Eight years ago, the public objective was to displace the Taliban and create a non-al-Qaeda supporting "democracy" in Afghanistan.
For a moment, leave aside Washington’s more fundamental objectives in the military invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent base-building — security for the trans-Afghanistan pipeline project, restoring the opium exports that had finally subsided under Taliban enforcement by early 2001, and improved military positions vis–vis Iran, Pakistan and Russia. The fossil fuel manipulations, drug money and maintaining a justification for our outsized military-industrial complex are not the topics here.
The Taliban, while initially displaced from Kabul, are regaining some political influence. We may claim "mission accomplished" because they are competing for influence in an Afghanistan that has other comparable politicized ethnicities — and the Taliban no longer receive significant support from al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.
Afghans were infuriated, not just at this past summer’s flawed and corrupted election, but also at the previous elections that confirmed US satrap Hamid Karzai. Afghans have international support for their case against the US-manipulated election — and we should take the anger of Afghans as confirmation of our success in creating a democratic mindset there.
Afghans also understand some of the basics that our own founders and early Presidents grasped, and not just the successful use of insurgency tactics against a far better equipped and funded occupying army that wants to economically exploit and civilize them.
In a recent report on the morale troubles of our Marines in the agricultural Helmand region, reporters "…talked to the grey-bearded men in the village… Asked if they wanted a school or more doctors, all said such questions were a matter for those who own the fields."
A matter for those who owned the fields. In a nutshell, it is clear that these Afghans get it. Government, and collectively provided services and polices, should be by the people, of the people and for the people.
Of course, a few sentences later villagers in Helmand were surprised to hear of a new round of planned elections to be held. A villager is quoted "We never even heard of elections. If we had, I suppose we might have voted."
While some may have missed the recent election, we may still consider our public mission accomplished. Not only do Afghans understand how democracies should work, they appear to be ready and willing to participate in that iconic process of ballot-casting.
What more could we ask? The deed is done. Afghanistan is a success by our own standards, and while our public claims of a righteous invasion still sustainable.
Obama is right to wait until after popular resolution of Kabul’s leadership before adding even more troops, as is NATO. Had Afghanistan’s summer presidential election been fair, our satrap Karzai would not be in charge, and the Kabul government would already be purged (perhaps viciously) of US-linked politicos and appointees. The run-off, if conducted fairly, will contribute to the continued and irreversible reduction of US credibility. President Obama should assess this much as he would a Chicago election — and get out of Afghanistan while we can still claim a positive influence.
There is a reason the generals are not in charge of our country — by design, anyway. The Gateses and McCrystals of the world are the real barbarians, personally and professionally locked on a treadmill that demands ever more blood and more glory, at any cost. With the publicly accepted mission in Afghanistan accomplished, Americans cannot afford to entertain the vain fantasies of flag officers who fear nothing but their own oblivion, and will sacrifice any number of lives and all measures of treasure in pursuit of personal relevance.
Thinking people everywhere see our Afghanistan experience as a crash of 20th-century American empire on the 21st-century rocks of reality. The contraction of our empire — happening today in monetary as well as military terms — is at least a full generation overdue. The false sustenance of a financial bubble corresponds with the failing sustenance of military empire. Our children are the first generation who are not citizens, but Caesar’s slaves, bound to a life of fear and labor, made bearable only by their inchoate dreams of freedom. The military-industrial complex, a benign tumor in the days of Eisenhower, has metastasized to the extent that generals run Washington and the fourth estate exists solely to serve the imperial machine.
Obama has a small window of opportunity to declare victory and take a step towards retroactively earning his Nobel peace prize. Afghanistan no longer threatens us, and they’d like their country back.
LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosts the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.