Barack Obama's War
By Jerome Grossman
President Obama seems to be serious about a major effort to conquer Afghanistan even if it requires military operations in Pakistan without the permission of that ally. Must every U.S. president pursue a war to mark his time in office? Is it the required role of a superpower to fight all over the world? Iraq War number two was George W. Bush's war. Iraq number one belonged to his father. Bill Clinton's war was in Bosnia and Serbia. Lyndon Johnson's presidency will be marked forever by Vietnam. Was America in danger in any one of these wars?
Obama tells us that his war will be a long-term effort lasting at least five years, to root Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan although both are now hiding in the wilderness of Pakistan. 38,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan. 17,000 more are on the way, 4000 additional will arrive to train Afghan troops, and General David Petraeus has requested 10,000 more for next year. Some military experts think that 250,000 soldiers plus an equal number of civilian contractors will be necessary to pacify Afghanistan, a country 50% larger than Iraq, with forbidding mountainous terrain where guerillas hide.
U. S. forces are regularly attacking the Taliban and other insurgent Pakistanis with unmanned drone airplanes and secret Special Forces on the ground. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 1 that the air raids have stoked anger among ordinary Pakistanis many of whom are ambivalent about the U.S. fight against Islamic militants but see the strikes as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
The Pakistan Taliban chief goes much further, threatening an attack on the U.S. homeland in retaliation. “Soon we will launch an attack on Washington that will amaze everyone in the world." The CIA takes such threats seriously, the “blowback" effect carried out by a weak enemy incapable of matching strength on the battlefield but impelled to retaliate against the hated invader, the defiling infidel.
The U. S. military and diplomats are finding it difficult to obtain the necessary cooperation of the Pakistani government and military against the Taliban. Despite heavy subsidies from the U.S. government, Pakistan’s Islamic leaders worry more about India, their historic Hindu enemies against whom they have fought three wars since 1948. Right now the two nations are actually fighting another undeclared war in Kashmir. Crushing the Taliban would weaken Pakistani forces in the event of another Indian war, dividing the people of Pakistan even more than they are now.
With Al Qaeda dispersed and Bin Laden in hiding, it is difficult to see the American purpose in invading this land of poverty and banditry, a land that has not been subdued by previous superpowers. Does Obama believe that he cannot afford not to conquer Afghanistan, that the political fallout in America from a military withdrawal might endanger his presidency? I hope not. Afghanistan is unimportant, certainly not worth the lives and the money, not even from an imperial viewpoint. The U. S. is already the only superpower, no economic or military power can compete. The only danger is over extension, the unnecessary expenditure of people and resources, a characteristic of a wasteful empire.