Afutilestan (VI): Obama’s Decision


Back to the future in Afghanistan

Irony often has the most exquisite timing. Today President Obama announces a massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan, doubling the number of troops that Bush left behind. And next week he travels to Oslo to pick up his Nobel War Peace Prize.

So, what did those three months of careful deliberation net us? Apparently Obama has decided to give General Stanley McChrystal nearly everything he put on his Christmas wish list, with NATO expected to make up the difference. No hard dates for withdrawal, such as are operative now in Iraq. Not even benchmarks to measure progress. But hold on to your hats—we get a “timeframe.” And maybe a rhetorical bone or two to keep his progressive base in line, like “triggers.”

Or is that “off-ramps”? It can all be just so confusing when you’re trying to placate your “change you can believe in” political base while allowing the military-industrial-medical-financial complex to continue pursuing business as usual.

Given Obama’s considerable oratorical skills, we’ll likely be served a really impressive helping of pretzel logic tonight to explain a number of contradictions in the whole Af-Pak narrative. Like how driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan improves the situation there, when everyone agrees that Pakistan with its nukes is by far the more strategic concern. Or how a counterinsurgency policy that depends on a viable, non-corrupt Afghan government can succeed when that government has no incentive to behave as long as the Americans are there to keep the Taliban at bay; who as everybody knows, would eagerly welcome Al Qaeda back despite the fact that last time they hosted them they succeeded in burning the house down.

Then of course there are the cultural contradictions of trying to transform a misogynist tribal society into something resembling a modern 21st century democracy; or getting them to accept the presence of an occupying army when they’ve kicked out every such force, including the Russians and the British,  since the time of  Alexander the Great.

As for how he expects to pay the additional $30-40 billion annual cost of the extra troops, let alone billions more in civil reconstruction funds, Obama isn’t worried—that’s Congress’ job. After all, if they can figure how to pay the continuing costs of the Iraq occupation, which on the surface seems to be winding down with regular troop reductions, only to be replaced, and then some, with even more expensive private contractors, then paying $100 billion per year for the Afghanistan escalation should be a piece of cake.

Yep, war is about the only thing the US has left to export these days. Two-time Congressional medal of honor recipient General Smedley Butler wrote about his role as corporate America’s chief enforcer in the early 20th century. Appropriately enough, he titled his memoirs:  War is a Racket.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.


  1. Propagandee Propagandee

    Yo Fearguth:

    It’s instructive to contemplate that before Reagan became president, the US was the world’s largest importer of raw materials and its biggest exporter of finished goods (with all the jobs that implies); but is now the world’s largest exporter of raw materials and biggest importer of finished goods, primarily from China (and all the lost jobs that implies). You can thank Bill Clinton’s trade policies for enabling that.

    And whereas exports used to account for 20% of our GDP, while financial services accounted for 10%, those ratios have been exactly reversed. Manufacturing jobs have been lost, replaced by the kind of junk financial instruments that brought the whole world’s economy to its knees. You can thank Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the commodities industry and his repeal of Glass-Steagall for that, as well.

    On a related note, the US used to be the world’s biggest creditor, lending money to developing countries, but is now the world’s biggest debtor, with China holding the lion’s share.

    There is a reason that the Ruling Class spends so much time and money buying both parties. Given the way things are turning out, historians might just describe them as witting or unwitting agents of the Chinese government.

    Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

    Gotta dig out my “Chung Kuo sci-fi series, set 200 years in the future, in which China replaces the USA as the world’s only superpower. From Bob Newell’s site

    Chung Kuo is a two-million-word, nineteen-book epic that brilliantly fuses Shogun and Blade Runner to rival the scope of Frank Herbert’s Dune or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. In a genre of big ideas and even bigger books, this is the biggest and most ambitious of them all.’

    Set 200 years in the future, the Chung Kuo sequence introduces a world dominated by China. History has been rewritten and the West forgotten. There is no official record of Shakespeare, Mozart or Einstein and any reminders of the past are literally buried under mile-high, continent-spanning cities. An ornate, hierarchical society of 34 billion souls is maintained only by unremitting repression. Revolution seems inevitable but in such an overpopulated world any change could spell the end of humanity.

    Chung Kuo has been over twenty years in the making. Eight books were published between 1988 and 1998, with rights sold in fourteen different territories. In 1988, the idea of a world dominated by China seemed outlandish, but two decades later, Chung Kuo’s vision of the future seems all too plausible. The series has been recast in nineteen volumes, including a new prequel and a new final volume. After a series launch in May 2009, Quercus will embark on an ambitious publishing programme that will see all nineteen volumes available by the end of 2012.

  2. Propagandee Propagandee

    mary b

    Maybe it was just a moment of cognitive flatulence, or maybe it’s because he is on the cusp of retirement and just doesn’t give a shit about pointing out the pink elephant in the room, but during CBS News’ post-speech analysis, Bob Schieffer blurted out to Katie Couric:

    How can we do this? And how can we understand the logic of it?

    Have a pretzel with that beer, Bob.

  3. Avatar mary b

    “Then of course there are the cultural contradictions of trying to transform a misogynist tribal society into something resembling a modern 21st century democracy;”

    Never gonna happen.

    Pretzel Logic.
    I like that.
    (also was a great Steely Dan song/album)

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