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Obama’s Meaningless War

Posted on Sep 1, 2009
troops in Afghanistan
AP / David Guttenfelder

Medics carry a Marine overcome by heat exhaustion to a medical evacuation helicopter in the Nawa district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province in July 2009.

By Robert Scheer

True, he doesn’t seem a bit like Lyndon Johnson, but the way he’s headed on Afghanistan, Barack Obama is threatened with a quagmire that could bog down his presidency. LBJ also had a progressive agenda in mind, beginning with his war on poverty, but it was soon overwhelmed by the cost and divisiveness engendered by a meaningless, and seemingly endless, war in Vietnam.

Meaningless is the right term for the Afghanistan war, too, because our bloody attempt to conquer this foreign land has nothing to do with its stated purpose of enhancing our national security. Just as the government of Vietnam was never a puppet of Communist China or the Soviet Union, the Taliban is not a surrogate for al-Qaida. Involved in both instances was an American intrusion into a civil war whose passions and parameters we never fully grasped and could not control militarily.

The Vietnamese Communists were not an extension of an inevitably hostile, unified international communist enemy, as evidenced by the fact that Communist Vietnam and Communist China are both our close trading partners today. Nor should the Taliban be considered simply an extension of a Mideast-based al-Qaida movement, whose operatives the U.S. recruited in the first place to go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

Those recruits included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and financier Osama bin Laden, who met in Afghanistan as part of a force that Ronald Reagan glorified as “freedom fighters.” As blowback from that bizarre, mismanaged CIA intervention, the Taliban came to power and formed a temporary alliance with the better-financed foreign Arab fighters still on the scene.

There is no serious evidence that the Taliban instigated the 9/11 attacks or even knew about them in advance. Taliban members were not agents of al-Qaida; on the contrary, the only three governments that financed and diplomatically recognized the Taliban—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan—all were targets of bin Laden’s group.


Square, Site wide

To insist that the Taliban be vanquished militarily as a prerequisite for thwarting al-Qaida is a denial of the international fluidity of that terrorist movement. Al-Qaida, according to U.S. intelligence sources, has operated effectively in countries as disparate as Somalia, Indonesia, England and Pakistan, to name just a few. What is required to stymie such a movement is effective police and intelligence work, as opposed to deploying vast conventional military forces in the hope of finding, or creating, a conventional war to win. This last wan hope is what the effort in Afghanistan—in the last two months at its most costly point in terms of American deaths—is all about: marshaling massive firepower to fight shadows.

The Taliban is a traditional guerrilla force that can easily elude conventional armies. Once again the generals on the ground are insisting that a desperate situation can be turned around if only more troops are committed, as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal did in a report leaked this week. Even with U.S. forces being increased to 68,000 as part of an 110,000-strong allied army, the general states, “The situation in Afghanistan is serious. …” In the same sentence he goes on to say “but success is achievable.”

Fortunately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is given to some somber doubts on this point, arguing that the size of the U.S. force breeds its own discontents: “I have expressed some concerns in the past about the size of the American footprint, the size of the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan,” he said. “And, clearly, I want to address those issues. And we will have to look at the availability of forces, we’ll have to look at costs.”

I write the word fortunately because just such wisdom on the part of Robert McNamara, another defense secretary, during the buildup to Vietnam would have led him to oppose rather than abet what he ruefully admitted decades after the fact was a disastrous waste of life and treasure: 59,000 Americans dead, along with 3.4 million Indochinese, mostly innocent civilians. I was reporting from Vietnam when that buildup began, and then as now there was an optimism not supported by the facts on the ground. Then as now there were references to elections and supporting local politicians to win the hearts and minds of people we were bombing. Then as now the local leaders on our side turned out to be hopelessly corrupt, a condition easily exploited by those we term the enemy.

Those who favor an escalation of the Afghanistan war ought to own up to its likely costs. If 110,000 troops have failed, will we need the half million committed at one point to Vietnam, which had a far less intractable terrain? And can you have that increase in forces without reinstituting the draft?

It is time for Democrats to remember that it was their party that brought America its most disastrous overseas adventure and to act forthrightly to pull their chosen president back from the abyss before it is too late.         

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By omop, September 2, 2009 at 7:00 am Link to this comment

Ives’s, September 2 at 9:30 am comments to Mr. Scheer’s “Obama’s
Meaaningless War says it all as the saying goes.

Although never quite a fan of (cut-up) George Will me thinks its time for Mr.
Scheer and others to be unequivocally critical regarding the Bush initiated and
Obama continuing policies especially in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The first domino to fall by the way side has already occured in Japan. Time is
beginning to run out on Imperial America and its only democratic ally Israel.

According to some reports the adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan began by
the neocons in the Bush Admn. are costing, along with the deaths of Amerrican
military, a reported $250 million and $70 million dollars a day every day of the

As Ives put it. ” the country is beginning to fall apart”.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, September 2, 2009 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

Not an expert in this but I’ve always felt that we got it wrong early in Afghanistan and it went down hill after that.  When Taliban was defeated, I think a vast majority of the Afghan people were supportive of the liberation.  Taliban was and still is an abomination.  But, instead of helping them develop a good society and a stable, honest government, we enabled Karzai and his corrupt buddies to build a criminal organization working out of Kabul.  If we had made an honest effort to help the people, we would not be fighting the Taliban again but Bush wasn’t interested in true nation building.  He is a Texas cowboy who only thinks about destroying things.  Nation building is for patsies and W is a tough Texas oilman.  Now it is too late.  We have lost all credibility and the Taliban, despite their crazy religious beliefs, may be the lesser of 2 evils.  At the very least, they will bring some stability to the country and destroy the poppy crops.

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By Rodger Lemonde, September 2, 2009 at 6:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is W’s WAR not Obama’s.
Obama is cleaning up after the war criminal’s party.
Wars are not like lamps that turn on and of with a
flick of the switch.

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By Ives, September 2, 2009 at 6:30 am Link to this comment

Country is falling apart at the seams, broke, bridges falling down, foreclosures everywhere, lots of people out of work, an illness away from disaster, and we continue these pointless, cruel, wasteful, imperial adventures. It’s utter madness, but the madness turns a profit, so on it goes.

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, September 2, 2009 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

Television news will show a heart warming picture of President Obama’s daughter playing in the White House behind a couch. This helps to reinforce the family man image of the President. That very same man who approves of drone missile attacks in Pakistan. Where is his humanity there?
The playwright Wallace Shawn is correct about this. The only way you can commit savagery upon your fellow human beings, is by believing that you are superior to them. In this opening salvo of this slaughterhouse 21st century, this is certainly not good enough. Perpetuating war, for whatever insane reason, is the greatest threat to the people of the earth.

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By Hank Van den Berg, September 2, 2009 at 6:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Lyndon Johnson at least achieved some successes, such as the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and the Great Society programs, before getting overwhelmed by a useless war of his own making.  Obama is already bogged down in Afghanistan with 150,000 and rising troops and contractors (don’t forget to count contractors when comparing current troop levels to Vietnam) before he has achieved anything positive. 
Obama’s inevitable failure after raising such hopes will trigger a widespread withdrawal of progressives from the political arena.  My informal polling of fellow progressives suggests this is already happening, after Obama dropped the ball by putting tax cuts in the stimulus package, permitting Wall Street bailouts and consolidation rather than nationalization, postponing bank re-regulation, taking single payer healthcare off the table, reducing environmental goals, ignoring gay rights, legalizing foreign renditions, fighting CIA disclosure, validating the Honduras coup, ignoring labor legislation, ignoring immigration reform, approving the tar sands pipeline, putting big coal front and center in his energy strategy, etc. etc.  The Afghanistan occupation will add to deficits and starve the government from undertaking any new progressive programs. 
The neocon imperialists could not have planned a better strategy for gaining full power in the U.S.  The next Nixon (and there are plenty of would-be Nixons in the Republican Party) is getting ready for 2012.

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By Eric, September 2, 2009 at 5:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What about the oil pipeline through central asia they want to complete? Who’s investigating that venture?

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By Scipio Africanus, September 2, 2009 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

“There is no serious evidence that the Taliban instigated the 9/11 attacks or even knew about them in advance. Taliban members were not agents of al-Qaida; on the contrary, the only three governments that financed and diplomatically recognized the Taliban—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan—all were targets of bin Laden’s group.”


From the 9/11 Commission Report:

“Bin Ladin also reportedly thought an attack against the United States would benefit al Qaeda by attracting more suicide operatives…Mullah Omar is reported to have opposed this course of action for ideological reasons rather than out of fear of U.S. retaliation.” (p. 251)

I like Bob Scheer, but it took me less than 20 minutes to find the above passage. If we’re to have a debate, let’s make it an honest one.

From the House/Senate Intelligence Committees Joint Inquiry report on the 9/11 attacks:

“Some CIA analysts and operators have told the Joint Inquiry that they recognized as early as 1997 or 1998 that, as long as the Taliban continued to grant Bin Ladin’s terrorist organization sanctuary in Afghanistan, it would continue to train a large cadre of Islamic extremists and generate numerous terrorist operations. In 1999, senior officials at the CIA and the State Department began to focus on the Taliban as an integral part of the terrorist problem. In 1999 and 2000, the State Department worked with the United
Nations Security Council to obtain resolutions rebuking the Taliban for harboring Bin Ladin and allowing terrorist training. The Defense Department began to focus on this issue in late 2000, after the USS Cole bombing. A State Department demarche to Taliban representatives in Pakistan, on June 26, 2001, specifically noted the threats to Americans
emanating from Afghanistan and stated that the United States would hold the Taliban regime directly responsible for any actions taken by terrorists harbored by the Taliban.” (p. 120)

Even more directly, also from the Joint Inquiry report:

“The terrorist plotting, planning, recruiting, and training in the late 1990s were aided immeasurably by the sanctuary the Taliban provided. Afghanistan had served as a place of refuge for international terrorists since the 1980s. The Taliban actively aided Bin Ladin by assigning him guards for security, permitting him to build and maintain terrorist camps, and refusing to cooperate with efforts by the international community to extradite him. In return, Bin Ladin invested vast amounts of money in Taliban projects and provided hundreds of well-trained fighters to help the Taliban consolidate and expand their control of the country. While we often talk of two trends in terrorism – state supported and independent—in Bin Ladin’s case with the Taliban what we had was something completely new: a terrorist sponsoring a state]. (Emphasis in original.)” (p. 227)

Given how closely the Al Qaeda and Taliban operations were intertwined, the question is also irrelevant: Mullah Omar and his regime gave bin Laden free reign in their country to plan and ultimately execute the 9/11 attacks. The relationship between AQ and the Afghan Taliban is clearly intact, and if the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan, it’s a good bet that bin Laden will an honored guest once again.

I’ve spent my adult life in the national security business and have worked this part of the world for our government. I’m under no illusions about the long-term prospects for success in Afghanistan, but history shows that as long as bin Laden lives and the Taliban support him, we are at risk.

Obama should lean on Karzai to clean up his government, and lean on Pakistan to shut down the Taliban command and control center in Quetta so the Taliban can’t plan attacks in the comfort of their living rooms in Pashtunabad. There are no quick fixes to this problem, but taking these two steps are necessary if the administration is serious about this effort.

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By Farmer Paul, September 2, 2009 at 4:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I spent some time a few weeks ago at the Veterans For Peace annual convention at the Univ. of Maryland listening to and being around a young woman from Kabul and a member of RAWA(Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan).  Her comments reminded me of some of the feelings of the Viet Namese that I worked with 4 decades ago in Viet Nam.  She reminded us all that we in the US do not own Afghanistan.  She said this about what would happen if the US leaves and allows Afghanistan to determine its own fate. “Women and men, they, together, struggled to better their own countries.  We will also do that.  We will give sacrifices.  But we will do that ourselves.  Because history has shown that no country can grant peace and security to another country as a gift.  This is the responsibility of that country, that people, to gain those values…by their resistance and by their struggle.”  Just as we should have let the Viet Namese determine the fate of their country, we should also let Afghanistan determine its own fate.

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By coloradokarl, September 2, 2009 at 4:52 am Link to this comment

“Beware of the Industrial Military Complex.” Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?....

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By bogi666, September 2, 2009 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

Purplegirl, actually it was Jimmy Carter and his Brezinski who instigated the USA involvement in Afghanistan.

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By christian96, September 2, 2009 at 4:40 am Link to this comment

I am just repeating(Ardee and So Left I am Right)
comments about the “money trail” but it is necessary
until people become aware of why nations fight!  It
is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!  Who’s making money by us
fighting a war anywhere?  Those manufacturing and
selling military weapons.  Those who will use cheap
labor in the countries we invade.  MONEY!  MONEY!
MONEY!  It’s not hard to understand.  The real
question confronting President Obama.  Does he have
the intestinal fortitude to confront those who
selfishly manipulate wars to make money?

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By thebeerdoctor, September 2, 2009 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

re: Purple Girl

Your outrage is misdirected. This is indeed Obama’s war, he himself has said this, this is the “right war” he spoke so glowingly of. It is President Obama who now claims that terrorizing peasants in Afghanistan and Pakistan is necessary to defeat the terrorists. It is indeed BHO’s war now because he chooses to extend it. He is the latest in a long line of war mongering idiots.
Saying he has no choice is a cowardly equivocation to justify all the people who will be senselessly murdered.

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By Purple Girl, September 2, 2009 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

‘OBAMA’S WAR’ ?????
Have you been drinking the Repug Koolaid??
What side are you on?? Because you sure sound like a Repug trying to hang this clusterfuck on Obama instead of those who really instigated both those wars during the Reagan era. Who the knew US funds were being sent over to Bin laden in the ‘80’s? Who of US knew our Gov’t had supplied Anthrax to Saddam, which he used on the Kurds (making US accomplices in Genocide,BTW!).
Even though W was the idiot who ultimately dragged US into that hotbed of craziness, It was not he who helped create the choas to begin with- Look to Cheney and Rummy and their involvement in those covert ops during the ‘80’s. Both these men (plus many more) have DECADES of High Crimes to answer for.
Afghnistan is not Obama’s War it is the Neo Cons.
Cheney isn’t just guilty of War Crimes,and Treason, He and his cronies are guilty of Crimes against Humanity! they have been squandering Our Blood and Treasure for decades to fufill their delusions of Grandeur and we are now living through the fallout!

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By Shift, September 2, 2009 at 3:27 am Link to this comment

Anyone who believes that Obama is a progressive is in league with the wealthy elites and soft Fascism and will not get my respect or my ear.  Scheer is gaming us.

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By bob choquette, September 2, 2009 at 3:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This war folly will end as soon as the draft is brought back. Should a new updated version include no college deferments and equality in it’s application to both sexes, the call to peace from the graying boomers, would be heard by the world.

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By knobcreekfarmer, September 2, 2009 at 2:24 am Link to this comment

War has always been about money or wealth in some form. Sure,
people have hung the banner of religious indifference or political
persecution but it’s really all about money. Wether a land grab for
growth/agriculture or access for multinationals to exploit natural
resources wars are waged for the benefit of the elite.

That used to be the American consumer, who is finally in their
death throes. Now we fight so whoever still has cash can consume
that which was just stolen in war. Could be Europe. Could be China,

In Afganistan’s case it’s logistic regional position for defending and
piping oil to markets in Europe, China and I guess us as long as we
still can afford it.

Oh, and lest we forget the military budget. There are always billions
to be made if you can manufacture instruments of death.

What a fucked up world we live in…

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By ardee, September 2, 2009 at 2:10 am Link to this comment

Whatever the motive we can be assured that somewhere there is great profit being made.

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By ChaoticGood, September 2, 2009 at 1:03 am Link to this comment

Heres’ how I see it.

First, we have a very intelligent president, but he is acting like George Bush, when it comes to Afganistan.  How can this be?
Either Obama is just as dumb as Bush (unlikely) or Obama is there for a reason that we just don’t understand.

Ok, then what are we being told.  I hear that the Taliban are a threat and they must not be able to take over Afganistan because that would allow Al Queda to have a “Safe Haven” for their operations, but I thought that Osama Bin Laden is in Pakistan’s northern territories and Al Queda already has a safe haven there, so why do we have to stop the Taliban in Afganistan?
I don’t understand that argument at all.

Next I hear the awful treatment of women and that awful poppy field have something to do with us being in Afganistan.  The “bumper” crop of poppies is great this year, so are we stopping this?  How about bad treatment of women?  Did we stop that yet?

I just don’t understand this argument either.

If none of the reasons we are being offered by the Obama administration, make any sense, then what is the real reason, we are there.  It must be that we are there for some “political” reason.

Are we proving to the world that Americans, in the face of certain defeat are willing to sacrifice their children to make a “statement”?
I hope it isn’t that stupid old Vietnam argument again.

Maybe we are just trying to give our professional army something to do?  That seems foolish, but after all, they can’t just march around all day.

Maybe we get to test weapon systems and blow stuff up.  That’s always fun, but we can do that in at the Nevada test sites, for a lot less money.

So what is it…Could it be that Democrats just want to look “strong” to the Republicans?  That seems like a waste of time.  Who gives a damn what Republicans think about anything.  Their ability to “think” is a stretch in the first place.  They are going to “think” Democrats are weak and wimpy, no matter what they do.

The only thing that makes any sense to me is that we want forward bases in Afganistan because we want to be able to influence the almost certain upcoming conflict between Pakistan and India.  That one makes sense, so that’s the one I choose.

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By bachu, September 2, 2009 at 12:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unfortunately Gates is only trying t to protecting himself by feigning doubts and making an appearance of understanding the lessons of history.  In the end he will ask for an escalation. There is no other way for him.

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