Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why die for Karzai? Does U.S. support really make sense?

Why die for Karzai?

Does U.S. support for the Afghan president really make sense?


By Tom Hayden


Los Angeles Times - November 10, 2009




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

"surge" in Iraq. A principal purpose cited by President

Obama for sending 17,000 more combat troops to

Afghanistan earlier this year was to protect the

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 U.S. unhappiness with Karzai

has nothing to do with his well-known incompetence and

corruption. After all, with Afghanistan's economy

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

public opinion.


There were signs that the Afghan Taliban leadership was

interested in a peace process too. An April task force

led by Washington insiders Thomas Pickering and Barnett

Rubin noted that "the [Taliban] Quetta shura is showing

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

Kabul, including Karzai; a timetable for U.S.

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.


U.S. officials haven't exactly leaped to pursue these

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 U.S. ambassador to Pakistan,

Anne W. Patterson, ratcheted up the war rhetoric last

month by asserting that if the Pakistani army failed to

eliminate Omar, the U.S. would.


It is plain to me that the United States seeks to gain

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 Afghanistan alone, which at

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 U.S. agency called the

Pentagon Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat

Organization. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is running

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 Kandahar. Elsewhere, national

security strategists such as Britain's Peter Neumann

claim "broad agreement" that Europe is actually the

nerve center for global jihad. One is tempted to

respond that NATO should invade Europe instead of

Afghanistan, but this is not a laughing matter.


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 Afghanistan.


[Tom Hayden is a former California state senator. His

latest book is "The Long Sixties."]




No comments: