The Supreme Court recently ruled that the post-9/11 laws against "materially supporting" terrorist groups should be very broadly interpreted. Even counseling any group on the official list of terrorist organizations about peaceful topics is now to be considered "supporting terrorism." Which leads me to wonder what they'd say about actually paying a terrorist organization tens of millions of dollars.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Because to understand the conclusion, first we have to take a look at what is happening in Afghanistan. While the Washington world is all a-twitter (and even all a-Twitter) over today's ouster of General Stanley McChrystal from his job of overseeing the American war effort in Afghanistan, I'd like to instead take a step back to look at the bigger picture of our war effort, and what it realistically hopes to achieve. Because at this point, even the best-case scenario isn't looking very rosy.
Charting the worst-case scenario, at this point, is fairly easy to do. America could wind up failing to achieve any meaningful objective in Afghanistan and abandon it to whatever fate next has in store for the beleaguered country. The probability of this happening is anyone's guess, but even if President Obama decided to bug out of the country entirely, it likely wouldn't happen for a while.
So instead, we turn to what could wind up becoming America's definition of "success" in our Afghanistan effort. The new counter-insurgency strategy is to take over territory the Taliban now controls, hold onto these gains, and then build government structures which are responsive to the citizens in the area (and not riddled with corruption). So far, this has not exactly been a smashing success, by any definition.
The first "test case" was supposed to be Marjah, where NATO forces were going to rid the town of Taliban influence, quickly followed by civil authorities setting up what was termed "government in a box" -- flooding the town with civil servants answerable to the central Afghanistan government. While early (and breathless) American media reports painted this effort as a success, the reality on the ground is that the "government in a box" concept has left a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. This does not exactly bode well for the upcoming major objective of taking over Kandahar (which McChrystal recently postponed).
The model for the Afghanistan "surge" of American troops we are currently in the midst of was supposed to be what happened in Iraq. But -- again, keeping to the best-case scenario -- you cannot overlay the success of the "Sunni Awakening" to Afghanistan without ultimately making peace (or at least calling some sort of truce) with the Taliban itself. This has become obvious in the diminished objectives America even has for Afghanistan at this point. We're not trying, at this point, to completely defeat and disband the Taliban -- rather, just to harry them in a sort of limited-warfare sense until they decide that it'd be easier to be friends with America and President Karzai than to continue fighting. And, incidentally, for the Taliban to sever all ties to Al Qaeda and assist us in hunting them down and destroying them. Or at the very least, to push them back into Pakistan and rid Afghanistan of them once and for all.
To be blunt, what we achieved in Iraq was to turn the Sunni populace by paying them a form of "protection money." We paid them money to stop shooting at our soldiers, and instead shoot the people we directed them to shoot. This, crass as it sounds, actually paid off in a big way. It probably led to the turnaround in Iraq more than any other one factor (including the "surge" of soldiers itself). But applying this to Afghanistan means paying off the Taliban -- something that's not going to be very popular with the American public.
If they even notice, that is. Case in point, we are already paying off the Taliban. We're paying them (through their warlord fellow-travelers) a lot of money not to shoot at our convoys. Tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars. This story broke late last year, and then promptly sank in the American media without making much of a ripple. It did spur Congress to investigate, however, and they just released a report (ominously titled "Warlord, Inc.") which confirmed and expanded upon what was known about the practice. The American military contracts out its supply lines these days. What this means is that the Pentagon pays private companies to truck their supplies around Afghanistan. The only problem with this is that the security for the convoys is up to the private company, and not the Pentagon. And Afghanistan's roads (what little of them exist at all) are controlled by various warlords. The private contractors, in what surely must be a bottom-line type of decision, have decided that it is easier and cheaper to pay protection money to the warlords, so they won't shoot at the trucks. Some of these warlords are middlemen who funnel American money to the Taliban (again, so the Taliban won't shoot at the trucks).
From the New York Times article on the recently-released report:
The 79-page report, entitled "Warlord Inc.," paints an anarchic picture of contemporary Afghanistan, with the country's major highways being controlled by groups of freelance gunmen who answer to no one -- and who are being paid for by the United States.
Afghanistan, the investigation found, plays host to hundreds of unregistered private security companies employing as many as 70,000 largely unsupervised gunmen.
"The principal private security subcontractors," the report said, "are warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority.
"The warlords thrive in a vacuum of government authority, and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government," the report said.
At the heart of the problem, the investigation found, is that the American military pays trucking companies to move its supplies across Afghanistan -- and leaves it up to the trucking companies to protect themselves. The trucking companies in turn pay warlords and commanders to provide security.
These subcontracts, the investigation found, are handed out without any oversight from the Department of Defense, despite clear instructions from Congress that the department provide such oversight. The report states that military officers in Kabul had little idea whom the trucking companies were paying to provide security or how much they spent for it, and had rarely if ever inspected a convoy to find out.
The report recommends that the military award the trucking contracts and security contracts separately.
But, with all the attention being paid to McChrystal's ouster, this news also appears to be (once again) sinking like a stone in the American media, leaving few (if any) ripples in the public's awareness.
But that's not even the only way American taxpayer money is funding our enemies in the region. It's somewhat of an open secret that some of the military aid we've been paying to Pakistan (to the tune of tens of billions of dollars) is finding its way to the Afghan Taliban as well. This makes perfect sense, since it is in Pakistan's best interest to keep things in Afghanistan as chaotic as possible. A unified Afghanistan under a strong central government is seen as a threat to Pakistan itself. And since the easiest way to prevent this from happening is to fund the people fighting against the Afghan central government, Pakistan has reportedly been funnelling American military aid to the Taliban and warlords in Afghanistan. Better the Afghans fight amongst themselves than gain strength and threaten Pakistan, goes the thinking.
While somewhat horrifying to contemplate, Pakistan is really just following our lead. How can we condemn them for paying what is (again) essentially protection money to groups who might threaten them, when that's how we turned the situation in Iraq around? Morally, we don't have a leg to stand on, in other words.
The best-case scenario in Afghanistan at the moment appears to be an eventual truce between Karzai's government and the Afghan Taliban. Karzai himself realizes this, and has made overtures in this direction. But this would likely involve Karzai turning vast regions of his country over to the Taliban (or warlords) to rule. What this would mean, terrorism aside, is that America would stand by while Karzai sold out a chunk of his populace to exactly the type of rule which we went in to overthrow. We'd be selling out all the Afghan women who live there, as well as any Afghan who wanted to fly a kite, or listen to some music, or worship they way they chose. Remember the Taliban's pre-invasion rule of the country? That's what we would be accepting, just on a smaller scale than before. Anyone living in such a region would obviously see the entire American military effort as nothing more than a cruel joke.
What we'd be buying (by this massive sellout of a large population) would ostensibly be denying a safe haven for Al Qaeda itself in Afghanistan. We'd likely get the Taliban to sign agreements not to support terrorism and not to allow a safe haven for Al Qaeda in their regions.
But even assuming that we could get such concessions from them (and further assuming that they'd keep to them), this still ignores the fact that until the Taliban does forswear terrorism and their Al Qaeda links, they are indeed a terrorist organization, by our official designation. This is entirely logical, since we're shooting at each other on battlefields today.
Which returns us to where we began. Since the Supreme Court has now ruled that supporting terrorism can be very widely interpreted, what this means is that -- in two ways -- every American taxpayer is guilty of material support of terrorism.
After all, we're paying them not to shoot at our trucks in Afghanistan (through the middleman of local warlords), and we are simultaneously paying them to make as much chaos in Afghanistan as possible (through our "ally," Pakistan). To the tune of millions upon millions of dollars.
While the military strategy of paying off one's enemies (in the form of protection money, not to shoot at us) is debatable (it did admittedly work wonders in Iraq), what is no longer debatable is the fact that all American taxpayers, even by a narrow definition of "material support of terrorism," are now guilty of aiding our sworn enemies. We are all culpable, in what is being done in our name, of the crime of giving more to terrorist groups than just peaceful advice. In other (and blunter) words, we are all terrorist supporters, now -- whether we'd like to admit it or not.
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