By William Pfaff
The Obama administration has at last issued its own National Security Strategy, a 52-page document that takes the place of the strategy statements published by the George W. Bush administration, beginning in 2002. The Bush statements were notable for their belligerence in proclaiming America’s policy priority to be the “defeat” of “terrorism”; for their assertion of unilateral pursuit of American interests; for determination to pre-empt by war any threat to the United States; and for seeing a need to prevent the emergence of any rival superpower.
These Bush documents expressed both anger at the wound inflicted on the United States by al-Qaida and a reassertion of triumphalism not heard since the defeat in Vietnam. They were primarily military in tone at a time when the global American military base system was being developed.
America was a nation “at war”; Bush was “a war president,” but the war he and his administration waged came to resemble the one implanted in their consciousness by the colossal error of the late Samuel Huntington in asserting that the “next world war” would be a war of civilizations—actually, his grandiose extrapolation of the war between Israel and the Arabs. The Israelis were invested with the honor of embodying Western civilization, while Arabs, who make up only a fifth of the world’s Muslims, were conflated with all the world’s Muslims, most of them actually Asians and Africans.
The new Obama administration document was received by its critics as one in which an Obama-esque expression of liberal idealism cloaked the actual militarism of his unaccountable presidential-campaign enthusiasm for “the right war” in Afghanistan, in contrast to the war in Iraq. The latter seemed to be winding down, with all its sectarian and regional conflicts left unresolved. The task of setting up a government in Baghdad unifying Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, with the American superpower looming over the region, has been left for another day, which may never come.
The “right war” then proved to be more of a wrong war than even the Iraq conflict, more difficult to “win” than Gens. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, with their “clear and hold” refurbishment of classic anti-insurrectionist strategy, seemed to expect. They have found that they could “clear,” since the Taliban were quite willing to make way for them to move into a contested area—but, by a steady reapplication of pressure, the Taliban made it impossible for them to stay.
The American abandonment of its two principal Korangal Valley bases and their five satellite outposts in April followed the withdrawal, for identical reasons, from two other combat bases and their satellites in the eastern province of Nuristan between 2007 and 2009, one located in the Waygal Valley and the other in the Kamdesh region. All are cases in point of what may reasonably be expected in the impending Helmand offensive by NATO forces.
In each of these earlier cases NATO troops, usually accompanying Afghan government troops (nearly always ethnically non-Pashtun, in predominantly Pashtun regions), attempted to rally the residents to recognize and cooperate with the U.S.-sponsored central government in Kabul—a step in the U.S. policy of establishing democracy in unlikely places.
In each case they failed, usually not because the people of the area were Taliban sympathizers but because they did not like foreigners interfering in their lives, and they called in the Taliban to help rid them of this intrusion. From their arrival in the Korangal Valley until their departure earlier this year, 42 U.S. soldiers had been killed, and “hundreds” wounded, mostly during the 2006-2009 period. Gen. McChrystal is quoted by The New York Times as having concluded that the attempt to hold these valley outposts did more to create insurgents than defeat them.
This can scarcely be a surprise. The more recent, and important, case of American interference with local arrangements in Afghanistan has, of course, been the so-called peace jirga of traditional leaders and elders recently called by President Hamid Karzai, in which he issued an appeal for a cease-fire and peace with the Taliban. This has been ferociously opposed by the American authorities in Afghanistan because the only condition on which the Taliban would discuss such a solution is that foreign forces leave the country.
One might think this a reasonable proposal, if the government agreed, conveniently fulfilling President Barack Obama’s promise to withdraw all American and NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. However, the jirga was condemned by U.S. officials, and contemptuously called a gathering of Karzai’s dependents and cronies (which may have been so; but so what?). What followed was Karzai’s dismissal of two of his three top security officials (ostensibly because they had failed to prevent an attack on the jirga, but according to other reports because they were considered American collaborators).
There is, in short, a struggle going on between the Afghan president and the American authorities in Afghanistan, in which President Karzai thinks that he can bring an end to the war. The Americans contend that this would mean a surrender to the Taliban—but much more important than that, that it would end the American role in Afghanistan, and presumably in Pakistan as well.
Even though Obama, in his introduction to the new National Security Strategy document, writes that America cannot allow the burdens of the 21st century to “fall on American shoulders alone,” he similarly cannot accept that the United States deviate from the globalist ambitions emphasized in the published strategies of both the Bush and Obama administrations. In the final year of the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice defined this as “to change the world, and in its own image.” President Obama’s new strategy statement is an elaboration of how this is to succeed.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for information on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy,” at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services Inc.