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West’s Role in Afghanistan Needs Re-Examining

Posted on Dec 9, 2008

By William Pfaff

HEIDELBERG, Germany—It seems agreed here that the overwhelming majority of Germans are against any expansion of the German role in Afghanistan if it means German troops in combat. Germany’s soldiers complain about this because it puts them personally in an invidious position among most of the rest of the NATO forces in that country. It also creates confusion and inefficiencies in attempting to run a war in which only a part of the available troops can be sent into the combat zones where they are most needed.

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The Taliban are increasingly in control of the south of the country and now are closing a ring around Kabul itself, aiming to cut the capital off from the rest of Afghanistan, their strategy when the Russians occupied the nation. The new American brigade of 4,000 men will go to the protection of Kabul, where embassies, official buildings and the like have in recent months had high concrete walls built around them—each to have its own fortified “green zone.”

Last weekend the insurgents blew up 100 trucks loaded with supplies at a U.S. depot in Peshawar in Pakistan, an hour from the Afghan border on a main supply route passing through the Khyber Pass region controlled by Taliban factions. The rebels are also harassing the roads passing through Pakistan from the port of Karachi, so that NATO is forced to increase the supply traffic through Central Asia, where Russian cooperation is necessary.

The main German problem, however, is with the transformation of their mission, which began as a peacekeeping, stabilization and development effort, not a war against Afghan insurgents. This is a touchy point, of great political significance in the war and among allies, so that some U.S. commanders are careful in distinguishing between “Insurgents” and the “Terrorists”—al-Qaida and its recruits in the tribal territories. Those are supposed to be the enemy. The Taliban want the foreigners out of their country.

Why are the allies waging war against the largest of the native ethnic groups in Afghanistan, automatically benefiting the Pashtuns’ traditional ethnic rivals? The NATO answer is that the allies didn’t set out to fight a war against the Pashtuns. It just happened that way.


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NATO is fighting to protect a legitimate government in Kabul, internationally recognized, which is committed to modern standards of women’s rights, nondiscriminatory education, etc. Unfortunately these good things are all but impossible for foreign armies to install and protect in a country where most people are illiterate and living spiritually in the Middle Ages.

Admirable as NATO intentions may be, this is not what the intervention in Afghanistan was supposed to be about, and it may be questioned to what extent the presence of Western armies has actually promoted such ends, or whether overall the effect has been to undermine development and degrade the condition in which the people of the country are compelled to live.

The truth is that German soldiers are in Afghanistan because the United States demanded that they go there, and for nearly 60 years Germany has supported Washington in nearly everything the United States has wanted to do. This is considered on both sides as an inevitable consequence of the Second World War.

No one puts the matter so crudely these days. Officially, the United States is in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and defend a legitimate government. Officially, the argument goes, Germany is in Afghanistan because if the Taliban are allowed once again to take power in that country, international terrorism will be strengthened and the danger of terrorist attacks in Western Europe will increase.

Better to fight the enemy in Afghanistan than in Heidelberg, Berlin or Paris. (An innocent bystander might suggest that Heidelberg, Berlin and Paris are the best places to fight them, since that is where they can do the most harm.)

The other rationale for Germans and other Europeans to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan is the Washington argument that Europe has been for years defended by the United States and payback time has arrived. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been no threat to Europe other than from radicalized young Muslims, often members of their own population, stirred up by the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

George Bush’s global war on terror now is a hopelessly confused affair in which nearly everyone is fighting for misconceived reasons and for objectives impossible to attain. Outraged Muslims seem to think they are defending the Prophet from Western attack and can in the end conquer the West. Western armies are in Iraq and Afghanistan because their political leaders want to make democracy prevail in the Islamic world. Is it possible that the new American administration could actually re-examine what its serious and attainable purposes are? Could it consult with such increasingly reluctant allies as Germany, Britain and Canada, and listen to what they have to say?

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at

© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By samosamo, December 12, 2008 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

You mean it is not as simple as leaving and coming home?

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By Matthew, December 11, 2008 at 6:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The pablum justifying the US invasion of Afghanistan aside, it is clear the US is poised to push into Pakistan soon. The international financial collapse makes it imperative that Pakistan be fully subdued and disarmed of its nuclear weapons before the financial/monetary system completely implodes and there will be a great need for troops in the homeland. Ah yes, we are near the end of everything here. Already the ruling criminal class is giving way to rule by brute force alone. Hence, the announced mobilization of regular army troops onto the streets of America. The Empire is crashing down.

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By Libarchist, December 11, 2008 at 12:09 am Link to this comment

The US should simply remove all troops from overseas, and close down all the bases.

Rename the Department of Defense to the Department of Peace, and train it to use non-violent tactics —and technology.

Close down the CIA and transfer all files— to the Department of Peace.

And, focus on protecting from home….that is the only way,  to start to begin to make the US more peaceful and prosperous.

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By Arcturan Voyager, December 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So there was this ultra-orthodox Jew, and this
fundamentalist Muslim, and this fundamentalist
Christian.  No, they didn’t walk into a bar together,
they walked into an inter-faith get-together
together.  And you know, after each of them
but his machine gun, hat, and robe in the cloak room,
you could not tell them apart.  They spent most
of the meet-up time talking about their
favorite ways to destroy the communities of their

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By omop, December 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment

To: Fadel Abdallah.


You and hopefully others might be interested in reading this link.:-

the author’s studied and detailed exposition is a classic.

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By Arcturan Voyager, December 10, 2008 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Appears to be an intelligent species there, but
cannot be sure, violent destructive events observed
for over two hundred thousand revolutions. 
Something on the planet’s surface causes
occlusion time electric lights to burn. 
Many above ground nuclear events
observed roughly fifty revolutions ago.
Much information encoded in radio frequency,
microwave, and light bands.  Continuously decoding;
assessment of the information traffic
suggests it is mostly occupied by bickering,
insults, intimidation, religious rants, and
a practice known to the Earth creatures as

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By mary j. planedin, December 10, 2008 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your gawd like a soldier.

Rudyard Kipling

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 10, 2008 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

By tomack, December 10 at 8:13 am #

Easy: bring our people home as soon as possible! That’s all the re-examining we need.

As far Fadal Abdalla’s comment, I would only say that “The West” is far from the only social order in human history to cause a little pain shall we take the 100 paragraphs needed to recap?). And it is certainly NOT the only social order in human history to have “Value” problems. “Values” are relative to just about everything—are they not? 
tomach, I disagree that all the re-examining we need to do is to bring our people home as soon as possible. Though this might be one step in the right direction, it has to be followed by a more serious step of bringing the criminals (i.e. Bush, Blair and gang) to justice for their crimes against humanity.

As to your saying that “the West is far from being the only social order in human history to have “Value” problems. “Values” are relative to just about everything—are they not?,” I do agree with that and I am aware of it since I am a historian. But remember that the title of the piece I commented upon started with the word “West.” I am sure you agree that surveying the atrocities of all humanity against other humans was beyond the scope of my short comment and it would have been also off topic!

Another reason for the need to focus on what the West need to do right to correct the wrong is related to the fact that the West in modern times enjoys political, military and economic hegemony over the rest of the world, and thus is held to higher standards of ethics than say the ancient Chinese, Romans or the Muslims of the Middle Ages. I am sure if you’re a fair-minded person you would agree.

P.S. You misspelled my name twice, and I forgive you for that because this is my real name and I expect people who take issue with me to be careful with my name, lest I am justified to think that your reaction was more to my non-Western name than to what I actually said!! I am sure you’re smart enough to know what people who have knee-jerk reaction to others’ names or ethnicity are called! May I need to remind you that I have the same stake in the West as you have since I live now in the West (America) and have been living for over thirty years. I am sure you know your history about this land which belonged to the “NATIVES” and the difference between you and me is that your ancestors and I came to this land on different boats, at two different periods of time!

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By yellowbird2525, December 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

The entire world views the USA as tyrants, it’s citizens enslaved to Corporations & being killed by chemicals to make $ for the doctors while there is so much $ to be had from cancer & other diseases that the citizens are deliberately FED false reports & information to make it “appear” as being real; THIS is EXACTLY what the Germans did so it is no big surprize considering the USA brought over top Nazi’s set them up handsomely to learn everything that they did (so they themselves could do it) including deliberately feeding thru the image (of TV), magazines, & newsprint: ILLUSIONS, in fact, in the book Blunder, the Allies were astounded to discover that what they had THOUGHT was real was not at all; only illusions cleverly managed by the control of media; THIS is illegal but used today in the USA as it has always been. FIND OUT who NOW OWNS the prime land & water rights & you will find out the TRUE REASON the USA is in Afghanistan. HELLO CORPS RUN BY USA GOVERNMENT!

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By yellowbird2525, December 10, 2008 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment

support human rights? Let me LIST the ways that women are oppressed here in the USA: #1. chemicals are in all foods, including babies infant formulas causing the USA to be #1 in infants deaths for years; with the agressive spread of so called “freedom” in this USA, or “democracy” you see that the very same poisons are being used now in China, Nicaragua & everywhere else this “supposed” democracy has gone; in infants formula alone. You see the dictatorships set up with folks as corrupt as the ones in the USA; who RULE, not govern, there IS NO JUSTICE in the land: that’s right folks the “free economy” of which there is no such thing: is quite simply the total freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, outside of all laws (most of which were just on the books for looks & never meant to be enforced anyway; just put on the books cuz the people requested it!) it has been open season on the citizens of the USA by every Corp there is: including if you pay for health coverage it STOPS the moment you get ill; Fed lawbreakers known as Congress instantly wrote that Corps do NOT have to pay for 1 single health care item if it affects their payout. THIS IS SLAVERY which has NEVER gone away in the USA. Shall I go on? The REASON that Bob Gates declared there is no international law is a direct ALERT to the people of the USA & the WORLD that THEY CONSIDER THEMSELVES TO BE ABOVE ANY & ALL LAWS; they are going for dictatorship of the world as “they have gotten away with it for years in the USA and they have the culture for it”;

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By Folktruther, December 10, 2008 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

The problem for Obama and the US power struture is that the US can’t leave without it being perceived by the world, and Nato, as a defeat. A defeat by an oppressive power system increases opposition to it.  It was not just coincidence that the USSR fell apart after it withdrew from Afghanistan.  Also in 1905 the Russian defeat by the Japanese instigated the 1905 uprising, its impending defeat in WW1 the first Russian revolution.

Obama doesn’t want to be saddled with this defeat, which would interfere with his election prospects in 2012.  So he is going to escalate a lost war, possibly to dismember Pakistan the way the USSR and Yugoslavia were dismembered.  The US can’t win such a war, but it can continue to fight it to avoid losing it.

Therefore in answer to Pfaff’s question as to whether a new regime can reexamine its wars, the simple answer is: no.  As the ECONOMIST maintained. And as Pfaff no doubt already knew.

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By Alan, December 10, 2008 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One has to look deeper, more honestly at things as
they are.  The predatory history of humans is
nearly universal.  Predation and acquisitiveness
act out in all societies.  The “West” IS the “East”.
It is laughable how so much argumentation is about
the coat a person is wearing rather than about the
character of the person.  All this “my atavism is
better than your atavism” stuff is bunk.
The world is in big trouble now and we won’t solve
our problems by arguing whether the sky god
likes baby-back-pork-ribs better or roast beef.
Maybe it doesn’t eat meat at all!

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By Alan, December 10, 2008 at 9:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The U.N., not the U.S., not Al Quaida, the U.N.
after careful deliberation should act resolutely to
support human rights.  If a country denies
50 percent of its population basic human rights
(Talibanistan vs. women) , let the U.N. raise
a force of a million if needed and put and end to
the injustice.  Let the U.N. put out warrants for the
arrest of Bush and Bin Laden, let the U.N. intervene
with another million soldiers in Sudan if needed, in
Zimbabwe, and most certainly 20,000 are too few in
Congo.  There damn well is a place for righteous intervention, the U.N. is the entity to do it,
not a nation state, not a terorist group, not
NATO, the U.N.!

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By tomack, December 10, 2008 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

Easy: bring our people home as soon as possible! That’s all the re-examining we need.

As far Fadal Abdalla’s comment, I would only say that “The West” is far from the only social order in human history to cause a little pain shall we take the 100 paragraphs needed to recap?). And it is certainly NOT the only social order in human history to have “Value” problems. “Values” are relative to just about everything—are they not? 

While I feel strongly about positive dissent and critique of one’s government, I feel even stronger about positive dissent and critique toward “The Human Condition” as a whole; as a World; as a People.

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By Allan Gurfinkle, December 10, 2008 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How can Pfaff write such idiocy as this ..... “Outraged Muslims seem to think they are defending the Prophet from Western attack and can in the end conquer the West.”  Apparently Pfaff, along with Bush and the other charade masters, thinks that the US should be able to invade and occupy Afghanistan without arousing the outrage or even indignation of the Afghans.

He also writes ...“George Bush’s global war on terror now is a hopelessly confused affair in which nearly everyone is fighting for misconceived reasons and for objectives impossible to attain.”  How presumptuous can he be?  He’s saying that he knows all, but that the architects of the war are hopelessly confused.  I doubt it, more likely that this too is a charade, a cover, to hide their true intentions. 

Do we know what their true and ultimate goals of the military in Afghanistan are?  No, but it is for sure that Obama is hell bent on expanding the conflict in Afghanistan ‘war’, and it is not because he and his handlers are confused. 

The real conclusion to draw from the above is that something/someone/some group that we don’t know about is directing US foreign policy.  We thought we had unmasked the players when the neo-cons were discovered to be the architects of the Iraq war, but now, we see that even with the neo-cons exposed, we’re still in the dark as to who is running US foreign policy.

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By omop, December 10, 2008 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

One is tempted to pontificate that the so-called West began to accelerate its own demise by every act or action its taken since WWII.

The Korean War, was followed by the Vietnam War and succeeding bombings on a number of nation/states culminating with the cakewalk into Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan and the impending clashes in Pakistan, India, etc, with trillion dollar costs in addition to human lives.

While admittedly not privy to how ultimate decisions of life and death are made and a regular reader of Truthdig and other like web sites and over 30 years old am still in the dark as to what the US and NATO expect to accomplish in Afghanistan.

In short what the hell does NATO and the US expect to accomplish and what will take to state that their “mission in Afghanistan” has been a success?

The comment by F. Abdallah about the West’s bankrupt value systemt is suggestive of an inevitability much desired and hoped for by the promoters of the “clash of civilizations” but also the fanatical fundamentalists preaching the Rapture.

Maybe most thinking individuals in the “West” aught to be supportive of the resistances put up, unfortunately at great cost by the so-called East in places like Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Do hope Mr. Pfaff;s plea to the Obama people is seriously considered.

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By Paul_GA, December 10, 2008 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

Just declare victory and leave; if the USA and its allies stay, they’re going to be defeated just like the Soviets were 20 years ago—and will the Soviet Union’s fate (economic collapse and break-up into successor states) be America’s? I think it possible.

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By Allan Gurfinkle, December 10, 2008 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

According the the conspiratorialists, we now will have the Rockefeller/Brezenski wing of the illuminati controlling the US government, and there will be a change in strategy, to emphasize rapprochement with Iran and confrontation with China and Russia.  The first intermediate target on the list is Pakistan, and the purpose of the military effort in Afghanistan is directed toward the goal of destabilizing and eventually dismembering Pakistan.

This is the thesis of Webster Tarpley, and I think it deserves consideration.  Especially in light of the Mumbai action.

Surely there is no other conceivable reason for the US military’s presence in Afghanistan.  The chasing the ghost of Bin Laden charade lost credibility years ago I think.

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By scared, December 10, 2008 at 7:47 am Link to this comment

“George Bush’s global war on terror now is a hopelessly confused affair in which nearly everyone is fighting for misconceived reasons and for objectives impossible to attain.”

That about sums it up, doesn’t it.

Great article Mr. Pfaff.

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By bachu, December 10, 2008 at 4:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

..and they say that Germany and France have democracy. And what is this talk about NATO fighting to protect a legitimate government. Since when did the puppet regime in Kabul become legitimate?

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By cyrena, December 10, 2008 at 1:00 am Link to this comment

Wow!! This is yet another excellent piece from Pfaff. I’m gonna check out his web site for more inspiration, but this really does hit it.

This can all pretty much be boiled down to the plan of the PNAC from over a decade ago, because that agenda has clearly been to further the agenda of Global Hegemony.

The theme of the “War on Terror” has been so ‘effective’ that too few of us have questioned the US led destruction of that state as well.

I did a re-examination a long time ago, and decided that we definitely should never have responded to 9/11 via military action in Afghanistan either. Of course hind-sight is always 20/20 (or should be) and we know that the root causes of the terrorism that IS very real, cannot be resolved militarily.

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By Tony Wicher, December 10, 2008 at 12:50 am Link to this comment

I was watching Fareed Zacharia’s “GPS Global Public Square - the best political show on television. On Sunday he had a fascinating interview with Hamid Gui, a former hjead of the Pakistani ISI.  It was very courageous of Zacharia allow such controversial views as were expressed to be aired in the mainstream media. I myself found his views very reasonable and worth objective investigation rather than being dismissed as the anti-Semitic fulminations of a Muslim fanatic.

I for one don’t trust the Bush Administration in any way, shape or form.  I think Cheney and the people he appointed at the top levels of the executive are capable of anything, including being involved in both 9-11 and the anthrax attack, and there has been no real investigation of either, only a cover-up. In my opinion, Gui is probably right that 9-11 could not have succeeded without inside help. So why then should we chase around Afghanistan and Pakistan trying to “stamp out Al Qaeda”  when we should probably be much more concerned about corruption in high places here at home? These are questions I hope the Obama administration is asking.

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 9, 2008 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment

It’s not only the West’s role in Afghanistan that needs examining but the whole system of the West’s social, political, economic and most importantly moral and value system that is in need of serious reexamination!

In fact, it’s the West with its bankrupt value system that’s racking havoc with all the fortunes of our sad twenty-first century world. And when I remember that it was the West that brought humanity the Crusaders, the Inquisition, the Holocaust,WWI, WWII, Vietnam and Korean Wars, the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars and finally world-wide economic crises I get a chilling sensation running down my spine!

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