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No end in sight for the floundering “War on Terror”
With General David Petraeus, the architect of the surge in Iraq, speaking in Gaston Hall today, questions about the rise of American militarism and misguided nation-building projects loom larger than ever. In replicating the Patraeus strategy in Afghanistan, Obama ignored the lessons of history, the advice of foreign policy experts, and the views of the many Americans and Afghans who are tired of war and foreign intervention. Instead, our president urged U.S. forces to intensify their efforts in Afghanistan as a necessary step in the vague and unending “War on Terror.”
From the outset, the media portrayed the American-led invasion of Afghanistan favorably. It has also been called the “good war” or the “just war,” framed as a war that needs to be fought for the sake of national security and the annihilation of Al-Qaeda. Yet, in spite of the positive press, most Americans remain unconvinced. In a December poll conducted by CNN, only 43 percent said they were in favor of the war. After seven years in Iraq, the American public is unsurprisingly uneager to prolong another unnecessary fight.
Despite the eerie, Bush-like fear-mongering that dominated Obama’s speech at West Point—in which the president boldly declared, “We did not ask for this fight” and asserted that “there is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat”—foreign experts have consistently highlighted the dangers of committing another 30,000 troops and the impossibility of winning such a conflict. But it doesn’t take an expert to question the feasibility of stabilizing this ethnically diverse and decentralized nation, especially when both the British and the Soviets failed miserably in similar nation-building projects.
Perhaps the most crucial of the problems facing the American nation-building effort is the Afghan government’s abject lack of credibility. Hamid Karzai’s government has an embarrassing, almost negligible amount of respectability in the eyes of most Afghans. His new cabinet is a motley crew of warlords and criminals. Karzai has only barely managed to survive— desperately propped up by the American`s-led forces—and continues to receive our country’s support even though his recent re-election has been widely recognized as fraudulent.
There is also significant tension between Karzai’s government and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which has tried desperately to mask his government’s corruption. In a December issue of the British daily newspaper The Guardian, Peter Galbraith, a former UN deputy special representative who was fired for attempting to expose the massive vote fraud in the 2009 elections, noted the increasing desperation of the UN mission. “It has no credibility with the opposition and is not respected by Karzai,” he wrote. “A guy like Karzai does not respect someone he feels is in his pocket.”
Galbraith also noted that NATO’s efforts are undermining the UN’s authority in the nation. What supporters of the war have failed to acknowledge is the impact this surge will have on Afghan civilians. Apart from almost surely increasing civilian casualties, an increase in NATO forces runs the risk of attracting more disillusioned Afghans to resistance of foreign occupation. By further militarizing the conflict, U.S. policy risks making the Taliban’s grievances appear legitimate.
If Obama is truly intent on repairing America’s standing in the world, he has chosen a disastrously misguided route. Continued occupation of Afghanistan does not in any way make us safer—instead only solidifying the increasingly popular perception that the United States is an uncompromising, imperialist power. Like Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam, an unpopular and unnecessary war threatens to derail Obama’s ambitious agenda and ultimately define his presidency.
Most disappointingly, our president has accepted the dangerous and faulty logic of his predecessor’s “War on Terror,” buying into the idea that young Americans should be sent to die in foreign lands in order to protect the rest of us from an ill-defined enemy. Although Obama may feel courageous for not admitting defeat, it would take true courage to acknowledge we cannot complete an impossible task. This is an opportunity for Obama to truly live up to the change promised by his now distant presidential campaign—and put an end to unquestioned American military intervention.