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Eric Margolis Headshot

Fiasco Royal in Afghanistan/Humiliation in the Mideast

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What a mess! The so-called Afghan election that was supposed to impress Americans into supporting the dispatch of more troops to Afghanistan has turned into a fiasco royal.

In late 2001, the lonely voice of this old Afghan hand warned against the United States getting involved in Afghanistan's tribal morass -- or it might never be able to get out.

That was $250 billion and nearly 800 dead American soldiers ago.

After eight years of war, the US faces the specter of humiliation and defeat in Afghanistan, not to mention the crack-up of the NATO alliance that was dragooned into the war in the Hindu Kush.

Washington's two Afghan clients, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, kept squabbling and trading charges of fraud until the election pre-rigged by Washington fell apart. The real ruler of most of Afghanistan remains the US military and President Barack Obama.

The administration will, of course, continue pressing the feuding Karzai and Abdullah into some sort of deal, maybe with an American-appointed overseer to keep them in line. The tame US media is already at work rehabilitating Karzai's battered image.

But the inescapable problem remains that Karzai represents no one save his American handlers, and Abdullah is a front-man for the powerful Tajik Northern Alliance-Communist alliance that runs what passes for the national army, police, prisons, and secret police.

So long as minority Tajiks remain the power behind Karzai's shaky throne, then the Pashtun tribes -- Afghanistan's majority -- will reject the Kabul regime and keep supporting Taliban. In fact, if an honest election were held today, Taliban would probably win. The Tajik Northern Alliance is seen as the blood enemy of the Pashtun, agents of the old Afghan Communist Party, and in deep cahoots with patrons India and Russia.

But the US would not allow any political parties to run in this so-called "democratic election," particularly not those opposing the western occupation of Afghanistan. Only candidates supporting the occupation were permitted to run. Thomas Jefferson would not have approved.

President Obama should have seized the opportunity when inaugurated to declare a pause in the war and call for negotiations between all warring parties. Instead, he tied his own hands by declaring Afghanistan a "good war" and vowing to crush al-Qaida there, though there are hardly any members of al-Qaida left.

Now, the president appears ready to succumb to the siren songs of Washington's neoconservatives pressing to expand the Afghan war in order to surround Iran and provoke a war against Tehran.

Validating the old maxim about fools charging in, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who declared in 2002, "Taliban is out of business, permanently," is blasting Obama for dithering over Afghanistan and urging massive troop reinforcements.

Obama has ignored sensible efforts by Saudi Arabia to broker a cease-fire and work toward a coalition government in Afghanistan. Even the former secretary general of NATO has admitted there can only be a political solution to this endless war.

Washington is now back to political square one in Kabul. Obama had better think thrice before sending yet more troops into a quagmire that is getting worse by the week. The fact that Taliban are running around in downtown Kabul should fill the White House with dread. An Afghanistan version of Vietnam's historic Tet offensive may be just around the corner.

In the midst of the self-inflicted Afghan crisis, the Obama administration has just enflamed the Muslim world by cravenly caving in to Israel's hard rightwing Likud Party by giving a green light for continued expansion of Jewish settlements. This, and Afghanistan, are likely to be seen as the two most fateful and disastrous decisions of the Obama presidency.

Obama's decision to allow continued Israeli colonization of the West Bank and Golan gives a huge victory to Israel's hardliners, completely undermines Israel's pro-peace moderates, and delivers a shameful defeat for the American president who had demanded that Israel halt settlement building.

Small wonder Israel's rightwing Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is beaming. He stood up to Obama's public demands and forced America's president to eat crow.

Hillary Clinton, regarded as Israel's point-woman in the cabinet, actually had the chutzpah to claim that her green light to Israeli expansion would lead to real peace talks. What her announcement did was make absolutely clear that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is as impotent a puppet as Hamid Karzai.

It is painfully clear who is making US Mideast policy -- and it is not the president. Israel's long-term quest for peace within recognized borders has been gravely damaged. Worse, Obama's abject surrender to Israel's right will embolden every anti-American group from Morocco to Indonesia. Osama bin Laden must be delighted.

President Obama has thus let slip the best chance ever to resolve the festering issue of Palestine. Under the 2002 Saudi peace plan, the Muslim world offered full peace and normalized relations with Israel in exchange for a pullback to its 1967 borders, give or take a few rectifications. But Israel's hard right wanted no part of this peace deal, hewing instead to its plans for territorial expansion that may even continue into future generations, according to Israeli thinker Uri Avnery.

Now, thanks to President Obama's weakness and political timidity, and his fear of confrontation with Congress over Israel, the Mideast clearly seems headed to much more violence, including a renewed Palestinian intifada and intensified threats of war against Iran. It certainly appears to outsiders that Washington's war party has the Obama administration in its pocket.

Another historic opportunity lost and Obama has not even been in office for a year. America's neoconservatives, whose strategic objective is to plunge the US into permanent war with the Muslim world, are jubilant.

So much for Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's proclaimed new policy for the Muslim world. The lofty orations in Cairo and Istanbul are now followed by more Predators, Reapers, a new, monster 30,000 pound bomb, and spreading Israeli settlements. It's almost as if George W. Bush has risen for Halloween from the political dead.