Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Barack Obama is about to make a tragic blunder.
By all accounts, he’s going to escalate the war in Afghanistan by sending about 30,000 more troops there.
After all the months of deliberations, he’s decided to do what he usually does, which is to split the difference, acquiesce, and go along with the Establishment folks he’s surrounded himself with.
Bold in rhetoric, Obama has proven, time and again, to be weak in substance.
But on this one, few people should be surprised.
Because he trapped himself in Afghanistan back during his Presidential campaign.
Worried that his anti-Iraq War stance might paint him as a dove, he quickly blurred the picture by saying that he favored Bush’s war in Afghanistan.
Now it’s his war.
But we shouldn’t fool ourselves that 30,000 troops will allow the United States to, as Obama put it, “finish the job.”
It would take at least ten times that number to have a decent chance of vanquishing the Taliban and controlling the whole country as an all-out occupier. But at an enormous cost in U.S. and Afghan lives, and in U.S. tax dollars.
So Obama has chosen not a middle path, but a muddle path, and that one is costly, too: an additional $30 billion a year, hundreds more U.S. soldiers killed and wounded, upwards of a thousand more Afghan civilians likely to die every year. With no end in sight.
We are told by “humanitarian” proponents of the war that we need to be there to prevent the Taliban from taking over again and reimposing its hideous oppression of women. But Malaila Joya, the leading feminist in Afghanistan, urges the United States to withdraw its troops. “It’s easier to fight one enemy than two,” she says. Right now, those who want democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, she says, are fighting two enemies: the Taliban and the United States. What’s more, the Taliban is growing more popular because it is seen as the most visible group taking on the foreign occupiers. If the United States were to leave, she argues, it would expose the Taliban as the reactionary force that it is, and allow the people of Afghanistan a chance to fight for their own freedom. She also points out the women are not faring very well in Afghanistan right now under Karzai.
But let’s be clear. The United States did not enter Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, and it’s not staying in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons.
Nor is it staying there primarily to defeat Al Qaeda, which is ensconced in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
It’s staying in Afghanistan because that country is centrally located between Iran and China.
It’s staying in Afghanistan so that Pakistan doesn’t install a government in Kabul that is hostile to India and that would enflame Pakistani-Indian enmities.
And it’s staying in Afghanistan to help bring oil and natural gas from the Central Asian republics to port in Pakistan.
“Increasingly, Afghanistan will assume its historical role as a land-bridge between South and Central Asia, connecting these two vital regions,” states the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2006. “Central Asia is an enduring priority for our foreign policy. . . . In the region as a whole, the elements of our larger strategy meet, and we must pursue those elements simultaneously: promoting effective democracies and the expansion of free-market reforms, diversifying global sources of energy, and enhancing security and winning the War on Terror.”
And Barack Obama is staying in Afghanistan for the same reason Lyndon Johnson stayed in Vietnam: He doesn’t want to concede defeat.
It’s a choice that will come back to haunt Obama, as it did LBJ.