The United States is in the midst of the most serious unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, and US President Barack Obama is following George W Bush in lavishing trillions of dollars on a few big banks. American taxpayers got nothing. Now, they get the cherry in the cheesecake; Obama escalating his war in Afghanistan. A Vietnam-lite - with a tentative expiry date, July 2011, for the start of a withdrawal...
The much-hyped Obama speech on Tuesday night at West Point - edited by the president himself up to the last minute - was a clever rehash of the white man's burden, sketching a progressive narrative for US national security clad in the glorious robes of "the noble struggle for freedom".
On a more pedestrian level, history does repeat itself - as farce. With Obama's surge-lite, US plus North Atlantic Treaty Organization occupation troops in Afghanistan will reach in the first half of 2010 the level of the Soviet occupation at its peak in the first half of the 1980s. And all this formidable firepower to fight no more than 25,000 Afghan Taliban - with only 3,000 fully weaponized.
Each soldier of the new Obama surge (a word he did not pronounce in his speech except when he referred to a "civilian surge") will cost US$1 million - though the Pentagon insists it is only half a million....
Real men go to Riyadh
Obama still says Afghanistan is a "war of necessity" - because of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Wrong. The Bush administration had planned to attack Afghanistan even before 9/11. See Get Osama! Now! Or else ... , August 30, 2001.)
"War of necessity" is a polite remix of the same old neo-conservative "war on terror"; blame it on the "towelheads" and exploit public ignorance and fear. That's how al-Qaeda was equated with the Taliban and how Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, according to the neo-con gang.
For all his lofty rhetoric, Obama is still pulling a Bush, not making any distinction between al-Qaeda - an Arab jihadi outfit whose objective is a global caliphate - and the Taliban - indigenous Afghans who want an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan but would have no qualms in doing business with the US, as they did during the Bill Clinton years when the US badly wanted to build a trans-Afghan gas pipeline. On top of it, Obama cannot admit that the "Pak" neo-Taliban now exist because of the US occupation of "Af".
Taking pains to distance his new policy from the Vietnam trauma, Obama stressed, "Unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan." Wrong. If the official narrative of 9/11 holds, the hijackers were trained in Western Europe and perfected their skills in the US.
And even while he still emphasizes the drive to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaeda and deny it a "safe haven", Obama is fully contradicting his own national security advisor, General James Jones, who has admitted that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan.
The myth of al-Qaeda has to be exposed. How could al-Qaeda pull off 9/11 but be incapable of mounting a single significant attack inside Saudi Arabia? That's because al-Qaeda is essentially a thinly disguised brigade of Saudi intelligence. The US wants to win "the war on terror"? Why not send special forces to Saudi Arabia instead of Afghanistan and knock the Wahhabis - the root of it all - out of power?
Obama could at least have noticed what notorious Afghan mujahid, former Saudi protege, former Central Intelligence Agency darling and current American public enemy, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, told al-Jazeera. He stressed, "The Taliban government came to an end in Afghanistan due to the wrong strategy of al-Qaeda."
This is a graphic illustration of the current, total split between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, both "Af" and "Pak". The Afghan Taliban, starting with their historical leader, Mullah Omar, have learned from their big mistake - and are not allowing al-Qaeda Arabs to fester inside Afghanistan. Equally, the rise of neo-Talibanistan on both sides of the border does not necessarily translate into a "safe haven" for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda jihadis are harbored by a handful of selected, paid-up tribals which the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence, if it really wanted, could pinpoint in a flash.
Obama also bought in the Pentagon premise that America can re-colonize Afghanistan with counter-insurgency.
In General David "I'm always positioning myself to 2012" Petraeus' own counter-insurgency doctrine, the proportion of soldiers to natives must be 20 or 25 per 1,000 Afghans. Petraeus and General Stanley McChrystal have now got 30,000 more. Inevitably the generals - just like in Vietnam, whether Obama likes it or not - will ask for a lot more till they get what they really want; at least 660,000 soldiers, plus all the extras. At present the US has about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan.
That would imply the reinstatement of the draft in the US. And that's trillions of dollars more the US does not have and will have to borrow ... from China.
And what would that buy in the end? The mighty Soviet red army used every single counter-insurgency trick in the book during the 1980s. They killed a million Afghans. They turned five million into refugees. They lost 15,000 soldiers. They virtually bankrupted the Soviet Union. They gave up. And they left.
What about the new great game?
So why is the US still in Afghanistan? Facing the camera, as if addressing "the Afghan people", the president said, "we have no interest in occupying your country". But he could not possibly tell it like it really is to American prime-time TV viewers.
For corporate America, Afghanistan means nothing; it's the fifth-poorest country in the world, tribal and definitely not a consumer society. But for US Big Oil and the Pentagon, Afghanistan has a lot of mojo.
For Big Oil, the holy grail is access to Turkmenistan natural gas from the Caspian Sea - Pipelineistan at the heart of the new great game in Eurasia, avoiding both Russia and Iran. But there's no way to build the hugely strategic TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline - crossing Helmand province, and then Pakistan's Balochistan province - with Afghanistan mired in chaos, thanks to the pitiful performance of the US/NATO occupation.
There's a hand in surveying/controlling the $4 billion-a-year drug trade, directly and indirectly. Since the beginning of the US/NATO occupation, Afghanistan became a de facto narco-state, producing 92% of the world's heroin under a bunch of transnational narco-terrorist cartels.
And there's the full spectrum dominance Pentagon agenda - Afghanistan as part of the worldwide US empire of bases, monitoring strategic competitors China and Russia at their doorstep.
Obama simply ignored that there is an ultra-high-stakes new great game in Eurasia going on. So because of all that Obama did not say at West Point, Americans are being sold a "war of necessity" draining a trillion dollars that could be used to reduce unemployment and really help the US economy.
We also know how to surge
The Taliban will inevitably come up with their own, finely tuned, counter-surge. Even surge-less, and up against tons of Petraeus' counter-insurgency schemes, they recently captured Nuristan province. And remember Obama's summer surge in Helmand province? Well, Helmand is still the opium capital of the world.
In his speech, Obama tried by all means to convey the impression that the Afghan war can be controlled from Washington. It simply can't.
For all his pledges of "partnership with Pakistan" (mentioned 21 times in the speech) Obama could not possibly admit his surge-lite will destabilize Pakistan even more. Instead, he could turn over the whole war to Pakistan. Unlike the Obama-approved July 2011 date for the (possible) beginning of a withdrawal, subject to "conditions on the ground", this real exit strategy would have to come up with a fixed timetable for a complete withdrawal attached. That would be the go-ahead for Islamabad to do what neither the Soviets nor the Americans could do - sit down with all the relevant tribal locals and negotiate through a series of jirgas (tribal councils).
Obama bets on what he calls "transition to Afghan responsibility". That's a mirage. The Pakistani intelligence establishment - which still regards Afghanistan as its "strategic depth" in the bigger picture of a conflict with India - will never allow it to happen strictly under Afghan terms. That may not be fair to Afghans, but these are the facts on the ground.
Virtually everyone in rural Afghanistan considers - correctly - that President Hamid Karzai is the occupation president. Karzai, who can barely hold on to his throne in Kabul, was imposed in December 2001 on King Zahir Shah by Bush proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad after a heated argument, and recently ratified in an American-style, blatantly stolen election. The American way is not the Afghan way. The tried-and-tested Afghan way for centuries has been the loya jirga - a grand tribal council where everyone joins, debates and a consensus is finally reached.
So the endgame in Afghanistan cannot be much different from a power-sharing coalition, with the Taliban as the strongest party. Why? One just has to examine the history of guerrilla warfare since the 19th century - or take a look back at Vietnam. The guerrillas who are the fiercest fighters against foreigners always prevail. And even with the Taliban sharing power in Kabul, Afghanistan's powerful neighbors - Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, India - will make sure there won't be chaos spilling over across their borders. This is an Asian issue that has to be solved by Asians; that's the rationale for a solution to be developed inside the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Meanwhile, there's reality. The full spectrum dominance Pentagon gets what it wanted - for now. Call it the revenge of the generals. Who wins, apart from them? Australian armchair warrior David Kilcullen, an adviser and ghostwriter for Petraeus and McChrystal and who is a demi-god for Washington warmongers. Some light neo-cons - certainly not former vice president Dick Cheney, who's been blasting Obama's "weakness". And overall, all subscribers to the Pentagon concept of the "long war".
Two weeks before going to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama sells his new Vietnam-lite to the world out of a US military academy. George Orwell, we salute you. War is indeed peace.
Tragically, the major unstated U.S. interest in the region that the President has bought into is the unacceptability of a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (I-P-I) pipeline at a time when our country is saber-rattling against and threatening Iran with more sanctions. Earlier this year, Iran and Pakistan decided to move forward with their pipeline even if India decides to drop out. Ironically, I-P-I is also known as the “peace pipeline.”
The alternative pipeline route, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (T-A-P-I), is supported by Washington because it denies an important economic benefit to Iran. Sadly, nowhere in the President’s remarks did he mention the pipeline on which construction is slated to begin in 2010.
U.S. policy is not only guided by pipeline politics. There is also the consideration of chessboard geo-positioning necessary to contain Russia, China, and ensure U.S. empire—for those inclined to traditional Cold Warrior “containment” thinking. Apparently, behind what some are calling a “shadow war in Muslim lands,” are targeted assassination teams that have wreaked tri-border havoc in Iran, Afghanistan,Pakistan, Lebanon and Syria....Inevitably, regional equations come into the reckoning. India and Pakistan must be firmly dissuaded from turning Afghanistan into an arena of rivalry. But this is easier said than done as Kabul traditionally viewed Delhi as a counterweight to Islamabad; Delhi viewed Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan; and Pakistan sought strategic depth vis-a-vis India.
The vicious cycle needs to be broken and any effort in this direction must include addressing the root causes of the Afghanistan-Pakistan antipathy. Obama has the moral authority to take such an historic initiative.
This is not a matter of Karzai's political personality or those of the warlords who are his partners. It must be remembered that even the Taliban regime in Kabul failed to recognize the Durand Line that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan, no matter its critical dependence on Pakistani goodwill.
Secondly, the US has de facto become a party to the India-Pakistan relationship, especially during the past decade since its mediation in the brief Kargil war in 1999, which Delhi sought despite its professed aversion towards "third-party mediation" in India-Pakistan disputes.
Without doubt, the dynamics of the US-India strategic partnership will be keenly watched by Islamabad. The Obama administration has done well to "demilitarize" the US-India strategic partnership. That process must not only continue, but should be hastened and India will get used to it.
There is plenty of scope to advance the US-India strategic partnership without causing apprehensions in the Pakistani mind or upsetting the delicate strategic balance in the region. What South Asia needs is not more hubris but less and less of it, and security and stability.
The present log jam in India-Pakistan relations is dangerous. By offering a substantial, long-term partnership to Pakistan, and by offering a more balanced and forward-looking relationship to both India and Pakistan, Obama hopes to alleviate the threat perceptions in the Pakistani mind.
Without doubt, unless Pakistan's threat perceptions of a "hegemonistic" India are squarely addressed, Islamabad will continue to resort to asymmetrical warfare.