Occupying Afghanistan Is Making Things Worse

Obama is coming under attack from the Right for his reluctance to grant
the request of General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military
commander in Afghanistan, for more U.S. troops. On the other side of
the equation sits the majority of the American people, who are against
sending more troops and in fact oppose this seemingly endless war that
has now entered year nine.

Obama should go with the people and set a timetable to get our troops
out of Afghanistan as soon as is practically possible, which should be
less than one year. Their presence cannot contribute to bringing peace
and security to that country, nor does it contribute to the security of
the United States. In fact, the occupation of Afghanistan is making
things worse on both counts.

With regard to the people of Afghanistan, my colleague Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy presents the most compelling piece of recent evidence
that the occupation is a complete failure. Five years ago, 70 percent
of eligible voters participated in the Afghan presidential election.
This year it was down to 38 percent. This is mainly because the
security situation has deteriorated over the last five years. It also
represents a political failure: the inability or unwillingness to
negotiate a political settlement that would have allowed many more
people to vote.

The United
States has also helped put together a government that is dominated in
key positions - especially military, police, and intelligence -- by
Tajiks, the ethnic group whose para-military leaders were the first to
strike a deal with the invading forces. Not surprisingly, this
contributed to the nationalist fuel for the insurgency among the
Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group. This contribution to
ethnic conflict is common mistake, or sometimes a tactic, of occupying
powers that helps drive lasting and violent civil wars. The United
States made similar moves in Iraq that contributed massively to
horrific sectarian violence against civilians there, most of which was
committed not by suicide bombers but by the occupation-supported
government and its allies. More than a million Iraqis, according to the best estimates, are dead as a result of the Iraq War. Do we need to do the same in Afghanistan in order to "save" that country?

With regard to the United States' national security, there is no
legitimate reason for continuing this war. Most experts are in
agreement that Al Qaeda has left Afghanistan for Pakistan. President
Bush wanted to send ground forces into Pakistan, but the Pakistanis
said no. Fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when they have left for
Pakistan is reminiscent of the old joke about the drunk who is seen
looking for his wallet under a streetlight. When asked if he lost the
wallet there, he says "no, but this is the only place where there's
enough light to look for it."

In any case the greatly feared potential "haven" for Al Qaeda in
Afghanistan turns out to much less important than previously imagined,
as a potential threat to the United States. As Paul R. Pillar, a former
top counter-terrorist official at the CIA recently noted,
"The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took
place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments
in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United

There is also a
moral dimension here that is overlooked by the pundits. It is wrong to
kill people, including civilians, and bring mayhem and destruction to
other countries simply to "save face" or fend off political attacks
from right-wing politicians. Thank God there are millions of Americans
who understand this much better than their elected, appointed, and
self-appointed leaders. If they keep up the heat, this war will end.

This column was distributed by McClatchy Tribune Information Services on October 8, 2009 and published by the Sacramento Bee and other newspapers.

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