Why die for Karzai?
By Tom Hayden
Fifty-nine Americans died in October fighting to
protect the corrupt Afghan electoral process that
resulted in a second five-year term for Hamid Karzai.
Since July and the run-up to the August election, 195
Americans were killed and more than 1,000 were wounded,
a higher casualty rate than during the 2007 military
Obama for sending 17,000 more combat troops to
election, which, according to most observers, Karzai stole.
Has it occurred to anyone in the White House national
security circles or the pundit class that these recent
American deaths were wasteful and immoral? That sending
Americans to die for an unpopular regime of warlords,
landlords, drug dealers and CIA assets (Karzai's
brother) is impossible to justify? And that rather than
admitting the mistake, the president and his advisors
are preparing to compound it?
I suspect that part of the
has nothing to do with his well-known incompetence and
corruption. After all, with
almost entirely dependent on heroin, how could the
government not resemble a mafia state? What worries the
Pentagon even more is that Karzai, in response to
Afghan public opinion, may want to negotiate with the
Taliban before the Pentagon can turn the tide of war.
Semi-secret peace talks with the Taliban, supported by
the Karzai government, were reported in May. During the
campaign, peace talks were the top issue among voters,
with Karzai depicted as "the most vocal candidate"
calling for talks with the Taliban, according to the
New York Times.
Perhaps his campaign promise of peace talks was only a
ploy to win votes, but that also is a measure of Afghan
There were signs that the Afghan Taliban leadership was
interested in a peace process too. An April task force
Rubin noted that "the [Taliban]
signs of willingness to distance itself from Al Qaeda
and seek a political settlement."
A back-channel, U.S.-blessed Saudi diplomatic
initiative in December reported a negotiating proposal
from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar demanding,
among other things, a new power-sharing arrangement in
withdrawal; replacing NATO forces with peacekeepers
from Islamic countries; and a role for the insurgents
in the reconstituted Afghan security forces. On Sept.
19, Omar issued a statement of assurance that the
Taliban, "as a responsible force, will not extend its
hand to cause jeopardy to others" -- words interpreted
by a British intelligence officer as a willingness to
separate itself from Al Qaeda.
feelers. The reason is pure power politics. The United
States and NATO apparently want to negotiate only from
a position of strength. "Reconciliation is important,
but not now," said one Western official in August.
"It's not going to happen until the insurgency is
weaker and the government is stronger." Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed her readiness "to
welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces Al
Qaeda, lays down their arms and is willing to
participate in the free and open society that is
enshrined in the Afghan Constitution." She was calling
for a surrender, not the opening of a conflict-
resolution process. The
Anne W. Patterson, ratcheted up the war rhetoric last
month by asserting that if the Pakistani army failed to
eliminate Omar, the
It is plain to me that the
the military upper hand with more troops, thus
strengthening a negotiating position, while at the same
time curbing Karzai's desire to enter talks with his
Afghan adversaries. Portrayed as weak, Karzai in fact
may be too much of a nationalist for the Pentagon's taste.
Negotiating with the Taliban would be distasteful, but
how many more American soldiers will die while trying
to achieve this upper hand? The Pentagon forecasts two
years of harsh combat in
current rates could mean an additional 1,000 American
dead and 8,000 wounded. For each American boot on the
ground, there will be an equivalent increase in
roadside bombs, according to a
Pentagon Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat
taxpayers about $3.6 billion a month.
The Al Qaeda strategy of overextending our military and
exhausting our economy seems to be on schedule. With Al
Qaeda relocated to Pakistan, the Pentagon now is
fighting Afghan insurgents -- who hate foreign invaders
-- on the hypothetical grounds that Al Qaeda will
someday return to
security strategists such as
claim "broad agreement" that
nerve center for global jihad. One is tempted to
respond that NATO should invade
Al Qaeda is a real threat, but the threat only worsens
as Western powers rampage through Muslim countries.
Defense against Al Qaeda is a legitimate mission, but
not where the tactics being used feed a desire for
indiscriminate revenge among millions of people with
nothing to lose.
This is the "march of folly" once predicted by
historian Barbara Tuchman. And it requires an exit
strategy, not a deepening quagmire. In 1989, German
essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote of the need for
a "new kind of hero," not one who spills blood to save
a reputation but one brilliant at withdrawing from
untenable situations of their own making.
"It was Clausewitz," wrote Enzensberger, "who showed
that retreat is the most difficult of all operations.
That applies in politics as well. . . . It goes without
saying that the protagonist risks his life with every
step he takes on this path."
This is the choice facing Obama: Whether to send more
Americans to their graves in support of Hamid Karzai
while at the same time blocking the emergent quest for
peace negotiations in
[Tom Hayden is a former
latest book is "The Long Sixties."]