Forty years of US terrorism show little sign of success

Original at Reader Supported News:

It must have seemed like a safe, cheap, and easy idea back in 1979 when US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, with President Carter’s blessing, set about harassing the Russian occupation of Afghanistan by covert means. The US escalated CIA activities, working with Pakistani secret services, including arming, training, and directing Islamic militants (then called the mujahideen) to fight the Russians. The US waged a nine-year-long proxy guerrilla war in Afghanistan (where US allies included Osama bin Laden). When the Russians pulled out 1n 1989, US proxies remained. Now they were called the Taliban, and they ran the country with the festering Islamic rage that the US had nurtured and supported when it seemed to salve our post-Viet Nam, post-Iranian Revolution wounded global pride.

The monster the US had raised from a pup was out of US control and came back to hurt us. Numbed by decades of Cold War denial of American crimes, Americans acted surprised by September 11, 2001.

Remember back in October 2001 when the US government and the US population were almost unanimous in the inchoate idea that we had to rush to do something – almost anything – in response to the downing of the World Trade Center?

The Bush administration had already obstructed justice by protecting nationals from the country that provided 15 of the 19 hijackers. The FBI wanted to interview Saudis in the US to see what connections they might discover to their compatriot suicide bombers. President Bush, fresh from holding hands with Saudi princes, made sure all the Saudis managed to get out of the country without any inconvenient criminal investigation questioning. That was a clear cover-up even if there was nothing to cover up, because it covered up the possibility of finding anything at all. That was the kind of blatant flouting of the law that Nancy Pelosi Democrats refused to think of as an impeachable offense. And the 9/11 Commission’s report on the Saudis remains top secret into a third presidency. This is massive, bipartisan political breakdown and abject moral failure that could lead to nothing good. It has in fact metastasized unimpeded into the cancer of the Trump administration.

Remember what it was like in September 2001? Almost no one was sane in those days, or if they were they laid low. Susan Sontag wrote a sane reflection on the attack in The New Yorker, for which she was roundly castigated, especially by her querulous peers at The New Yorker. On September 14, 2001, Barbara Lee of Oakland was the only member of Congress to vote against giving the president an “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF) – a carte blanche to wage war almost anywhere for almost any reason, a Congressional license to kill that remains in force today and serves as the legal justification for pretty much every dead Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian, Kurd, Yemeni, and anyone else we’re killing for any reason anywhere in the world. Rep. Lee has continued to try to rectify the AUMF of 2001, but presidents and Congress en masse consistently maintain America’s right to murder in the name of whatever we happen to think is important at the moment.

On the basis of the Congressional invitation to war, the Bush administration went to war with Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, calling it “Operation Enduring Freedom.” The ostensible cause of the war was the refusal of the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden, who was in the country if not under their control. The US knew roughly where bin Laden was, but was afraid to surround him militarily for fear of provoking serious resistance. Instead, the US relied on Pakistan to seal the border. Osama bin Laden escaped. Lacking a stated reason to be in Afghanistan, the US stayed. And the US is still there. And the US is complicit in the deaths of a million or more Afghans, and complicit in the forced exodus of more than five million Afghans, and complicit in the devastation of Afghanistan culturally, politically, militarily, and economically. Only US delusions survive more or less intact. In his State of the Union address in 2006, President Bush assured us:

We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine president and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy.

Actually that was not what was happening in Afghanistan, but by then Bush’s deceitful war on Iraq was getting more attention. Barack Obama, typically too clever for his own good, ran against the war in Iraq while defending the war in Afghanistan as a good war (without ever really explaining why). But the politics of perception don’t have to be rooted in reality, and by 2013, in his State of the Union address, President Obama was pitching the perception that the war in Afghanistan was pretty much over (if not necessarily won):

This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Actually that was not what was happening in Afghanistan, either. In 1979 American pride planned for Afghanistan to become a quagmire, a Russian Viet Nam. Now the Russians are long gone and Afghanistan has become another American quagmire. The mistake is the same as in Viet Nam: fighting a native population will take forever, because they have nowhere else to go. Sooner or later, the invader usually goes home. And President Trump seems to be indicating that it will be later, telling a UN Security Council meeting:

I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now. It’s a whole different fight over there. They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right, bombing in the middle of children, in the middle of families, bombing, killing all over Afghanistan.… We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it.

Actually what was happening in Afghanistan in 2017 is that the US was bombing the country more than ever, dropping more bombs during 2017 than in the two previous years combined. The US has used the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan. The US is using B-52s in Afghanistan, the same plane that carpet-bombed Viet Nam with ultimate futility. Now the B-52 has set a new record for dropping smart bombs on Afghanistan. These attacks were in northeastern Afghanistan, near the Tajikistan and Chinese borders, targeting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement accused of attacking China. Until recently, parts of this remote region had gone untouched by war for decades. Chinese and Afghan government officials are currently discussing the establishment of a Chinese military base in this region. China has provided Afghanistan with more than $70 million in military aid in the past three years (compared to some $10 billion from US/NATO countries).

Taliban attacks on Kabul and other cities have also escalated in recent weeks, killing more than 130 people in Kabul alone.

When the Taliban governed Afghanistan before 2001, it came close to eradicating opium growing and the heroin trade (set up by the CIA in 1979 to help finance the mujahideen). Since 2001, under US occupation, opium-growing and the heroin trade have flourished, reaching record levels. During that same period, US heroin-users have increased from about 189,000 to 3.8 million. According to a UN report on drugs and crime in 2017:

Only a small share of the revenues generated by the cultivation and trafficking of Afghan opiates reaches Afghan drug trafficking groups. Many more billions of dollars are made from trafficking opiates into major consumer markets, mainly in Europe and Asia…. [Drug trafficking constitutes] the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.

According to a 2017 report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), during the period 2002-2016, the US provided Afghanistan with $6 billion in security and military aid. An Afghan official estimated that as much as half that money had been stolen through Afghan corruption. The overall cost of the Afghan War to the US is estimated at more than $841 billion to date. Another estimate expects the total cost of the Afghan War to exceed $2 trillion, not including the costs of taking care of veterans. President Trump’s escalation of the war is expected to add billions to its eventual cost, which is calculated to have passed $1 trillion by January 2018. In his State of the Union address this year, President Trump reported:

Our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

So why are we still in Afghanistan? It’s not because Afghanistan poses any threat to US national security – or ever did. It’s not because there’s any rational military or political reason to stay in Afghanistan. And it’s not because the Afghans want us there. There are former Taliban in the Afghan legislature, but the US presence (as in Korea) makes any chance of peaceful resolution that much more difficult.

So why are we still in Afghanistan? Because it seemed like a good idea at the time? Because no one at the time thought it through and decided to leave when the good part was no longer possible? Because presidents have more vanity than integrity? Because the US doesn’t admit mistakes because that shows weakness no matter the cost of being self-destructively stupid for 16 years? Because the US government is most comfortable when it’s lying to the American people? Because the military-industrial complex makes nothing but profits from remote wars? Because we need killed and wounded veterans to show how much we honor our military? Because a lot of people profit from the drug trade? Because the American people have been systematically numbed emotionally and dumbed-down intellectually and mystified for so many decades that they are more angry with each other than the people who do them real harm? Any or all of the above?