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W.E. Gutman: America's checkerboard war policies

Posted: December 19, 2009 2:29 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
As the United States discovered in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, it's easy to wage war and difficult to triumph. As witnessed in Afghanistan, where Washington is now being held hostage, a stalemate is often worse than defeat.

In politics, posture is everything. If you can't have what you want, it's wise to pretend you want what you have. This is a stance the U.S. is now adopting in double-Dutch pronouncements of staggering ambiguity.

President Barack Obama's pre-election promises about what he called "urgent action" in Afghanistan were as soaring as they were nebulous. His decision to send more troops to that beleaguered "graveyard of empires" has silenced some of his critics. But it's still hard to unravel strategic endgame from pipe-dream.

"We are there because we really want to be ... but we'll leave in 18 months." Are you saying U.S. forces will just up and go after a crippling investment of close to a trillion dollars since 2001 and mounting human losses?
Iraq and Afghanistan are yet another example of America's checkerboard policy: Occupy "un-pacified" chunks of geography. Then move on to the next blank space.

In this ongoing gambit to "shape the security environment," to quote U.S. planners, Afghanistan is a crucial asset and the springboard for the next offensive - Pakistan and Iran.

President Obama's West Point speech, setting a July 2011 "timeline" for the start of a phased troop withdrawal, was artfully crafted to allow a whole range of ideologically driven interpretations

In fact, there is no deadline for withdrawal, and none is anticipated so long as the objective of "disrupting al-Qaida and its extremist allies" - a Quixotic quest that may take more than 10 years - is unmet.

Hedging turned to double-speak when Gen. Stanley McChrystal, predicting "absolute success," said finding Osama bin Laden and neutralizing the "existential threat" posed by a resurgent Taliban are critical to winning the war in Afghanistan - only to concede al-Qaida would not be defeated if bin Laden were captured or killed.

Adding to the general malaise, Gen. David Petraeus warned it will take at least a year to assess the effectiveness of the surge and an increase in violence is likely.

Disdaining fatuous timelines, Afghan President Hamid Karzai knows Washington, lacking viable alternatives, caught in its self-created perfect storm, needs him, at least for the time being.

In a televised interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Karzai wove a filigree of evasions and veiled admonitions. His scripted optimism turned to disquiet. Ceremonial poise dissolved into stammering incoherence.

"We'll try our best to assume security control in some parts of the country in two years," he said. But it will take at least five years to "lead security for the entire country."

Then, bleating, he insisted: "The international community must be patient with us and consider the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, they must be with us."

Karzai warned "other nations" to stop using corruption as a political tool in making decisions about Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is a sovereign country, it has a sovereign government," he said. "It's not an occupied country."

The presence of some 100,000 foreign troops on your soil, Mr. Karzai, sounds like an occupation to me.

Then, with an effrontery bordering on chutzpah, laughing at Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' assertion the U.S. would bypass corrupt government officials, Karzai gloated: "A foreign power can't deal with whomever it chooses."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it plainly: "Karzai must prove himself. U.S. assistance will be based on a certification of accountability and transparency."

Karzai then sent shockwaves when he said that he would welcome Taliban supporters who have no ties to al-Qaida or other terrorist networks and who pledge to support the Afghan constitution.

There is zero evidence any of these "convertible" tribal leaders will accept the dictates of a central government.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida, not a group but an ideology, is gaining a foothold around the world.

Ideologies are bulletproof. Coalition forces are not achieving their aims.

Morale is at an all-time low. Suicide rates among U.S. troops are soaring.

The tenuous and deceptive lull in Iraq, now broken, has made liars or fools of those who count their chickens before they're hatched.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates' last-minute stunning promise the U.S. will "never turn its back" on Afghanistan can be translated to mean the U.S. will inevitably turn its back on America.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and Rosamond resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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