. Few Afghans have any primary loyalty to the fictional nation-state of Afghanistan. Local officials and police are incompetent, corrupt and more likely to be allied with local warlords, Taliban or other anti-government forces than they are with the Kabul-based government the U.S. is trying to establish.

In the vast, remote, impoverished, illiterate and tradition bound expanses of Afghanistan it is absurd to talk about foreign armies somehow holding territory. They can be in it, but they are not of it. When they leave, as they must, it will be unchanged.

Few, if any Afghans care about the United States or Europe except to the extent they want foreign forces to leave their country. The enemies of the occupation have not the slightest interest (or means for that matter) in attacking targets in North America or Europe. The violent Islamist cults that hatch such plots are not particularly in Afghanistan, indeed they are scarcely there at all. While some such elements are harbored in Pakistan, most of the people who turn up are in Europe and the United States. They may have had some encouragement from places such as Pakistan and Yemen, but never from Afghanistan. As Evo Poteski makes clear, the national security justification for the war in Afghanistan is nonsensical. The occupation of Afghanistan only inflames anti-American and anti-British sentiments among people who are nowhere near Afghanistan.

The purported alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan is a con job, and we're the pigeons.

Oh yeah -- have you heard about the federal budget deficit? And possibly you have heard something about bereaved American families and injured veterans, although perhaps not very much?

Here's how we salvage what we can from the Afghanistan debacle and achieve the best possible long-term result:

Get onto airplanes. Fly home.


robin andrea said...

And, we knew this long before the leak, but even with the leak the Afghan war policy won't change. So the question for me is, why?

What really bugs me is that this is Barack Obama's war now. It's like George Bush never existed, which of course, I wish he didn't, but still... what a drag in an election year. We're going to get a Congress full of Republicans.

Have you read this?

Cervantes said...

I hadn't seen it but Hedges is certainly right. Our obsession with celebrities and trivial ginned up controversies while stuff that is actually, like, you know, important is largely ignored does indeed seem to be reminiscent of earlier dying empires. Bread and circuses and all that. Also the moral hollowness of it all.