April 8, 2009
As President Barack Obama launches a military effort that promises to dwarf
the Bush administration’s Iraqi adventure in scope and intensity, the "progressive"
community is rallying around their commander in chief as obediently and reflexively
as the neocon-dominated GOP did when we invaded Iraq. As John Stauber points
out over at the Center for Media and Democracy Web site, the takeover of
the antiwar movement by the Obamaites is nearly complete. He cites MoveOn.org
as a prime but not sole example:
built its list by organizing vigils and ads for peace and by then supporting
Obama for president; today it operates as a full-time
cheerleader supporting Obama’s policy agenda. Some of us saw
this unfolding years ago. Others are probably shocked watching their
peace candidate escalating a war and sounding so much like the previous administration
in his rationale for doing so."
up on this in The Nation, John Nichols avers that several antiwar
groups are not toeing the Afghanistan-is-a-war-of-necessity line, including
Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, and the American
Friends Service Committee, yet there is less to this than meets the eye.
Naturally, the Friends, being pacifists, are going to oppose the Afghan "surge"
and the provocative incursions into Pakistan: no surprise there. Peace Action
is not making a whole lot of noise about this, in spite of the issue’s relative
importance. They are confining their opposition to an online
petition. As for UFPJ, their alleged opposition to Obama’s war is couched
in all kinds of contingencies and ambiguous formulations. Their most recent
public pronouncement, calling for local actions against the Af-Pak offensive,
for "good statements on increasing diplomacy and economic aid to Afghanistan
and Pakistan." Really? So far, this "diplomacy" consists of
unsuccessfully finagling the Europeans and Canada to increase
their "contributions" to the Afghan front – and selling the American
people on an escalation
of the conflict.
Although energized and given a local presence nationwide by a significant pacifist
and youth contingent, UFPJ is organizationally dominated by current and former
members of the Communist
Party, USA, and allied organizations, and you have to remember
that Afghanistan is a bit of a sore spot for them. That’s because the Kremlin
in our folly of attempting to tame the wild warrior tribes of the Hindu Kush
and was soundly defeated.
The Soviet Union did its level best in trying to accomplish what a number of
liberal think-tanks with ambitious agendas are today busily concerning themselves
with solving the problem of constructing
a working central government, centered in Kabul, which would improve the lot
of the average Afghan, liberate women from their legally and socially subordinate
role, eliminate the drug trade, and provide a minimal amount of security outside
the confines of Kabul – in short, the very same goals enunciated
by the Bush administration and
now the Obama administration. The Kremlin failed miserably in achieving
its objectives, and there is little reason to believe the Americans will have
In retrospect, the Soviet decision to invade and create a puppet government
propped up by the Red Army was arguably
a fatal error, one that delivered the final crushing blow to a system already
moribund and brittle enough to break. The domestic consequences inside the Soviet
Union – the blowback, if you will – sounded the death
knell of the
Communist system and revealed the Kremlin’s ramshackle empire in all its
military and moral bankruptcy.
What is to prevent the U.S. from courting a similar fate, at a time when our
economy is melting down and the domestic crisis makes such grandiose "nation-building"
schemes seem like bubble-think at its
That’s where the pro-war progressive think-tanks come in: their role is to
forge a new pro-war consensus, one that commits us to a long-range "nation-building"
strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are the Center
for a New American Security, explicitly set up as home base for the "national
security Democrats" who make up the party’s hawkish faction; Brookings;
and, last but not least, the Center
for American Progress, which was an oasis of skepticism when Team Bush was
"liberating" Iraq, and a major critic of the occupation. Now the leadership
of CAP is making joint
appearances with the neocons over at the newly christened Foreign Policy
Initiative and issuing lengthy white papers outlining their Ten
Year Plan [.pdf] for the military occupation of Afghanistan.
Not only that, but they are moving to the front lines in a battle against Obama’s
antiwar opponents, with the Nichols piece – which merely reported growing opposition
to Obama’s war on the Left – eliciting a testy
response from CAP honcho Lawrence
Korb and one of his apparatchiks. In it, the CAPsters aver, wearily, that
none of this is new – the "schism" within the "progressive community"
over Afghanistan is "long-standing" – and they remind their audience
that the release of CAP’s latest
apologia for occupying Afghanistan is hardly precedent-setting. After all,
their two previous reports supported precisely the same position, which was
by Obama during the 2008 campaign: Iraq was the wrong war, Afghanistan is the
"right" war, and the Bush administration diverted vital resources
away from the latter to fight the former. Now that Obama is doing what he said
he’d do all along – escalating and extending the Long War on the Afghan front
– CAP is supporting him. It’s as simple as that.
Still, it’s perhaps perplexing to those who followed the debate over the Iraq
war to see CAP in the vanguard of the War Party. Or, as Korb & Co. put
"Given our organization’s (and our personal) long-standing assertion
that a U.S. military withdrawal from the war in Iraq was and is a necessary
precondition for Iraq’s competing parties to find a stable power-sharing equilibrium,
perhaps it comes as a surprise to some that we would 'now’ call for such a
renewed U.S. military, economic, and political commitment to the war in Afghanistan."
Well, yes, now that you mention it, this cheerleading for Obama’s
war is a bit of a turnaround for CAP and the Washington "progressive"
community. Their Stalinesque about-face – which recalls the disciplined
hypocrisy of Communist cadre who were just as fervently antiwar in the moments
before Hitler invaded Russia as they were pro-war every moment since – requires
some explanation. Korb, however, is not very forthcoming. He does little to
refute objections to the occupation of Afghanistan, which would seem to reflect
the very same critique leveled at Bush’s conquest of Iraq. Yet we get relatively
little out of him, except the bland assertion that "Afghanistan is not
Iraq." Not convinced yet? Well then, listen to this: "Unlike the war
in Iraq, which was always a war of choice, Afghanistan was and still is a war
There, that ought to quiet any qualms about embarking on a 10-year or more
military occupation and a hideously expensive "nation-building" effort
in a country that has defied would-be occupiers for most of its
One searches in vain for a reasoned rationale for the Afghan escalation, or
even a halfway plausible justification for lurching into Pakistan,
either in Korb’s brief and dismissive piece for The Nation or in CAP’s
[pdf.] 40-plus page defense of the administration’s war plans. The latter is
long on sober assessments of how difficult it will be to double-talk the American
people into supporting another futile crusade on the Asian landmass, and it
has plenty of colorful graphics, including one showing how much they want the
U.S. troop presence to increase over the next few years. Yet this "war
of necessity" concept is never explained beyond mere reiteration, although
there are a few subtle hints. At one point, the CAP document, "Sustainable
Security in Afghanistan," declares:
"Al-Qaeda poses a clear and present danger to American interests and
its allies throughout the world and must be dealt with by using all the instruments
in our national security arsenal in an integrated manner. The terrorist organization’s
deep historical roots in Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan place it at
the center of an 'arc of instability’ through South and Central Asia and the
greater Middle East that requires a sustained international response."
If al-Qaeda has "deep historical roots" in Afghanistan and Pakistan,
then they run far deeper in, say, Saudi
Arabia – where most of the 9/11 hijackers were from. If we go by Korbian
logic, that merits a U.S. invasion and decade-long military occupation of the
Is it something in the water in Washington, or is it just the water-cooler
in CAP’s D.C. offices?
Yes, by all means, let us examine the "deep historical roots" of
al-Qaeda, which originated in what Korb obliquely refers to as "the anti-Soviet
campaign." This campaign
was conducted by the U.S. government, which armed, aided, and gave open political
support to the Afghan "mujahedin," who were feted at
the Reagan White House. Supplied with Stinger missiles and other weaponry,
which enabled them to drive the Red Army out, al-Qaeda developed as an international
jihadist network in the course of this struggle, which later turned on its principal
sponsor and enabler. None of this, of course, is mentioned by the authors of
the CAP report.
Shorn of sanctimony and partisan rhetoric, what the advocates of Obama’s war
are saying is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are Osama bin Laden’s home turf,
and the 9/11 terrorist attacks give us the right to militarily occupy the country,
in perpetuity if necessary, in order to prevent a repeat.
This argument lacks all proportion and belies the Obamaites’ appeals to "pragmatism"
and "realism" as the alleged hallmarks of the new administration.
Beneath the unemotional language of faux-expertise – the technical analyses
of troop strength and abstruse discussions of counterinsurgency doctrine –
a dark undercurrent of primordialism flows through the "progressive"
case for a 10-year war in the wilds of Central Asia. The unspoken but painfully
obvious motive for Obama’s war is simply satisfying the desire of the American
people for revenge.
It is certainly not about preventing another 9/11. The biggest and deadliest
terrorist attack in our history was for the most part plotted and carried out
in the U.S., right under the noses of the FBI, the CIA, and all the "anti-terrorist"
agencies and initiatives that had been created during the Clinton years. Earlier,
it was plotted in Hamburg,
Germany, and Malaysia, and the plot advanced further still in a small town
Having concluded that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil is for all intents
and purposes practically inevitable, the U.S. government during the Bush era
decided to take up an offensive
strategy, to go after the terrorist leadership in their "safe havens."
The Obamaites, likewise disdaining a defensive strategy, have continued this
policy, albeit with a simple switch in locations and the application of greater
resources. They have furthermore determined – without making public any supporting
evidence – that these alleged terrorist sanctuaries are located in Afghanistan
and Pakistan. The president has even broadly hinted that Osama bin Laden himself
is in Pakistan’s tribal area. One presumes we are supposed to take this on faith:
after all, the U.S. government would never lie to us, or exaggerate the known
facts – would they?
The CAP report is mostly a rehash of liberal interventionist bromides, paeans
to multilateralism (which ring particularly hollow in view of Obama’s recent
to get more than a measly 5,000 European troops out of NATO), and pious pledges
to build clinics, schools, and walk little old ladies across crowded streets
even as our soulless armies of drones wreak death
This use of robots to do our dirty work recalls the bombing of the former Yugoslavia,
during which American pilots dropped their deadly payloads from a height of
20,000 feet. Sure, it made for somewhat
dicey accuracy, but better Serbian "collateral damage" than American
casualties. The same lesson applies to the Af-Pak war: better a lot of dead
Pakistanis than a few downed American pilots. The U.S. death toll is already
rising rapidly enough, and the shooting down of an American pilot over Pakistani
territory would surely draw unwelcome attention on the home front, as well as
cause an international incident. We can’t have that.
I am truly at a loss to describe, in suitably pungent terms, the contempt
in which I hold the "progressive" wing of the War Party, which is
now enjoying its moment in the sun. These people have no principles: it’s all
about power at the court of King Obama, and these court policy wonks are good
for nothing but apologias for the king’s wars.
They are, however, good for an occasional laugh. I had to guffaw when I read
the phrase "arc
of instability." This is supposed to be a reason – nay, the
reason – for a military and political campaign scheduled to continue for at
least the next 10 years. Well, then, let’s take a good
look at this "arc," which, we are told, extends "through
South and Central Asia and the greater Middle East." From the shores of
Lebanon to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan, and most places in between, that
"arc of instability" defines the geographical extent of U.S. intervention
in the region from the end of World War II to the present. If any single factor
contributed to the instability permeating this arc, then it is the one constant
factor in the equation, which has been the U.S. presence and efforts to dominate
What is Korb’s – and CAP’s – solution to the problem of regional instability?
Why, more of the same. This will lead, as it has in the past, to more blowback
and an increase in the support and capabilities of the worldwide Islamist insurgency
we are pledged to defeat.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I am told that we are now enabling comments in a limited number of original
articles, including this column. Have fun, and keep it clean.