Putting A New Coat on a Failed Strategy

I turned on the television Friday, March 27, 2009. It was tuned to C-SPAN. Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan was being televised. Listening only to the words of his introductory comments and ignoring the person who was speaking them, I could have been listening to George Bush. The same old catchphrases appeared: 9-11, terrorism, Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda, terrorism, 9-11. A few new words were added. Pakistan and diplomacy were two of them. Yet, the idea behind the supposedly new Obama plan was the same. Washington and its NATO cohorts will stay in Afghanistan until the world is safe from Al-Qaeda. Left unsaid by Obama, just like it was unsaid by George Bush, is the reality that foreign troops killing Afghans and Pakistanis has done very little to end the supposed threat from Al-Qaeda. The proof lies in the fact that foreign troops are still in Afghanistan under the impression that destroying Al-Qaeda is why they are there.

The idea that a stateless organization such as Al-Qaeda can be defeated by occupying those regions of the world where it is supposedly headquartered seems foolish. The idea that killing people who live in those regions will further the first idea is equally foolish, of questionable strategic sense, and morally wrong. The predominant argument given by George Bush when US forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001 was that the Taliban government provided a haven to Al-Qaeda. Therefore, the entire nation of Afghanistan and its people deserved whatever death Washington rained down on them. This simplistic logic never allowed for the fact that it was quite likely that many Afghans did not support the Taliban. Nor did it acknowledge the obvious question of how bombing villages and cities would cause the capture of the Al-Qaeda leadership. Furthermore, the plan to launch an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by belligerent foreign forces ignored the resentment such an action would bring.

Now, seven and a half years later, the occupying troops and Afghan people live with the results of Washington’s response. Occupying troops get killed regularly by villagers, Afghan policemen, Taliban forces, and Afghans aligned with other militias. Afghans face a daily struggle negotiating the ins and outs of life in an occupied country where any element of the armed forces around them–occupying troops, mercenaries, Taliban, members of the US-installed Afghan security forces, or criminals–can make their lives even more miserable. On top of this, the majority of Afghans live in impoverished conditions made worse by years of war. Given these conditions, it is no surprise that Afghan militias opposed to the occupiers are gaining ground. They provide security to ordinary Afghans while appealing to their desire to see the occupying troops leave. It’s not that Afghans necessarily accept the fundamentalist doctrines of these militias (Taliban and others) as much as it is that they share a common understanding as Afghans. A somewhat appropriate metaphor regarding Afghans’ support of these militias might be found in the situation vis-a-vis Hamas in Gaza. Many Palestinians do not support Hamas’ religious agenda, but see them as the only political organization that shares their desire to end the Israeli domination of Palestine and is willing to fight for that end. Obviously, there are great differences between the two sets of circumstances, but I believe the analogy holds up in a very basic way.

Likewise, the people in the so-called tribal regions of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) resent the presence of foreign troops and unmanned rockets in their neighborhood. Consequently, they have opposed their presence, often with armed force. In addition, they have decided to align themselves with the Taliban and others in the region that oppose the foreign presence as well. Unlike Afghanistan, where the Karzai government in Kabul serves at the pleasure of Washington, the government in Islamabad has occasionally been more vocal than Mr. Karzai (who has expressed his own displeasure on occasion) in its opposition to the US forays across its border into the NWFP. This has not prevented Washington from launching its unmanned rockets into the region, but it may have prevented more helicopter and ground forays like the one in fall 2008. It remains safe to assume, however, that the Pakistani government will accede to Obama’s plans for the region and allow US forces to operate when and where they want to.

According to Obama, “Washington has a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” Now, Al-Qaeda may or may not be planning to attack targets in the United States, like Mr. Obama claimed in his speech. The fact that this possibility continues to be used as justification for not only occupying Afghanistan, but for escalating the military operation there (and expanding it deeper into Pakistan), proves the fallacy of this strategy, if the true intent is what Obama says it is. No matter how much Mr. Obama and his advisors wish it to be otherwise, continuing the current strategy of occupation and escalation will not cause those Afghans opposed to the presence of US troops to end their opposition. Therefore, it is unlikely to cause the end of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, no matter how badly many of us wish that it would. The likelihood that Washington’s strategy will not accomplish the goals elucidated by Mr. Obama (and by George Bush in 2001) points to the possibility that those goals are not the true intention of Washington in the region. Could it be that the goals Mr. Obama explicitly denied (and I quote) — “We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future” — are the true ones? Only then does his escalation of the battle there begin to make sense.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

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  1. bozh said on March 28th, 2009 at 1:29pm #

    there is a saying in the balkans: say/do it so that the Wallachs don’t catch on.
    so, O says it so afghanis, iraqis, amers don’t catch on.
    but what i have just said may not be adequate/accurate as many [mns] afghanis and iraqis espy what’s it about but only few amers do.
    how many? 2, 3, 4 %?
    most amers [how many? is it 97%] still evaluate that slavery and a fair constitution can coexist in perfect harmony.
    most amers believe that by-now-sanctified constitution and dying for lack of medicine or healthcare also make perfect sense.

    mind most amers may be correct in the estimation that cia also benefits the working class and stay-at-home moms since the goodies cia helps funni uncle to buy at low prices, s’mhow, s’mwhen benefits also them.

  2. Max Shields said on March 28th, 2009 at 4:11pm #

    Ron, he’s the dirty little secret: there is no war on terror or Al-Qaeda.

    What is going on is much bigger than “terrorism” The logic of terror as a faux enemy is clear – even to Obama. Energy is what this is about. Hegemony and control of energy sources.

    Thought is this essay called Liquid War Postcard from Pipelineistan
    By Pepe Escobar on Tom Dispatch brings this all into focus. The shit that comes out of Obama’s mouth (and his predecessor(s)) is not worth the C-SPAN sound-bites.

    No doubt the continued use of the “war on terror” is for propaganda public consumption with a new mouthpiece uttering the inanities of Commander In Chief.

  3. ron said on March 28th, 2009 at 4:19pm #

    I agree. That is the actual point of my piece. Too bad so many Americans fall for the GWOT myth.

  4. burro said on March 28th, 2009 at 4:21pm #

    Max, You’re correct.

    “The governments of the United States, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan are working hard to build the (natural gas pipeline) project abandoned by Unocal in 1998. Furthermore, the rationale given for attacking Afghanistan — capturing Osama bin Laden, disabling Al Qaeda, stabilizing Afghanistan, liberating the Afghan people — are demonstrably false. For not only did the Bush Administration fail to achieve these supposed objectives, it never attempted to carry them out in the first place.
    Remove the lies and the deception, and the truth becomes plain: the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in order to secure access to the world’s largest unexplored energy resources, those of the Caspian Sea.”
    Read the book Gas War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan by Ted Rall – 2002.

    As I was reading through this article, I was wondering if and when Ron Jacobs was going to get beyond the rhetoric. Finally, in the last three sentences, he reaches the core.

    It’s foolish and futile listening to what Obama and members of Congress are saying. We all need to realize the fact that we are living in the American Empire. Obama is its figurehead emperor and the Congress represents the interests of transnational corporations (esp. oil / gas interests and war contractors). The goal of the Congress and the executive branch of gov’t is to support and maintain this empire. Nothing more; nothing less.

    Only when there is a vast decrease in war spending, a closure of the majority of overseas military bases, and domestic spending for the interests of we the people – instead of bailouts for Wall St. crooks and banksters – should we pay any attention to what these trained liars have to say. Actions speak louder than words. We all know that. Yet we keep trying to analyze political speeches. What an incredible waste of time!

    BTW, for those of you who want the Empire’s troops to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, I have bad news: The American Empire’s troops will not only remain there, but according to Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace (Feb. 19, 2008), U.S. Army Central is establishing a permanent platform for “full spectrum operations” in 27 countries around southwest Asia and the Middle East. “These commands now have a permanent responsibility to this theater. They’ll have a permanent presence here. The personnel will change; the commands will remain.” The Empire also has a multi-billion dollar embassy in Iraq. The Empire will not be leaving it behind. The troops will get shuffled around, but the empire will remain in southwest Asia and the Middle East. Period.

    The question now is: what are WE going to do about it?

  5. Jeff said on March 28th, 2009 at 4:26pm #

    Ya know, just trying here to get back to basic thought!

    What “IS” the agenda?

    From all parties involved.

    Ground “earth” Zero.

    Just might be a start.

    Or an end.

    “Best thing that could happen is that electrons stop flowing.”

    Think about that for a while folks before you all reply.

    “Those whom think they are wise, surely do not know?”

    Questions, always questions.

    I always ask. Makes a lot pissed off!

    Guess “they” do not have the answers!

    I know which way my weapon is pointed.

  6. Max Shields said on March 28th, 2009 at 4:33pm #

    Ron, yes. Just offered a little punctuation on the matter.

    More and more it’s becoming apparent that Obama is more dangerous in some respects to any progressive movement than GWB who was a baffoon; though clearly in charge (with Cheney et al) of the war machine.

    But the so-called liberal cohorts of endless war and hegemony are now added in force to the neocons and hawks. The election of Obama has given a new lease on the “long war” as a means to other ends, which had reached an impass with GWB.

    While the “long war” is in play, we face a long emergency and soon the jig will collide with reality.

  7. rosemarie jackowski said on March 29th, 2009 at 12:47pm #

    It might be about oil, but if it wasn’t oil it would be something else…water, dune buggies, broccoli… The US has been in a state of perpetual war to keep the money flowing to the arms manufacturers.

    If it wasn’t for war, the US economy (for the wealthy) would be in even worse shape than it is – and heaven forbid, the US might have to convert its manufacturing to something such as farm tractors. There is a lot more profit in weapons.

  8. Max Shields said on March 29th, 2009 at 2:06pm #


    I find myself repeating this oil is not broccoli. There is no need for a military industrial complex except for energy. We would not have ventured out of caves if not for sources of energy. Fossile based fuel became the lottery of the mid-19th century and it RULES.

    If it wasn’t for energy there would be NO economy. My point is we need to get the cause and effect in the proper order. There is no military without energy, there is no New York City, no San Franscio, no Paris, or London or Moscow….no transportation. Water, land and energy are what creates conflict and war. Not ideology. There are no factories to build weapons without energy/fossile. There is NO profit for a military industrial complex without massive sources of energy.

    And the “guy” with control of the energy sources WINS!!!

  9. Hue Longer said on March 29th, 2009 at 2:27pm #


    not sure anyone ever warred or extorted over broccoli specifically, but they did so over food crops. I guess beer could be looked at as energy because it enabled marching armies to be formed due to the ability to preserve grain. Beer and slaves are energy, but I’m sure there were a few houses dotting the way to further conquest that had some broccoli they had to shell out every year

  10. Max Shields said on March 29th, 2009 at 2:29pm #

    food is energy. it is the primary energy. there’s no life without it. fossile is an extension.

  11. bozh said on March 29th, 2009 at 4:12pm #

    there had not been for eons oil or energy except firewood; nevertheless, most people ca 10-20T yrs ago begun losing and a few winning.
    ?2% of people have owned all of the land and waters. today 2 or 3% of amers own 95% of all the means of production, education, dissemination of [dis]information.
    interpersonal relationship is at a standstill. i see no progress. tnx

  12. Don Hawkins said on March 29th, 2009 at 4:28pm #

    interpersonal relationship is at a standstill. i see no progress. Right there Bozh that’s a big one. It is about to change how I don’t know.

  13. Don Hawkins said on March 29th, 2009 at 4:59pm #

    By Noel Sheppard
    Associate Editor, Newsbusters.org

    For years, climate realists around the world have been warning the international community that the entire man-made global warming myth and resulting hysteria is all a scheme to redistribute wealth under the pretense of saving the planet.
    In a document obtained by FOX News, the United Nations has made it official.
    As FOX News executive editor George Russell reported Friday:

    A United Nations document on “climate change” that will be distributed to a major environmental conclave next week envisions a huge reordering of the world economy, likely involving trillions of dollars in wealth transfer, millions of job losses and gains, new taxes, industrial relocations, new tariffs and subsidies, and complicated payments for greenhouse gas abatement schemes and carbon taxes — all under the supervision of the world body.
    Those and other results are blandly discussed in a discretely worded United Nations “information note” on potential consequences of the measures that industrialized countries will likely have to take to implement the Copenhagen Accord, the successor to the Kyoto Treaty, after it is negotiated and signed by December 2009. […]

    The 16-page note, obtained by FOX News, will be distributed to participants at a mammoth negotiating session that starts on March 29 in Bonn, Germany, the first of three sessions intended to hammer out the actual commitments involved in the new deal.
    Some of the ideas discussed in this document eerily resembled what NASA’s James Hansen wrote to Barack Obama last December:

    A rising carbon price is essential to “decarbonize” the economy, i.e., to move the nation toward the era beyond fossil fuels. The most effective way to achieve this is a carbon tax (on oil, gas, and coal) at the well-head or port of entry. The tax will then appropriately affect all products and activities that use fossil fuels. The public’s near-term, mid-term, and long-term lifestyle choices will be affected by knowledge that the carbon tax rate will be rising.
    The public will support the tax if it is returned to them, equal shares on a per capita basis (half shares for children up to a maximum of two child-shares per family), deposited monthly in bank accounts. No large bureaucracy is needed. A person reducing his carbon footprint more than average makes money. A person with large cars and a big house will pay a tax much higher than the dividend.

    Add to this the recent findings which suggest the current cooling trend that began in 1998 could last for at least another decade; the folks looking to use this manufactured crisis as a means of redistributing wealth must be realizing that the window of opportunity is starting to close.

    As such, they may believe this upcoming December meeting in Copenhagen is their last chance, thereby making this 16-page document a formal game plan for what is likely the beginning of a nine month full-court press.

    Let’s be honest, folks like Nobel laureate Al Gore have their reputations and their very fortunes on the line here, so we should all expect a great deal of hysterical media coverage in the near future — especially after the hurricane season begins in May.

    Here’s my advice, America: Prepare now for the coming storm.

    Interpersonal relationship is at a standstill. i see no progress and this kind of stuff could be one reason. In order for this Noel Sheppard person to write this he knows how serious climate change is and there is more at play here. No more progress is needed we keep it the way it is and so be it. Seems like such a shame to go this way. He got the window of opportunity is starting to close part right. For some things the window is already closed.

  14. Deadbeat said on March 30th, 2009 at 10:05pm #

    And the War For Oil mantra remains alive and well while the role played by the Zionist in the Bush Administration gets ignored.

  15. Shabnam said on March 31st, 2009 at 5:50am #

    People can fool themselves and ignore the power of zionism over the US foreign policy but the facts on the ground speak for itself. They can ignore the fact that Obama, as a black president, is more dependent on zionist support than any other president in the history of US presidency. His candidate for NIC, Charles Freeman, was brought down by a fifth column, Steven Rosen, who is waiting for his trial on charge of spying for Israel. Thus, those Americans who want to put the interest of American people ahead of Israel interest are very concerned about the foreign policy in the Middle east especially with dealing with Iran where Dennis Ross, pro Israel interest NOT American interest, has been forced on Obama as an advisor in Iran policy that everyone views him as AN ISRAELI AGENT when his past services in Clinton administration regarding ‘peace process’ comes to their mind. Linda Heard correctly sees Iraq war as a ZIONIST WAR and according to Oded Yinon plan “A strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.” She writes:

    {Yinon’s strategy was based on this premise. In order to survive Israel must become an imperial regional power and must also ensure the break-up of all Arab countries so that the region may be carved up into small ineffectual states unequipped to stand up to Israeli military might. Here’s what he had to say on Iraq:

    “The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern frontIraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.

    “An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.

    “In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and Shiite areas in the South will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”}

    Sound familiar?

  16. bozhidar or bozh said on March 31st, 2009 at 9:22am #

    about 95% of USans have been victimized. so, i do not blame the victims but ‘education’ imposed on them and made mandatory.
    what we ought not to ever underestimate is the power of a lie.
    after all, we are not dogs or apes; so, words affect us and can makes us slaves.
    and nowhere, as far as i know, are people inundated with all kinds of lies as much as amers.
    media, advertising, entertainment industry, sports, clergy, politicians, ‘educators’, et al lie to us massively; in fact so much, that the victims do not espy they are victimised daily.

    it is like a wife who gets beaten from time to time by a husband, who is also sweet to her, who just cannot see self as victim or feels she’s guilty one.
    sweet and sour treatment appears as the worst treatment.

    thus most amers may feel they wld be traitors or unamerican to evaluate much of what pols, ‘educators’, and clergy say as false to fact.

    in any case, most amers are well off. most might say, Let s’mbody else worry about it; i have a family to raise and thus pass the buck. tnx

  17. Deadbeat said on March 31st, 2009 at 5:53pm #

    about 95% of USans have been victimized

    I argee with this but the real problem lies with the fact that the “Left” in the U.S. is engaging in maintaining that ignorance. The question is whether the “Left” is just as indoctrinated or whether the “Left” is part of the deception. This is the question alluded to by Left Luggage in his article.

    If the Left cannot be relied on to communicate the truth and a programmatic solution then there really is no basis for solidarity and trust. Without solidarity then for certain there cannot be any real changes to the social and political situation.