President Obama continues to do everything to fulfill his prediction of September 12 that the Middle East wars will long outlast his administration. At that time (see my post #47, “Mission Impossible”) both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the army chief of staff warned that US ground forces might eventually be needed to defeat ISIS. Now, according to news reports, Obama has buckled under to Pentagon pressure and changed the US military mission in Afghanistan to a direct combat role—just as Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam in 1965. The reasons are plain: the war against ISIS is going badly, Afghanistan’s ability to carry on with only US advisory and logistical support is in doubt, and US military leaders cannot accept having fought there for 13 years without victory. Coupled with Obama’s decision to double the number of US advisers in Iraq to 3,000, we now face indefinite fighting in two countries from which he had once pledged to withdraw. Endless war, just as George W. Bush was accused of prosecuting.
In the latest (November-December) issue of Foreign Affairs, Peter Tomsen, who was the US special envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, addresses three persistent obstacles to success in Afghanistan. The first is US unwillingness to let the Afghans run any element of the war—not its own politics, its economy, or the conduct of the war itself. In these respects, he writes, the US is repeating the recipe for the Soviets’ failed intervention in Afghanistan. The second factor is corruption at every level of Afghanistan’s governing system. Third is Pakistan’s duplicitous role in the Afghan war—allowing US drone and other attacks on Pakistan’s territory, but also allowing the Inter Intelligence Service to protect and connive with the Taliban.
What is important about Tomsen’s account is that the first two of those three factors also apply to the war in Iraq. US control of the Iraq war hardly needs elaboration—from selection and removal of Iraq’s president on down to strategy and tactics. It has always been America’s war. As for corruption, the New York Times of November 24 reports on just one element of the rottenness that pervades Iraq society—the army. Numerous sources, including Iraqis, warn the US against distributing money and arms to the Iraqi army. But the Pentagon evidently isn’t listening, and thus well over $1 billion will flow to that army in 2015. Much of the cash will line the pockets of officers, while many of the weapons will find their way into the hands of ISIS. In short, the bad situation keeps getting worse, yet produces no change of course.
Don’t expect a peep from Congress in response to these latest US escalations of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. Conceivably, a few members might dare to raise objections on the basis of the War Powers Resolution, which not only requires notification to Congress of a direct commitment of US troops to combat, but also allows the President only 60 days to obtain Congressional authorization; otherwise, he must withdraw the troops. Of course the administration will insist, just as Bush did, that it already has all the authorization it needs, dating from 9/11, to prosecute war anywhere in the Middle East—not just in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Syria and ISIS-controlled territory. Republicans, despite their distaste for Obama’s domestic policies, will support his wars on the usual basis of “national security.”
Americans are expected to quietly acquiesce in another extension of the Bush-Obama wars. And to judge from the absence of public debate, they (we) are. No one is rising to challenge the military-industrial complex. Meantime, US allies in the Middle East hold back from supporting the US on the ground and Russia and China quietly draw confidence from watching the US expend enormous funds and prestige on unwinnable conflicts. What a shame that the lives of so many young people continue to be sacrificed, so many villages destroyed by bombing, and so many billions of dollars squandered abroad when so much remains to be accomplished at home for the betterment of millions in need. Happy Thanksgiving.