Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Afghanistan: Ideology and Symbolism vs. Pragmatism (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on December 3rd, 2009 
It is hardly a surprise to anyone who keeps up with US foreign policy that President Obama will send an additional 10,000 US troops to Afghanistan in 2010 and then consider withdrawal just in time for the 2012 presidential campaign. After all, in 2008 Obama campaigned on the “bad war in Iraq” vs. the “good war” in Afghanistan, a campaign that afforded him political “legitimacy” with right wingers and with domestic and foreign lobbies that profit economically and/or politically from perpetual conflict in the Middle East. Before the 2008 election, I wrote a piece on the futility of US involvement in Afghanistan, part of which asks questions about US goals:
* If the goal is to maintain a Karzai-type regime that controls only a part of the country while peasants grow heroin whose production has skyrocketed since the US invasion, then that goal has been achieved. Once again Afghanistan is the largest poppy producer in the world.
* If the goal is to allay the fears of the American people that the US “will continue to take the war to Al-Qaeda,” the question is whether this has yielded results other than psychological. After all, is Homeland Security taking care of this problem at an immense cost to taxpayers?
* If the goal is to appease the substantially vociferous right-wing elements entrenched throughout American society from media and business to politics, intelligence services to military, then the money and cost in every other respect is well worth it.

Only one-third of the US population supports the war in Afghanistan, and at least 55% are against. And the only reason NATO members have agreed to send an additional 5,000 troops in 2010 is because of Obama’s personal appeal and the realization that this too will come to an end soon along with the mass catastrophe in Iraq. The fact is that the US has already lost the war in Afghanistan and only blind ideologues, certain corporate interests profiting from war (charging $10 per bottle of water for the troops is just the least of such examples), and the Israeli lobby along with an assortment of right-wing think tanks refuse to see it. The war is taking place presumably to save face and to show that indeed a real effort has been made before withdrawal. Remnants of die-hard Cold War mindset, ideology and symbolism in foreign policy transcend pragmatism, and Afghanistan is proof. Even if Obama orders an additional 100,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2010 to the existing 50,000 troops on the ground today, the US will not keep Afghanistan in its sphere of influence once the troops withdraw two years later when Obama must once again face the voters and explain his failed foreign policy. Knowing that people are making comparisons with Vietnam and knowing that he could become captive to a disaster he inherited, Obama will in fact have to announce a political solution right before he goes on the campaign trail. Otherwise, as the economy improves, he will soften his multilateral foreign policy, and his administration will become much more hawkish, especially as pressures build for the US to “punish” Iran, and Israel continues its hard-line policy toward the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the persistence of ideology and symbolism combined with strong domestic and foreign lobbies that finance political campaigns always win over the pragmatic course that best serves broader US national interests as the majority of the American people see it. Even Jeffersonian democrats recognize the limits of pragmatism in a democracy and the long arm of ideology and symbolism that invariably represent minority domestic and foreign interests.

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