Monday, November 30, 2009

Saving NO to an Escalation of the War in Afghanistan

By almost all estimates, President Barack Obama's upcoming speech on a new American "strategy" in Afghanistan will not be a matter of "if" the United States escalates the war, but rather, by how much.

The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General McCrystal, is reported to have asked for an increase in the neighborhood of 40,000 additional combat troops; other, more moderate voices in the administration, and probably the President himself, favor a more modest increase in military deployment. But whether the President calls for a lot more, or just somewhat more, U.S. military forces, MAS Freedom believes that they will be thrown into the vortex of an impossible war that the United States, with all of its military prowess, cannot possibly win.

Why is the war in Afghanistan a no-win proposition for the American military? Let's count the ways. First, there is no stable,
popular Afghan government with which American policy can align; the "government" of Afghan President Hamid Kharzai is impossibly corrupt, administratively inept, and hardly able to control any significant national territory outside of Kabul. Moreover, the recent cancellation of the much-touted Afghan presidential "runoff" election after the withdrawal of challenger Abdullah Abdullah did little to bolster confidence, whether domestically or internationally, in the credibility of a genuine, democratic regime in Kabul that represents Afghans of all political persuasions and ethnic identities.

But the U.S. war objective is not the reconstruction of an Afghan central government. Rather, most of the American foreign policy eggs are placed in the basket of destroying, or at least neutralizing, the Taliban resistance to both the Kabul regime and the U.S. invasion forces. And the Taliban, despite the authoritaran excesses of their rule ( and their tribalistic and gender-insensitive understanding of Islam) are not likely to be decisively defeated on the battlefield. In fact, most insurgencies are rarely put down by conventional armed opponents.

The Taliban, driven out of state power after the 2001 U.S. invasion, are not a unified opposition force,and their brutality does inspire both fear and anger among their compatriots. But they are Afghans, and they are fighting against NATO forces ( including U.S. forces) that are widely viewed as invaders, and not saviors from insurgents. And the more incidents of "accidental" civilian killings and casualties resulting from errant NATO bombings, the greater the popular resentment-transmogrified into hatred-that the U.S. must deal with.

Then, too, there is the fact that the U.S. NATO allies are getting increasingly gun-shy about their own combat role in Afghanistan. Some months ago, it was reported that soldiers from some of the European armies stationed in Afghanistan actually refused to go on combat patrols, or to engage in night combat operations. And recent public opinion polls in the United Kingdom and Germany have shown growing opposition to continued Western troop deployment in that country.

Some American military commanders, however, seem to be prepared to go it alone, and tough it out in a protracted war. They believe that victory over the Taliban ( assuming that the Taliban are a single, unified force, which they never have been) is possible. But even the most proficient fighting force is not likely to defeat the one greatest opponent confronting NATO-history itself.

The people of Afghanistan, from Alexander the great to the Soviet Union, have not yielded to any invading army. Invading armies from the U.S. an the NATO countries are not likely to fare any better.

There is, I believe, a legitimate interest in preventing Afghanistan from becoming (again) a launching ground for attacks against U.S. civilians as we experiences on September 11th, 2001. But the hard political reality is that, by some estimates, Al-Queda is deeply entrenched in Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, and the Taliban, who continue to fight ferociously against US forces, have never pursued a strategy of planning attacks on the United States homeland. Some voices in the Obama administration are now attempting to "unbundle" the Taliban groups and build de facto alliances with some of the local warlords. But much of those efforts could be swept away by any escalated U.S. war drive.

President Obama should realize that, like in Vietnam, it is not possible for an invading army to "win" a civil war. The road back from chaos and national division to peace and stability in Afghanistan will be a long and difficult struggle, but it is not one that can be won in the form of a military contest. Rather, the United States should use its (still) enormous economic power to assist the Afghan people in a massive material reconstruction effort, while allowing them to demilitarize their internal conflicts and build a civil society and government that is suitable for-and responsible to- them. America can help this process. But the ultimate responsibility for building peace and national reconciliation rests on the shoulders of the people of Afghanistan themselves.

Continued backing of an egregiously corrupt puppet government in Kabul is not the answer. Calling for fake elections won't work. Continued (largely North American) illicit demand for Opium only serves to finance the very forces that American troops are opposing. President Obama must courageously resist the pressure from the political Right and the military establishment and completely change course in Afghanistan.

Escalating this war will only make things worse, for all parties concerned. It will increasing look like what it actually is-the world's richest nation waging war in one of the world's poorest. A widened military conflict will only success in killing more civilians, galvanizing U.S. public opinion against the Obama administration's war policies, making the anti-American resistance in Afghanistan more recalcitrant, and, ironically, driving American opponents into an even greater frenzy in a Afghanistan's nuclear-armed neighbor-Pakistan-as well as in much of the rest of the Muslim-majority world.

American resources for national reconstruction and support for genuine self-determination is the answer in Afghanistan, President Obama. A plan for troop withdrawal is certainly part of the answer. A wider war, most certainly, is NOT.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hail To the Redskins? Not in My House!

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Redskins fans were treated to a couple of improbable "victories": one, an unlikely win over a much superior Denver Broncos football team, and two, a refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit filed by Native Americans calling for the team to change ts offensive name.

The "'Skins" are habitual losers on the football field, at least in 2009. But they are even bigger losers in the arena of racial justice and sensitivity.

How, I ask, is it still possible, in the 21st Century, for athletic teams to sport openly racist names? I mean, if Charleston, South Carolina has an NFL team, could they conceivable be called the "Charleston Jigaboos"? Our would a new NBA franchise in, say, the State of Maine, dare to label themselves the "Portland Kikes"?

Ugly? Unthinkable? Ourtageous? Absolutely. Yet fans in DC, of all colors and ethic backgrounds, are very comfortable with a home team that sports a name demeaning to Indigenous people and their heritage.

We are so desensitized, so alienated from the realities of many oppressed people, that we have little collective consciousness of the painful implications of words. And here in the capital of the United States, it is all the more sad and ironic that many of the unconscious folks doing the demeaning are, themselves, people of African ancestry often demeaned with racial epithets.

Say the word "Nigger" to an African-American are you might have a physical confrontation to deal with. Yet, say the work "Redskin" to the same person, and you'll likely find yourself in a deep discourse about his or her favorite team.

Native Americans may not be a large part of the D.C. population. But they are fully human, and entitled to the respect that is habitually violated by this racist name. The Supreme Court should have realized this, and decided to ( at the very least) hear the argument made for re-naming this team.

So call me a hater, if you will- not because I dislike the players, but because the team is emblematic of the unexamined paternalism and racial stereotypes that still litter the collective mentality of this nation. And if the former Baltimore Bullets NBA team had the presence of mind to change their name to the Washington Wizards because of the issue of opposing gun violence, then the "Redskins" could, out of respect for native people and their history, do the same thing for their football franchise.

If this were to happen, I'd still be a loyal New York Giants fan, mind you. But I'd be more inclined to have some respect for the Washington, DC football team-regardless of their play cord on the field.