Obama’s Afghan Strategy for a War that Can’t be Won


This coming Tuesday, President Obama will address the nation to justify his strategy in Afghanistan for a war that can’t be won, and that the US, NATO and Canada can’t even afford to wage. General De Gaulle was known for his toughness, his sharp mind and quite often his sarcasms. De Gaulle once said: “You may be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination.”


Even so President Obama is a very intelligent man, his imminent decision to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan by sending what is likely to be an additional 30,000 US troops falls into the predicament described by General De Gaulle decades ago. President Obama describes the war in Afghanistan as a “war of necessity”, just like Lyndon Johnson perceived Vietnam, in the 1960’s, as a “war of necessity” to prevent the spread of communism in what was called, at the time, “the domino effect”.


In Vietnam, just like in Afghanistan, the United States supported corrupt and illegitimate puppet governments. In Afghanistan, both the British empire and the Soviet Union failed to subdue the country despite all their efforts. The Reagan administration appreciated the strength of Afghan nationalist and religious forces when, with American aid, they defeated the Soviet Union, and in the process drained Russia’s resources accelerating the collapse of the USSR.

In a statement issued on November 8, 2009  former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that President Obama should not increase the US troops level in Afghanistan, but should instead start uniting Afghanistan’s clans, referring to the Afghan government and members of the Taliban. In other words, President Obama shouldn’t send additional troops but instead work to make the Taliban part of the Afghan political process.

“I think that what is needed is not additional forces. This is something that we discussed too, years ago, but we decided not to do it. And I think our experience deserve some attention. Instead of more troops we decided to focus on domestic development, and promoting national reconciliation between the various tribes and clans in the country,” said Gorbachev.

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The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner still hopes to “win hearts and mind with a bullet-proof vest”, and US commander General McChrystal has assured the world that “The American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban but to protect the population”. A part from their cynicism and lack of logic, these statements are based on the common assumption that social development can be combined with military operation in a country where it is impossible to distinguish between insurgents and civilians. The new strategy that President Obama is about to announce is full of contradictions. To do credible nation building in Afghanistan would require a lot more than 30,000 new troops. But again, how can you do nation building to prop up an illegitimate government, which is by all accounts more corrupt and some time even more violent than the Taliban?

Russia, China, India and Pakistan have no interest in perpetuating this serious regional tension and should be involved to arrange a negotiated settlement between the tribes in Afghanistan. To sacrifice a life for “democracy” on foreign soil is problematic enough, but to die for Hamid Karzai? And to do so when even General McChrystal admits that the “Mayor of Kabul”, hanging on to office by electoral fraud, has actually managed to make may Afghans feel “nostalgic for the security and justice Taliban rule provided”.


In Vietnam, the American journalist Andrew Kopkind summed the kind of counter-insurgency strategy that General McChrystal will try to implement as “candy in the morning, and napalm in the afternoon”. President Obama should have resisted the neoconservatives, still populating the Pentagon, call for military escalation. He should have explained to the US public that it is impossible to secure happiness by bombing  people; that there are only a handful of Osama Bin Laden’s followers in Afghanistan; and that US security would not be threaten if a deal could be reached with the less extremist wing of the Taliban.


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