Afghanistan Is Not a Good War

It’s the perennial thorn in the colonialist’s side. It’s the war that won’t go away. It’s a wasp sting that swells, slowly choking the life out of the sting’s recipient. It is the nearly seven-year old occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and various NATO allies. Nearly forgotten by most Americans, the situation in that country has taken headlines away from the occupation of Iraq because of the resurgence of the anti-occupation forces. Nine US troops were killed in one day, easily topping any recent US fatality figures coming out of Iraq in recent months. The growing ferocity of the resistance was brought home to me when a young man whom I have known since he was three years old was removed from the battle zone with wounds serious enough to send him stateside for surgery and recovery. (He’s scheduled to get out of the Marines in October; hopefully he won’t get stop-lossed and sent back over there).

Like that wasp mentioned above, the Afghani resistance is not necessarily anything a Westerner can support wholeheartedly. Almost all of its elements, Taliban and otherwise, have a history of misogyny and antagonism toward values we consider essential to freedom. However, also like that wasp, their resistance to those attacking their lives and their homes is seen by them as essential to the survival of both. To carry the analogy a step further, the imperial forces arrayed against the Afghani resistance are like a predator insect that sets up a parasitic home on the host and then attempts to take over the host. There are those wasps that fight the invading parasite and there are those who merely exist within their nest. The US and NATO occupiers are the parasites hoping to install their host–the Unocal president Karzai–on the people of Afghanistan. At this point the parasites have failed to achieve their goal. Because of this failure, the parasite army is planning to intensify their assault.

This is where we leave the analogy and ask why Washington thinks it can achieve what the British and the Soviets could not? The Afghanistan region has always been the piece of the puzzle known as the Great Game that refuses to fit into the proscribed plans of any colonial power. It is as if this particular puzzle piece was cut from another die. No matter how much firepower is brought upon the Afghani people, they have been able to resist any type of lasting fit into any of the pictures hoped for by the colonial power of the day. They have done so by manipulation of the invader’s desires and by playing the various invaders off each other; and they have done so through sheer determination and the unforgiving nature of the land. Most recently, they used the US secret services to fend off the domination of their capital by the Soviets, and now they are using their own devices to fend off the domination of their country desired by Washington.

Despite what the majority of the western media tells its readers and viewers, there is more to the Afghani resistance than the Taliban. In fact, according to a recent report in the US News and World Report, U.S. forces are facing an increasingly complex enemy here composed of Taliban fighters and powerful warlords who were once on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency. As a military official stated in the aforementioned article: “You could almost describe the insurgency as having two branches. It’s the Taliban in the south and a ‘rainbow coalition’ in the east.” Add to this the various armed drug traders and their backers and you have a mix at least as volatile as that in Iraq during its worst periods over the last five years.

Despite the apparent failure of the armed approach taken by Washington in Afghanistan, both presidential candidates and the majority of Congress support not merely continuing this approach but intensifying it. McCain and Obama are not only in agreement that the Pentagon needs to send more troops into Afghanistan, they are also in agreement that it is the war that the US must win. Operating under the pretext that killing more Afghanis is somehow going to end the desire of Washington’s Islamist enemies to attack it has not only created the current stalemate in Afghanistan, it has also spread the anti-American resistance into the tribal areas of Pakistan and threatens to engulf the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The recent killings of civilians by US and NATO forces only adds to the resistance, especially when the US denies the killings ever happened.

As hinted at above, the Taliban and other resistance forces are difficult for most Westerners (and many others, as well) to support. Their stance against women and their distaste for certain values we consider essential to the human experience creates a quandary for some of us who understand the imperial nature of the US/NATO presence but find the fundamentalist society created by the Taliban in the wake of their defeat of the Soviets an undesirable alternative. Without going into the role the CIA and Pentagon played in the rise of the Taliban, suffice it to say they continue to exist primarily because they resist the imperial aggressor, not because the Afghani majority necessarily agrees with their understanding of Islam. Apparently less sophisticated than other religiously oriented anti-imperialist movements like Hamas and perhaps the Sadrist movement in Iraq that also feature a political wing more inclusive of those who don’t share either organization’s religious viewpoints, the Taliban would probably have no more political power than the polygamist Mormon sects in the US west if it weren’t for the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Back to US politics and Afghanistan. This is not the “good” war. It is just as wrong as the US adventure in Iraq. Likewise, it can not be won, no matter what the politicians and the generals say. The government put in Kabul by Washington is comparable to a new branch head of a multinational corporation. Its power is dependent on the whim of corporate headquarters and will never garner the support of those not on its payroll. There are clearly human rights being abused in Afghanistan, but those abuses are committed as much by the occupying forces as they are by the forces opposed to the occupier. The solution to Afghanistan begins, just like in Iraq, with the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the US military.

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.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on July 19th, 2008 at 9:17am #

    There is a positive side to this. The war in Afghanistan, like the never ending story in ex-Yugoslavia, has discredited NATO is the eyes of most Europeans. Oppostiton to NATO was the principal cause of the Irish no to the Lisbon Treaty, for example. If the neocons/Israel lobby had allowed Europe to be a benevolent neutral, they could have got away with anything. By trying to get our kids killed, they alienated Europe. As the man said, God is great!

  2. ron said on July 19th, 2008 at 10:59am #

    what you suggest sounds like defeat. there is what we allow. if there is no history than it is because we have given up our role in making history.

  3. hp said on July 19th, 2008 at 11:41am #

    “In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend – but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

    “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

    -Ron Suskind, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill.

  4. sk said on July 19th, 2008 at 1:40pm #

    btw, there are many places in the world where women are not treated with due respect. Can this fact be used willy nilly to justify invasion of those countries? It just so happens that there’s a long history in European imperialism of using decontextualized atrocity-tales to stoke a smug ethnic or group narcissism that lends itself nicely to an oxymoron like ‘waging war to save lives’. As Mahmood Mamdani put it last year:

    …every major intervention has been justified as humanitarian, a ‘civilising mission’. Nor was it mere idiosyncrasy that inspired the devotion with which many colonial officers and archivists recorded the details of barbarity among the colonised–sati, the ban on widow marriage or the practice of child marriage in India, or slavery and female genital mutilation in Africa. I am not suggesting that this was all invention. I mean only to point out that the chronicling of atrocities had a practical purpose: it provided the moral pretext for intervention. Now, as then, imperial interventions claim to have a dual purpose: on the one hand, to rescue minority victims of ongoing barbarities and, on the other, to quarantine majority perpetrators with the stated aim of civilising them. Iraq should act as a warning on this score.

    Nicholas Dirks has written recently about the ‘missionary fervor about issues such as sati and thuggee (not to mention the much larger, though not unrelated, global fervor about slavery) to make empire not just better, but a necessary feature of British identity.’

    Noam Chomsky also asks a pertinent comparative question related to plight of women in this clip. (starts at 0:17 and relevant comments are between 2:20 and 3:45).

  5. Deadbeat said on July 19th, 2008 at 6:34pm #

    Ron writes…
    This is not the “good” war. It is just as wrong as the US adventure in Iraq

    IMO, Afghanistan is just as illegal a war as Iraq. I do recall at the time it was stated that the FBI had no solid evidence against Bin Laden and the former Afghan government offered to extradite Bin Laden if the Bush Administration would provide such evidence.

    What needs to be remembered is that neither the people of Afghanistan nor the government of Afghanistan was involved in the 9-11 plot therefore the U.S. has no right to invade Afghanistan much less to topple their government and to install the puppet — Karzai.

    I find it extremely ironic that the folks at Black Agenda Report who has nothing but disdain for Obama cannot advice folks to support Cynthia McKinney and describe her as the “most progressive” when she voted to give Bush the authorization to attack Afghanistan.

    Thanks Ron for this article. The “Left” clearly needs to be reminded about Afghanistan.

  6. Max Shields said on July 20th, 2008 at 8:14am #


    You do see the difference between McKinney and Obama?

    Where does Obama stand on getting out (bases and all) of Iraq? Afghanistan? And McKinney?

    But you raise a conundrum, which are these two questions: Is it that you really think McKinney is not a progressive (as you seem to insist she is not) OR are you simply trying to apologize for the conservative corporate candidate Obama as someone BAR should not be disparaging?

    Before this recent repeat of McKinney’s vote, you were regularly attacking BAR and Glenn Ford on DV with regard to Obama. So, there is, for me, a credibility issue here. Maybe you can clear this up.

  7. hp said on July 20th, 2008 at 8:34am #

    Isn’t it possible that McKinney was, like Ron Paul, honestly voting her conviction? And that was that Bin Laden and his group really did attack the US and are based in Afghanistan.
    When you look at their voting records, they are both very judicious and uncompromising.

  8. Max Shields said on July 20th, 2008 at 12:06pm #

    Yes, hp, that’s what I find.

    I’ve been hard pressed to find the language of the bill/referendum. But as you say there is an incredible consciousness on the part of McKinney, Paul and Kucinich regarding military action.

    I think we’d be very hard pressed to find three more principled congress people (regardless of what, from a progressive perspective, Paul’s domestic agenda is). In fact, contrary to Obama they are each the most un-Political politicians I know, with the exception of Nader.

    But as far as Afghanistan, taking action to fnd who, and move toward bringing some level of justice to bear seems not only plausible but natural. The issue has always been the use of military forces. The military, at best, could only be an auxilary to track down a criminal – who ever that turned out to be. That’s NOT going to war. The US was not attacked in any substantive way on 9/11. Buildings and lives (many/most not US citizens) were destroyed. The natural reaction is to go after the perpetrators. Hijacking a few commercial airliners with box cutters is hardly an act of war – except to the most deviant mind (and perhaps the maddness of the moment).

    I do not believe war was declared on the sovereign state of Afghanistan and its people. And I do NOT think McKinney (nor Kucinich nor Paul) ever thought it was.