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US and Its Wars After Osama

May 9, 2011

Maybe I’m becoming a Mark Twain-Gore Vidal isolationist when it comes to America but, after seeing Four Corners tonight, it seems there are more doubts than ever about the wisdom of the Afghan war.

Peter Galbraith, former UN envoy to the country, said the US just does not have an Afghan partner. And you must have one to run a counter-insurgency strategy. The Kazai government is a myth, and the third most corrupt in the world, chronically cheating its own people.

And as Robert Fisk pointed out, speaking from Beirut, the Taliban are nationalist resistors to foreign occupation with no global reach or pretense. As someone remarked on West Wing once, resistors outlast occupiers every time.

The Four Corners report on an Al Quaeda presence in a remote part of the country simply confirmed it barely exists . If the pathetic band it showed, roaring round on their motorbikes, are the last of the Arab Afghans, then we can relax…and pull out.

Both wars can be seen as wasteful mistakes of American policy, of a rush to act decisively in the wake of September 11. A more cunning, long-term response would have been wiser. There would be no four million refugees in Iraq. Saddam would now be a victim – may have been the first – of the Arab Spring. American policy post-September 11 could have been crafted on cunning – and patience, certainly not swirling, crusader, neo-con fantasies of remaking the Middle East.

The cost to our American friends of these trillion dollar wars has been huge, not least in the burden of debt the country now struggles with.

The chairman of the joint chiefs says that debt is now their biggest national security threat.

To say nothing of their lost and crippled servicemen.

To have achieved what?

  1. Christopher Brown permalink
    May 10, 2011 5:58 am

    Fair call Bob, on most fronts, but what of the rape, oppression and degradation of Afghan women, the persecution if the Hazara (?) ethnic minority and the Taliban sponsorship of the global heroin trade?

    Maybe if G Bush, J Howard, T Blair, et al, had finished the Afghan job and not been distracted by the Iraq folly we would have been outta there long ago and Bin Laden would never have experienced the serenity of the Pakistani suburbs?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 10, 2011 8:02 am

      All true BUT that mandates an occupation of the country long-term to achieve those policing objectives. And something like that is failing right now. We just aren’t succeeding ; we can’t win against the local resistors ; we can’t occupy the country to enforce human rights and lock the Taliban out. The US is going broke with these trillion dollar wars…as the Roman Empire did, battling to maintain its borders. Reflect : the top US military man says the national debt is the country’s biggest security risk. Remarkable.

      • Peter Pando permalink
        May 10, 2011 9:47 am

        Dear Bob,

        The comparison of the US with the Roman Empire in decline is a bit alarmist, isn’t it? I know next to nothing about American government finances, but I do know that US glory and power consist of far more than having squillions in the bank, and will endure past economic power as a nation of immense knowledge and ‘know-how’. That was the real attraction of the British Empire, and is what attracts the most valuable sort of people to the West nowadays. Anyway, given its influence on modern ideas of rule, did the Roman Empire ever really crumble?

  2. Michael Canaris permalink
    May 10, 2011 3:10 pm

    US Defence expenditure/GDP is still pretty paltry compared to what they paid throughout most of the Cold War, though. If anything, I’d attribute their budgetary problems over the past decade more to the continuance of Bush 2’s tax-cuts throughout the economic cycle.

  3. Bob Carr permalink
    May 10, 2011 5:42 pm

    Re Peter : for the best discussion of the Rome-US analogy see Cullen Murphy The New Rome ? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America ( Scribe 2007 ).

  4. Bob Carr permalink
    May 10, 2011 5:43 pm

    To Michael : paying for a war while running tax cuts reminds me of Vietnam and the Great Inflation that followed.

    • May 12, 2011 11:21 am

      Interesting. Never head that theory. Must’ve exacerbated the problem. But OPEC was the driving force behind stagflation.

      • Bob Carr permalink
        May 12, 2011 8:07 pm

        Inflation was already off and running when OPEC struck after the 1973 Middle East war and the root cause, in America at least, was the Johnson administration’s policy of running a war and a Great Society program – without increasing taxation.

  5. May 12, 2011 11:19 am

    To have achieved what?

    Not much. Bin Laden knew the Afghan people from the fight against Russia. He also saw how they fell into their traditional tribal warfare as soon as the foreign occupier was gone. I think the whole 9/11 strategy was about creating unity once again in Afghanistan (which did not happen) and getting America embroiled in the same never ending story that killed the Sovs off.

    Bin Laden picked a fight and Dubya walked straight into it. Total hubris with no lessons learned from Vietnam.

    In my opinion they can’t get out. Doing that will create a huge power vacuum and you could end up seeing a Jihadist coup in Pakistan and that means terrorists with nukes and that means India will start a war.

    It’d be better if they just did Empire the old school way. Establish American rule in Kandahar and forget the provinces. They are ungovernable and as soon as you get out of them they’ll fight each other. Just keep them out of Pakistan.

    You have to be a genius to conquer Afghanistan. America doesn’t have an in the military right now.

  6. May 13, 2011 4:24 pm

    Given the strong focus on Pakistan as a result of the Bin Laden execution, it is worth keeping in mind that a significant percentage of the supplies for the US and its allies in Afghanistan (including 60% of their fuel) enters the country through Termez in Uzbekistan.

    Keeping the supply line open requires continuing US support for the regime of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, a serious human rights violator whose rule is sustained by widespread torture, kidnapping, murder, rape by the police, financial corruption, religious persecution, censorship, and other human rights abuses.

    He executes his opponents by boiling them alive.

  7. Bob Stensholt permalink
    May 14, 2011 7:03 am

    Bob, I pretty much reached this position some time ago given my links over many years to the Monash Asia Institute and the work of colleagues there on South Asia. Australia is spending a lot of money on Afghanistan – both in terms of defence (or is it more assertive than that?) and in terms of development assistance. The cost of the war and related efforts are not well known to the public – something I must check but it would be hundreds of million a year if not more.

    One of the problems of actions like Afghanistan is that it tends to keep on going – now some ten years. As time goes by a harder and harder analysis is needed to check that such actions should continue and that they remain in the interests of our country. Australia has similar commitments in Timor Leste and the Solomons. We have forever been sending people to Cyprus. I guess the old rule of thumb remains a good one – the nearer it is to Australia the more likely it is to be in Australia’s interest – hopefully our best interests.

  8. Felix K permalink
    May 16, 2011 12:03 am

    Whether or not the West ought leave Afghanistan, does it seem likely that it will? Commentators & Labour organisers from the recent union battles in Wisconsin were adamant that the U.S as a whole was not facing the kind of economic crush that forced the retaction of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, that the budgetary pressures are a matter of essentially the rich refusing to pay tax through a vast over-influence on the political process, that the economic strife faced by the common person was a matter of wealth inequality (exploitation…).

    The comparison to the Vietnam lesson of imperial adventures and over-reach strikes me in what has changed – namely conscription & public attention/protest. Seeing the same risks AC Stewart(above) would percieve to be in the minds of decision makers weighing up a pull-out, I can all to easily picture a stalemate situation in Afghanistan. A war with a minimum contingent of offical Western troops lasting for decades, until perhaps the same economic boom experienced through East Asia (China, India close behind) begins to suck dry the pool of unemployed men from Pakistan who are willing to fight in Afghanistan.


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