Thomas Walkom: Afghan sacrifices may have been in vain.

As Walkom points out the new strategy would involve abandoning much of Afghanistan to the Taliban. No doubt drones, air attacks, and special forces operations would be used to keep the Taliban controlled areas weak and devastated. McChrystal was head of US special forces in Iraq before he got promoted.
Walkom is right that the Afghan was seen by some as a means to make NATO relevant again but then it was made relevant as a junior partner in US imperialism. After the fall of the Soviet Empire the American Empire rushed in an has virtually surrounded the Russian bear in Eastern Europe and even in former Soviet satellite states such as Georgia.
The Afghan occupation was a US operation from the beginning mounted under the pretext of self-defence but it is actually more about projecting US power globally as per the recipe outlined in PNAC.


Walkom: Afghanistan sacrifices may have been in vain


Thomas Walkom


Where does the war in Afghanistan go? My sense is that it is finally beginning the long and drawn-out process toward an inglorious end.

For Canada, this would mark the finish of the longest – and the least considered – war that this country has ever fought.

The latest hint comes from the New York Times, which has been following the intricate debates over war strategy within U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

This week, the Times reported that Obama now seems to favour a compromise between those in the military who want to send at least 40,000 more troops to a conflict that could last another decade and those, like Vice-president Joe Biden, who want to scale back the anti-Taliban ground war in order to concentrate on Al Qaeda terrorists.

The reported compromise would involve NATO forces – beefed-up by a few thousand new U.S. troops – withdrawing from much of the countryside to focus on a handful of Afghan cities and areas.

Although administration officials deny it, most of the country would effectively be ceded to the Taliban.

Not that this would make much practical difference to Afghans. According to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's man in charge of the war, the Taliban already act as the real government in much of the south and east, levying taxes, operating courts and even appointing ombudsmen empowered to hear citizen complaints.

But a retreat to the cities would signal that America was readying itself for the last act in the tragedy that has been the Afghan war.

In the end, this may not be the exact strategy that emerges once Obama announces his revamped plans. But that it is even being considered speaks volumes.

It's clear that America is losing its stomach for this war. Public opinion polls point to this, as does the president's decision to revisit and revise war plans that he announced just seven months ago.

Still, don't expect a dramatic about-face. Obama is not likely to announce that he has begun a process of ignominious retreat. That would be too embarrassing.

Instead, the war is sure to drag on – as it did in Vietnam five years after then president Richard Nixon promised an end to the conflict.

More civilians and soldiers (including Canadians) are likely to die in the name of preserving what the politicians like to call Western credibility.

But, as in Vietnam, the stages of withdrawal have been put inexorably into motion. Already, NATO and the U.S. are talking of training Afghan troops to do the fighting (40 years ago, this was called Vietnamizing the war).

Surrendering large chunks of the countryside would be the final stage before the inevitable denouement.

Yet, realistically, pulling out is the only viable option. The only possible way for the U.S. and its allies to win this war would be to adopt McChrystal's strategy of occupying the country village by village – and staying for years.

Even that would involve an impossibly high risk of failure. McChrystal's counter-insurgency vision depends upon American and NATO troops exercising a degree of restraint and cultural sensitivity during their occupation that is unreasonable to expect from any foreign fighting force.

(It's worth noting here, as journalist Robert Fisk points out in his book, The Great War for Civilization, that the former Soviet Union attempted its own version of cultural sensitivity by using Muslim troops to invade Afghanistan in 1979. That quickly broke down once Afghan insurgents began to literally crucify and display captured Soviet soldiers).

More to the point, however, the McChrystal strategy is politically impossible. Americans are sick of this war. They will not accept the cost in soldiers and money that the escalation he wants would require.

For NATO countries like Canada, this has not been a glorious time. They joined the conflict in 2001 because, as military allies of a country that claimed to be under attack from Afghanistan (even though, in any real sense, this wasn't true), they had little choice.

Yet this ill-thought-out war quickly became an opportunity.

Bureaucrats at Brussels' NATO headquarters saw Afghanistan as a war that could make the old anti-Communist alliance, largely meaningless since the Soviet collapse, relevant again.

In Canada, then prime minister Paul Martin's Liberal government viewed robust Canadian participation in this war as a chance to mend fences with a U.S. administration still angered by Ottawa's earlier decision to avoid the Iraq conflict.

As well, Ottawa hoped that its decision to play a serious military role in Afghanistan's dangerous south would convince security-conscious Washington to keep the Canada-U.S. border wide open for trade.

For Canada's generals, the war was a chance to winkle more money and equipment from their tight-fisted political masters – as well as an opportunity to burnish the image of the military.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who inherited the war, saw it as a chance to further their overall strategy of shifting the federal government away from social policy toward more traditional 19th-century functions like defence.

And the media saw it as a chance to reinvent the simple but powerful narrative of heroes (us) and villains (them). Indeed, at times the glee with which the media embraced the war bordered on the unwholesome.

Yet in the end, Canadians – with the notable exception of those whose friends and family were soldiers – paid little attention to the war.

It was not an issue in the federal election of 2006. Nor, thanks in part to a conspiracy of silence on the part of the Liberals and Conservatives, was it an issue in the next election two years later.

Soldiers continued to die, usually in ones and twos. But, with the on-again-off-again exception of the New Democrats and a handful of media gadflies, there was no national debate as to what, if anything, these deaths accomplished.

The answer, it now seems, is very little. Canadian soldiers acted professionally; they did what they had contracted to do. They risked life and health and, in too many cases, lost the bet.

But as the long countdown to final withdrawal begins, we now know that their deaths were pointless. The terrorists that the West was supposed to capture have moved on to Pakistan. The xenophobic and misogynistic Taliban that ran most of Afghanistan in 2001, run most of it again.

The war we never should have waged is effectively lost. We have only to admit it.


Thomas Walkom's column appears Wednesday and Saturday.

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