Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will Obama Leave The White House With U.S. Troops Still Mired In A Senseless War In Afghanistan?


I said good-bye to Afghanistan 5 years before it all started falling apart-- not that it was ever that together. In what revisionist historians now paint as the "Golden Age," a trip to Afghanistan was like a trip back in time. Not without its unique and inspiring charms, Afghanistan was poor beyond conception, brutal, backward, superstitious, misogynistic, illiterate, tribal and anything but unified as a nation, violent, unhealthy... and that was "the golden age." I've been re-living my two sojourns through Afghanistan in the late 60s and early 70s through the insightful writing of Seth Jones in his new book, In the Graveyard of Empires. He helped me understand how, even back then, narrowly focused and wrong-headed American blockheadedness, mixed with overblown Soviet paranoia resulted in the utter destruction of a nation and over a million of its people.

It started-- well, in many ways-- but in my narrative when Noor Mohammed Taraki, a feisty former press attaché from the Afghan Embassy in Washington, became the unlikely president of his country and decided to burnish his Marxist credentials by throwing out the country's traditional flag and unfurling a red one. "Revolts," writes Jones, "broke out across the country. Pashtun tribesmen in the eastern mountains grabbed their rifles to fight the government..." It was 1978. A cycle of escalating violence and barbaric reprisals gripped the country and has never let go since. What made a bad situation into an unmitigated catastrophe was hamfisted interference from the U.S., Russia, Pakistan and other would-be players in a newish version of the Great Game.

In 1979 Islamic fanatics kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs who is killed in the melee when Afghan security storm the hotel where he's being held captive. Soviet-obsessed Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's demented National Security Advisor decides the Russians are behind it. At the same time the revolt against Taraki's tottering government is getting completely out of hand and Taraki begs Kosygin, the Russian premier for troops. Wisely, he demurred.
Kosygin told Taraki: "If our troops were introduced, the situation in your country would not only not improve, but would worsen." Somewhat ironically, Kosygin noted that the local Afghan population would probably rise up against Soviet forces, as might Afghanistan's neighbors, such as Pakistan and China, who would receive help from the United States... Politburo member and future Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko noted that if the Soviets deployed troops and "beat down the Afghan people then we will be accused of aggression for sure. There's no getting around it here."

For three days the rebels held Herat [Afghanistan's third largest city], plundering weapons stockpiles and hunting down government officials... By the time the rebellion was finally crushed, as many as 5,000 people had died, including one hundred Soviet advisors and their families, whose heads were mounted on poles and paraded around the city by the insurgents. News of the events in Herat accelerated desertions and mutinies in the Afghan military. Governance was collapsing.

Against the better judgment of many, the Soviets were inextricably drawn into the civil war, after Hafizullah Amin, who they see as an American dupe because he went to Columbia University, killed Taraki and took over. By the end of 1979 Leonid Brezhnev was in charge of Russia and he was completely paranoid-- if not stark raving mad. Crazed hardliners were back in the saddle.
On December 8, 1979, Brezhnev held a meeting in his private office with a narrow circle of senior Politburo members: ideologue Mikhail Suslov, KGB chief Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Andropov and Ustinov [think McCain, Cheney and Lieberman for an apt contemporary comparison] expressed grave concerns that the United States was trying to increase its role in Afghanistan and that Pakistan would try to annex Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. [The U.S. was already aiding the anti-government Islamist rebels at least 6 months before this.] By the end of the meeting, the group had tentatively decided to move on two fronts. The first was to have the KGB remove Amin and replace him with Babrak Karmal; the second was to seriously consider sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan to stabilize the country.

[Two days later] on December 10, 1979, Ustinov gave an oral order to the General Staff to start preparations for deployment of one division of paratroopers and five divisions of military-transport aviation. He also ordered increased readiness of two motorized rifle divisions in the Turkestan Military District and the increase in the staff of a pontoon regiment. Nikolai Ogarkov, chief of the General Staff, was outraged by the decision, responding that the troops would not be able to stabilize the situation and calling the decision "reckless."

Ustinov cut him off harshly: "Are you going to teach the Politburo? Your only duty is to carry out the orders."

Ogarkov replied that the Afghan problem should be decided by political means, instead of through military force, and pointed out that the Afghan people had never reacted favorably to foreign occupation.

The disastrous war, which Brzezinski now brags the U.S. maneuvered the Soviets into, lasted 9 miserable years, resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the deaths of around 15,000 Russians (who never had over 104,000 troops in the country at any one time), plus the deaths of over a million Afghans, over 3 million wounded Afghans, and over 5 million refugees, a third of the population, fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan's irrigation system was systematically destroyed as was its livestock industry. The country is sewn with as many as 15 million landmines, which have killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. If it was the poorest country I had ever seen in 1969, it was infinitely poorer by the time the last Soviet troops fled in 1989. Jones reminds us that Soviet Defense Minister Ustinov, again, a Cheney/McCain/Lieberman type of clown in his day, always maintained that "military operations could be accomplished quickly, perhaps in a few weeks or months" and that Brezhnev told his worried ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, "It'll be over in three to four weeks."

Yeah and Brezhnev could have said something like this too-- albeit less eloquently: "In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans-– men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed."

Barack Obama didn't start the U.S. War in Afghanistan and he didn't screw it up by senselessly and spitefully starting an unjustifiable, predatory war against Iraq. But Obama has embraced it and now it is his war. And he knows it. The advice he's heeding and the actions he's taking are no more sane than Brezhnev's. It never mattered what members of the Soviet legislature had to say about the war. But it does matter what members of Congress say and how they vote. Last time Obama asked for billions of extra dollars for the occupation of Afghanistan 32 Democrats voted against it. Would you like to see that number grow? So would we. Please encourage the 32 who did and let's make that number grow... fast!

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At 7:57 AM, Blogger Race Equality Secret Service said...



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