Friday, September 4, 2009

The Looming Political War Over Afghanistan

Glenn Greenwald -

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the U.S. pretended that it viewed war only as a "last resort," something to be used only when absolutely necessary to defend the country against imminent threats. In reality, at least since the creation of the National Security State in the wake of World War II, war for the U.S. has been everything but a "last resort." Constant war has been the normal state of affairs. In the 64 years since the end of WWII, we have started and fought far more wars and invaded and bombed more countries than any other nation in the world -- not even counting the numerous wars fought by our clients and proxies. Those are just facts. History will have no choice but to view the U.S. -- particularly in its late imperial stages -- as a war-fighting state.

But at least we paid lip service to (even while often violating) the notion that wars should be waged only when absolutely imperative to defending the nation against imminent threats. We largely don't even bother to do that any more. Consider today's defense of the war in Afghanistan from the war-loving Washington Post Editorial Page. Here's their argument for why we should continue to wage war there:

Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq.

Does that sound like a stirring appeal to urgent national security interests? Why should we continue to kill both Afghan civilians and our own troops and pour billions of dollars into that country indefinitely? Because "there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate." One can almost hear the yawning as the Post Editors call for more war. We don't need to pretend any more that war, bombing and occupation of other countries is indispensable to protecting ourselves; as long as "there's a reasonable chance it will yield something better than stalemate," it should continue into its tenth, eleventh, twelfth year and beyond.

Of course, the reason the Post editors and their war-loving comrades can so blithely advocate more war is because it doesn't affect them in any way. They're not the ones whose homes are being air-bombed and whose limbs are being blown off. That's nothing new; here's George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, describing (without knowing) Fred Hiatt in 1938:

The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.

Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

This point was made equally well by Chuck Hagel today, in a Post Op-Ed, comparing his actual first-hand experiences in Vietnam to the ongoing waste in Afghanistan:

Too often in Washington we tend to see foreign policy as an abstraction, with little understanding of what we are committing our country to: the complications and consequences of endeavors. It is easy to get into war, not so easy to get out. Vietnam lasted more than 10 years; soon, we will slip into our ninth year in Afghanistan. . . .

The U.S. response, engaging in two wars, was a 20th-century reaction to 21st-century realities. These wars have cost more than 5,100 American lives; more than 35,000 have been wounded; a trillion dollars has been spent, with billions more departing our Treasury each month. We forgot all the lessons of Vietnam and the preceding history.

No country today has the power to impose its will and values on other nations. . . . Bogging down large armies in historically complex, dangerous areas ends in disaster.

That -- the luxury of viewing war "as an abstraction" -- is a perfect explanation for today's pro-war Post Editorial and for the more generalized willingness to continuously start and continue more and more wars, even in the absence of anything remotely approaching a "last resort" rationale. The question of whether the initial decision to invade Afghanistan was justifiable is completely distinct from whether it should have been made and, even more so, whether the occupation and war should continue.

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