Lately, in spite of my better judgment, I've found myself inflicted with a major case of "Obamania." I cannot help but be excited at the prospect of a brilliant, younger-than-average, black president who could unite this polarized country against the failed policies of George W Bush. But each time I get optimistic that we are finally on the verge of entering a saner era, Obama makes a terribly foolish statement about the US occupation of Afghanistan.
His latest quip is a prime example: in retaliating against McCain's attacks on his position on the Iraq war, Obama responded: "I intend to bring [the Iraq war] to an end so that we can actually start going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan like we should have been doing in the first place."
He simply wants to swap one failed war for another: out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.
Obama, who openly says he is a "strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan," is counting on American ignorance of the fact that since 2001 we have carried out a smaller scale version of the Iraq war in Afghanistan. In fact, in some respects Afghanistan was the testing ground for Iraq. Broaden the war in Afghanistan and you simply export the Iraq debacle to the middle of Asia.
While the scale of the two operations are vastly different, US policies in Afghanistan have shown eerily similar results to Iraq. After what seemed to be a brief period of positive change in the post-Taliban era, Afghanistan has plunged into despair once more. There has been a huge jump in suicide bombings, greater political power for fundamentalist forces, increased oppression of women, an unprecedented boom in opium production, and greater civilian deaths at US/NATO hands.
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If Obama intends on pursuing a more constructive policy in Afghanistan than the current one, I'm all for it. Having studied the war in Afghanistan from its inception, I can make several recommendations including: generous funding of indigenous grassroots health, educational, and employment efforts; disarmament of US-backed criminal warlords and a war crimes tribunal to help national healing; protection of journalists and independent members of Parliament, especially women; viable and lucrative alternatives to poppy farming for local poor farmers; and of course the most important one of all: an immediate withdrawal of US/NATO combat troops with a corresponding increase in transitional UN peace-keeping forces (to remain in the country for purely security purposes until a democratic Afghanistan is ready to kick them out too).
These recommendations are not sure-fire but stand a good chance at actually helping ordinary Afghans, ending the reign of impunity enjoyed by the warlords, undermining any base of popular support enjoyed by the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda, and driving fewer people to resort to suicide bombings as a way to end a foreign occupation. Best of all, they can give real democracy a chance - the best antidote to terrorism.
Obama has not suggested any of these types of policies. He has not come even close. Instead he wants to take "the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan" by increasing the troop presence - a change that is already taking place under the Bush administration (3,200 additional troops are headed to Afghanistan this summer).
I'm not saying Americans should not vote for Obama (assuming he ends up winning the Democratic nomination). On the contrary, he and the movement that supports him represents perhaps the most viable hope of ending the Iraq war on the horizon today. What I am suggesting is that Obama's antiwar supporters ought to be prepared for the sleight-of-hand war-swapping he has planned. They can do that best by starting right now, to hold Obama accountable for his extremely mis-guided position on Afghanistan. They can do that by guiding him firmly toward the more constructive goal of ending that war too, which in the long term will do far more to actually end terrorism.