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Obama's Afghanistan Strategy: Familiar And Still Wrong

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President Obama has issued orders for the implementation of his Afghanistan strategy to military officials and cabinet members. The plans include sending 55,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan (when counting the 21,000 he dispatched last winter shortly after his inauguration) as part of Obama's grand scheme to "finish the job." After this new escalation, more than half of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been sent by Obama.

What does "finish" and "the job" mean? Perhaps the president will enlighten us tonight during his speech at West Point, but for now, one has to assume the declaration in part means to build up the Afghanistan government and the military. It's time for those Afghans to start taking some personal responsibility! ABC News (11/30/09):

While tomorrow night's speech will have many audiences ... a senior administration official tells ABC News one key message will resonate with all of them: 'The era of the blank check for President Karzai is over... The president will talk about, this not being 'an open ended commitment'...

As Greenwald points out, this chatter is all very familiar. President Bush said of those freeloading Iraqis:

I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act.

And that's not the only similarity. Obama's Afghanistan goals and promises are virtually identical to Bush's Iraq plans:
  • A demand by the Occupier for the Occupied to take personal responsibility for the chaotic aftermath of their society, which was destroyed by the Occupier: 2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
A prerequisite to "taking personal responsibility" is that the government gets its act together, a dubious outcome for Afghanistan, Juan Cole argues.

Months after the controversial presidential election that many Afghans consider stolen, there is no cabinet, and parliament is threatening to go on recess before confirming a new one because the president is unconstitutionally late in presenting the names. There are grave suspicions that some past and present cabinet members have engaged in the embezzlement of substantial sums of money. There is little parliamentary oversight. Almost no one bothers to attend the parliamentary sessions. The cabinet ministries are unable to spend the money allocated to them on things like education and rural development, and actually spent less in absolute terms last year than they did in the previous two years. Only half of the development projects for which money was allotted were even begun last year, and none was completed.

I know what you're thinking: Sounds like Congress. Well, at least our representatives have the decency to show up to do nothing.

Nader Khan Katawazai, an MP from Paktika, complained that only 30 of the 238 MPs attended Monday's session. This is the government we are being asked to prop up with blood and treasure? Only 30 legislators bothered to come in to work?

President Karzai pleaded with the lower house of parliament on Monday to delay its winter recess by one week so that he can present his final cabinet nominees for confirmation. Karzai may be late presenting his list because he had to do some last minute swap-outs due to three of his current cabinet members being under investigation for corruption.


Even the supposed "good guys" are unpopular right now. Cole writes that there is "substantial dissatisfaction with the inability of many of them to spend the development money their ministries had in the kitty."

Seven ministries spent only 40% of their allocated budget in the past year, according to Pajhwok News. And, the sums expended on development projects declined 10% last year from the two previous years!

Let's repeat that. The Afghanistan government presides over the fifth poorest country in the world. It has millions of dollars in aid to spend for the betterment of its constituents. But it actually managed to spend less on these tasks this year than in previous years, despite having more money.

  • Demands for strict benchmarks:2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
  • A commitment to train troops so they can independently secure their country: 2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
  • Strengthening local leaders: 2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
The "Strengthening local leaders" part always amuses me because the Serious Experts never explain who these newly empowered leaders are. For some insight, I highly recommend reading this article by the extremely courageous Malalai Joya.

Joya calls Obama's decision to escalate in Afghanistan "worse than a mistake."

It is a continuation of a war crime against the suffering people of my country.

I have said before that by installing warlords and drug traffickers in power in Kabul, the US and Nato have pushed us from the frying pan to the fire. Now Obama is pouring fuel on these flames, and this week's announcement of upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will have tragic consequences.

Already this year we have seen the impact of an increase in troops occupying Afghanistan: more violence, and more civilian deaths. My people, the poor of Afghanistan who have known only war and the domination of fundamentalism, are today squashed between two enemies: the US/Nato occupation forces on one hand and warlords and the Taliban on the other.

The US government has a long tradition of paying off Afghan despots and hoping for the best. Most recently, it was alleged that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the CIA, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

Then there was Mohammed Qasim Fahim. After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Fahim became first defense minister and then vice president of Afghanistan. But before all that, he was the former senior commander of the Jamiat-e-Islami militia, and was named by Human Rights Watch in its 2005 report Blood Stained Hands as a key commander in the Afshar Massacre during which about 800 members of the Shia Muslim Hazara minority were killed in a bout of murder, rape and looting in a civilian area of Kabul in September 1992.

And let's not forget Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq, leader of the notorious Hezb-e Wahdat, which in late 2001-early 2002 targeted Pashtun civilians for violence because of their ethnic ties to the Taliban. Human Rights Watch reports that Hezb-e Wahdat engaged in widespread looting, violence, and rape. Mohaqiq moved on to become vice chair of the interim government and Minister of Planning where he used threats and intimidation against other delegates.

Are these the local guys we're strengthening?

A paper by the Afghanistan Research Reachback Center reiterates the military may be strengthening the wrong guys (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

[T]he desire for "tribal engagement" in Afghanistan, executed along the lines of the recent "Surge" strategy in Iraq, is based on an erroneous understanding of the human terrain. In fact, the way people in rural Afghanistan organize themselves is so different from rural Iraqi culture that calling them both "tribes" is deceptive. "Tribes" in Afghanistan do not act as unified groups, as they have recently in Iraq. For the most part they are not hierarchical, meaning there is no "chief" with whom to negotiate (and from whom to expect results). They are notorious for changing the form of their social organization when they are pressured by internal dissension or external forces. Whereas in some other countries tribes are structured like trees, "tribes" in Afghanistan are like jellyfish.

  • Rationalizing all of this because if we don't Al Qaeda will get us:2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
  • We do this because it is our moral responsibility to do so:2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
  • Everyone totally thought hard about all options before committing more troops: 2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
  • Michael O'Hanlon:2009-12-01-checkmark_943.jpg
Anyway, what this guy said:(Disclaimer: I always find it hilarious when Olbermann crows about the military-industrial complex on a daughter network of GE, one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world. Also, I think America lost its moral compass way before the start of the Afghanistan war, but aside from those hiccups, good speech.)

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.

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