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Afghanistan: The forever war we never question

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War is so normal in the United States of America — being in a constant state of it, somewhere else — that the longest-running foreign conflict in the country’s history is hardly even an afterthought in the race to become the nation’s next commander in chief.

In 17 televised debates and town halls, the Republicans and Democrats running for president have been asked all of two questions about the war in Afghanistan, now in its 15th year. The antiwar movement having died off with the election of President Barack Obama, who dramatically escalated the war before promising to end it, Afghanistan is of little concern outside a small room in Nevada where a U.S. pilot is remotely firing a Predator drone’s Hellfire missiles.

On the Republican side, Ben Carson was asked about Obama’s decision last year to “leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan” indefinitely. That was in November 2015, and Carson dodged the question, shifting to a question of his own — on humiliation as counterterrorism — that he posed as an answer. “How do we make them look like losers?” he asked, arguably elevating the discourse on foreign policy in this most humiliating of election campaigns.

No Republican has been asked about Afghanistan since. At nearly half of their debates, the name of the country hasn’t even been mentioned in passing.

As for the Democrats, voters might be forgiven for assuming there’s a stark difference between the progressive Bernie Sanders and the centrist Hillary Clinton.

Bernie volunteered at the first debate in October 2015 that he “supported the war in Afghanistan,” but the remark was ambiguous: Did he still support, or was he merely listing all the bombs he has supported dropping in the past, a prerequisite for someone seeking to occupy the White House. It wasn’t until February 2016 that either he or Clinton were asked a direct question about a U.S. occupation that’s halfway through its second decade.

“If President Obama leaves you 10,000 troops,” the moderate inquired, “how long do you think they’re going to be there?”

“Well, you can’t simply withdraw tomorrow,” said Sanders. “Wish we could, and allow, you know, the Taliban or anybody else to reclaim that country.” He then shifted to “destroying” the Islamic State group in Iraq. And that was that.

If Bernie did not actually answer the question, neither did Hillary, who was named secretary of state by the president who has chosen to break his promise to leave Afghanistan in favor of leaving those 10,000 troops instead. “I would have to make an evaluation based on the circumstances at the time I took office,” said Clinton, not really saying anything.

Afghanistan hasn’t come up again, perhaps because two old white people agreeing with each other does not make for great television. For years the war in Afghanistan was “the good one,” launched as it was just a month after the terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, with liberal Democrats spending the better part of a decade contrasting its justness with the “distraction” of invading and destroying Iraq.

Do Afghan Lives Matter?

Afghanistan’s absence from U.S. politics can also, perhaps, be attributed to the fact that those who are dying there today are not the U.S. military’s brave men and women, but Afghan civilians, as anonymous as they are innocent.

“For the most part I would blame racism in the media,” said Mohammed Harun Arsalai, a 34-year-old Afghan living in Kabul, in an interview with teleSUR. An independent journalist, Arsalai has seen firsthand that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Afghan lives don’t matter.

“I can point back to at least two examples in recent memory where a major, mainstream media outlet contacted me about footage and information on attacks taking place in Kabul against ‘Western targets,’” he said. One was a suicide car bomb attack on a French restaurant and the other was an attack on the Italian Embassy. “In both instances,” he said, “these outlets canceled their requests with me because no Westerners were injured. Afghan lives just aren’t worth as much to these people.”

On Feb. 27, the same day Clinton and Sanders were campaigning for votes in South Carolina, at least 26 people were killed and 50 wounded in suicide bombings across Afghanistan. No Westerners died, however, and so another day went by on the campaign trail where a war being waged 11,000 kilometers away went unmentioned.

If he had a chance to meet with any of the presidential contenders, Arsalai knows what he would say: “That the U.S. has no policy in Afghanistan.” The threat of a Taliban takeover is oft-cited as a reason to stay, but the U.S. “has said on multiple occasions now that they are not at war with the Taliban. What does that mean? What are they doing here then?”

“Afghans are killing Afghans,” said Arsalai, “while the U.S. is mainly confined to its bases using drones and airstrikes, basically acting as a manager of the violence.”

War Without an End

Matthew Hoh was one of the U.S. State Department’s senior officers in Afghanistan. He resigned in September 2009, protesting a war he accused the Obama administration of fighting without a clear idea as to “why and to what end.”

“Cut the crap,” Hoh would tell those — everyone running for president — who believe the U.S. presence is preventing an extremist takeover. “Our presence in Afghanistan, in particular our escalation of the war, has only made the Taliban stronger,” he told teleSUR.

In the months before Hoh resigned from the State Department, President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise and ordered a massive surge of troops in Afghanistan, increasing the size of the U.S. occupying force from 32,800 men and women at the time he took office in January 2009 to more than 100,000 by 2011, not counting private contractors. It was another campaign promise, made four years later, that he decided to break: the one about getting out.

The product of escalation has not been peace, but a surge in death for all sides, though in war as in capitalism, burdens are not distributed equally. Of the nearly 2,400 U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan, more than 1,750 have died since Obama took office. But as in any war, the brunt of the violence has been felt by those on whose behalf it is ostensibly being fought: In 2015 alone, at least 3,545 civilians were violently killed, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, while more than 7,400 were injured, making it the worst year on record for the Afghan people.

Overall, the war has killed around 100,000 people in Afghanistan, more than a quarter of them civilians, according to a study by researchers at Brown University. And the 30 million Afghans still living now face another threat: the Islamic State group, an extremist organization for those who deem the ultra-reactionary Taliban too moderate. “(M)ore than two-thirds (67.4 percent) of Afghans report that they always, often, or sometimes fear for their personal safety,” found a survey of nearly 10,000 people released in November 2015 by The Asia Foundation. “This is the highest rate since 2006.”

No Courage, No Peace

“By every standard of measurement,” Hoh said, “our military, economic and diplomatic campaigns under the Obama administration have worsened conditions for the average Afghan, increased popular support for the Taliban, and created an increasing factionalism and weakness in Afghan society that has allowed for a group like the Islamic State to find a welcoming base of support and enthusiastic adherents.”

After all, thanks to corrupt local warlords sometimes called “governors” and backed by the power and glory of the almighty U.S. military, many Afghans have come to learn that Taliban, ISIS or al-Qaida or not, getting in the way of corruption, or just living on land the corrupt desire, can be a ticket to a torture chamber at Bagram or an extended stay in an early grave. And if they can’t join the corrupted, some decide they might as well join the resistance, or what passes for it, whether they share its views on women and television or not.

But people prefer the comfort of simplicity and, so long as the dead is someone else’s kid, there’s no real price to pay for ignorance, or really anything to gain politically from denouncing an act that no one is angry about.

“The vast majority of Americans are unaffected by the war. It has no immediate costs for them and they bear no sacrifice,” said Hoh. Stirring that sorely lacking concern is, alas, asking for more than most media outlets are willing or capable.

“For the standard three-minute television story or 500-word print story,” Hoh argued, “upsetting the moral narrative of the ‘good war’ is too difficult to achieve, and it is something that would take moral courage to do, anyhow.” In the campaign press as with politicians on the campaign trail, there just isn’t a whole lot of that sort of thing, even in the best of times — and this, the age of austerity and Donald Drumpf, cannot be confused with that.

So, left unchallenged, even the populists will continue to shrug along with the status quo, not even bothering with the historic tradition of making anti-war promises to break, while Afghans will continue dying in a war that few ever bothered to understand.

This article was originally published on the teleSUR website.

charlesdavis
About Charles Davis

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles whose work has been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The Nation, The New Republic and Salon.

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7 Responses

  1. just
    just
    March 4, 2016, 10:07 am

    Thanks for the article, Charles.

    You left out the goodies, though. The Afghan people did not ‘do’ 9/11.

    Nor did they ask the USSR to invade and kill in 1979.

    They’ve been dying for empire and a pipeline for nearly 40 YEARS.

    (P.S. You also forgot to mention Pakistan…)

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      March 5, 2016, 8:13 am

      Also missed: the drugs trade and its twin, money laundering.

    • Amy1
      Amy1
      August 26, 2016, 4:13 am

      By that standard he even forgot to mention Iran, India and China. I wonder why they never make it in the discourse surrounding Afghanistan.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    March 4, 2016, 10:23 am

    RE: “War is so normal in the United States of America — being in a constant state of it, somewhere else — that the longest-running foreign conflict in the country’s history is hardly even an afterthought in the race to become the nation’s next commander in chief.” ~ Charles Davis

    René Guénon – The Crisis of the Modern World

    René Guénon
    Author
    WIKIPEDIA (René Guénon):
    [EXCERPTS] René-Jean-Marie-Joseph Guénon[2] (November 15, 1886 – January 7, 1951), also known as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahid Yahya, was a French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics, having written on topics ranging from metaphysics, “sacred science”[3] and traditional studies[4] to symbolism and initiation.

    In his writings, he proposes either “to expose directly some aspects of Eastern metaphysical doctrines”,[5] these doctrines being defined by him as of “universal character”,[6] or “to adapt these same doctrines for Western readers[7] while keeping strictly faithful to their spirit”;[5] he only endorsed the act of “handing down” these Eastern doctrines, while reiterating their “non-individual character”.[8]

    He wrote and published in French and his works have been translated into more than twenty languages. . .

    . . . Guénon defines the modern world as being a degeneration of what he calls “the traditional world”. According to him, the real separation between the East and West comes from this degeneration; in other words, it comes from an intellectual standpoint, and is not related to any geographical distinction, but to a doctrinal divergence.[26] Amidst the global period of intellectual confusion and disorder that characterizes modernity according to René Guénon, the East has maintained alive, through uninterrupted spiritual lineages, an intellectual (possibly hidden) elite fully conscious of the original wisdom transmitted to humanity from time immemorial. In some of his books, he states that the present condition of humanity can be explained by the traditional doctrine of “cosmic cycles”, as it is described in Hindu doctrines.

    He produced a series of articles and books aimed at explaining the modern civilization according to traditional data and, more generally, to the “traditional standpoint”.[27] He therein denounces what he calls the “pseudo-initiation”, which was, according to him, spreading since the end of the 19th century. He intends to denounce, through a careful examination of the historical origin, the ideological evolution taken by what he calls their “pseudo-doctrines”, some “pseudo-spiritual” organisations which, according to him, expose to the West false eastern doctrines or which are counterfeits of regular initiatic traditions (among these “pseudo-spiritual associations” he makes a particular mention of the Theosophical Society founded by Madame Blavatsky in the wake of the modern pseudo-Rosicrucian organisations of the late 19th century).[28]

    Guénon exposits a view of Metaphysics which can, according to him “by no means be reduced to scientific or philosophical conceptions”[29] but which is instead “the knowledge … of the principles of universal order” ; being “absolutely illimited”, Metaphysics “cannot be defined”.[30] Metaphysics is seen, according to him, in its etymological sense,[31] while recalling that sense in his books.[32] Such a metaphysics, being by essence beyond any contingency, is necessarily at the source of all orthodox traditions, these latter being considered as direct derivations of the great “primordial tradition” (corresponding to the Hindu notion of Sanātana Dharma, or Manu law).

    Metaphysics is not introduced by René Guénon as a branch of philosophy, as it is in western studies. Traditional metaphysics, which is, according to Guénon, beyond any contingency (knowledge of universal principles[33]), lies at the very source of all orthodox and legitimate traditions, making a connection between the heart of these traditions and a unique spiritual origin, the “Primordial Tradition”.[34] The study of traditional metaphysics and its relationship with our state of existence, i.e. our world, clears the path inwardly towards the center common and shared by each authentic religion: exoterism bounds an “outside” accessible to everyone, its purpose is to maintain the link with Supreme Principle.[35]

    However, the current state of the West, characterized by its voluntary and gradual detachment from his own tradition, Christianity, and the degeneration of major branches of one of his last initiatic organization, freemasonry, makes a restoration somewhat unlikely feasible given that this situation is the result of a long evolution through Western history, which according Guénon, follows even a predetermined plan.[36] Incidentally, in the esoteric domain, René Guénon says that two dates mark historically the fundamental spiritual degeneration of the West: first, the destruction of the Order of the Knights Templar in 1314, which defines precisely what René Guénon called “modern deviation”,[37] and the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which severed, in the historical and “outer realm”, the link between West and what René Guénon defined as the “Supreme Centre”.[38]

    At multiple occasions in his books, René Guénon insisted that the most important, in metaphysics, was properly inexpressible:[39]

    it should be agreed, for not altering the truth by a partial, restrictive or systematized exposition, to keep always the part of the inexpressible, ie the part which cannot be emprisonned in any form, and which, metaphysically, is really what matters most, we can even say that represents the most essential part

    According to the doctrine exposed by Guénon, the “spiritual realisation” leads to the effective identification with the states of being that are superior to our transitory human state, and ultimately to the “Supreme Identity” with the Supreme Principle or Absolute Reality. He firmly states the necessity of being fastened to an authentic and living tradition which has kept alive and made available the initiations that were existing in that tradition since its inception. Such living traditions (such as Hinduism, Islam, or Taoism) are characterized by an inspiration (ex. the Vedas), or a revelation (ex. the Qur’an). He insists on the notion of “intellectual intuition” (supra-rational or spiritual), “awakened” by concentration and meditation on symbols, either in visual form (yantras) or auditive (mantras or, in Islam, dhikr). . .

    P.S.
    [PDF] The Crisis of the Modern World (Collected Works of René Guénon)http://tohno-chan.com/ddl/src/Rene_Guenon_-_The_Crisis_of_the_Modern_World.pdf
    CONTENTS
    Editorial Note XI
    Preface 1
    ·1 The Dark Age 7
    2 The Opposition Between East and West 21
    3 Knowledge and Action 33
    4 Sacred and Profane Science 42
    5 Individualism 55
    6 The Social Chaos 69
    7 A Material Civilization 81
    8 Western Encroachment 97
    9 Some Conclusions 107
    Index 119

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      March 6, 2016, 4:10 am

      RE: “FACT: Romney and Ryan don’t have a plan for our troops in Afghanistan. The President has a clear plan to end the war in 2014. #DetailsMatter”

      MY QUERY: Was this, perchance, one of Kissinger’s infamous “secret plans” for ending wars? The “devil” is often in Kissinger’s “details”! Sometimes in Ziggy’s as well.

      P.P.S. It looks like it’s going to be “one of ‘those’ days”! ! !

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      March 6, 2016, 4:51 pm

      “At multiple occasions in his books, René Guénon insisted that the most important, in metaphysics, was properly inexpressible”

      That’s convenient for him, isn’t it?

  3. RoHa
    RoHa
    August 26, 2016, 4:47 pm

    “Afghanistan: The forever war we never question”

    What do you mean, “we”?

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