Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Afghan folliesóand foolishnessócontinue

Express Staff Writer

The British lasted three years (1839-1842) in Afghanistan before throwing up their hands and pulling out after losing 16,000 troops in a brutal mass slaughter by Afghans. Russia lasted 10 years (1979-1989) after deciding that 13,000 dead soldiers and billions in costs weren't worth trying to tame an unruly country.

But hand it to the United States: Stubborn war hawks in Congress, the Pentagon and the White House have yet to be exasperated with $100 billion-a-year costs and utter political and strategic military failure of the 10-year Afghanistan expedition launched in 2001 and now beginning a second decade in 2011.

Not even President Obama's shaky promise of a 2014 withdrawal seems reliable. Senior Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., announced over the weekend that he'd like to see a U.S. "permanent presence" in Afghanistan. "Permanent presence," as in endless, interminable, perpetual.

"Permanent presence" in Afghanistan, a nation largely illiterate and governed by primitive, cutthroat tribal warlords, is not the same as permanent U.S. troops in South Korea and Germany, which are highly literate, high-tech democracies with powerful industrial economies. Afghanistan's major industry is supplying 90 percent of the world's heroin demand.

Graham is but one of the foolish fanatics that believe Americans can whip Afghanistan into a peaceful, literate, stable, incorruptible society with money and troops. Obama is just as guilty: He broke his promise to begin withdrawing in 2011, changing that to 2014. Odds are he'd buckle again under pressure.

The military continues to fool itself—and misled the public—that progress is afoot. What actually is happening, according to veteran Ambassador Richard Holbrooke before his December death, is that the furtive Taliban guerilla forces simply melt into mountain hiding places when faced with punishing air and artillery firepower, only to pop up again elsewhere. Did the generals learn nothing in Vietnam?

Of President George W. Bush's objective to "stabilize" the Afghan government—ha!

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wreaks of graft and corruption. In a spurt of arrogant pique, the ungrateful Karzai threatened to choose the Taliban over Americans if Washington doesn't stop badgering him about cleaning up his government and investigating his brother for criminal corruption. This is stability?

And what of Republican and tea party catcalls about government spending? How can $100 billion a year (and more, probably) be justified?

Doesn't anyone in charge of this foolishness have the gumption to see signs of certain failure?

Or, maybe the question should be whether anyone has the political courage to say so.

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