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Afghanistan: Is It Worth It?

THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNSThe Public Debate has been revolving intensely around Health Care lately, so we haven’t had much of a chance to discuss the War in Afghanistan.

Last night, I read an impassioned article by Tom Engelhardt, discussing the costs, escalation, public opinion, fraudulent elections, private contractors, ect. I would strongly recommend it to anyone, because it goes by numbers and facts. Here are just a few of them.

EscalationNumber of additional troops General McChrystal is expected to recommend that President Obama send to Afghanistan in the coming months: 21,000 to 45,000, according to the McClatchy Newspapers; 10,000 to 15,000 (“described as a high-risk option”), 25,000 (“a medium-risk option”), 45,000 (“a low-risk option”), according to the New York Times; fewer than 10,000, according to the Associated Press.

Number of support troops Defense Department officials are planning to replace with “trigger-pullers” (combat troops) in the coming months, effectively an escalation in place: 6,000-14,000. (“The changes will not offset the potential need for additional troops in the future, but could reduce the size of any request… officials said.”)

Number of additional NATO forces General McChrystal will reportedly ask for: 20,000.

Optimal number of additional Afghan National Army (ANA) troops to be trained by 2012, according to reports on General McChrystal’s draft plan: 162,000. (According to Naval Postgraduate School professor Thomas H. Johnson and retired Foreign Service officer M. Chris Mason,”[T]he U.S. military touts 91,000 ANA soldiers as ‘trained and equipped,’ knowing full well that barely 39,000 are still in the ranks and present for duty.”)

Public Opinion

Percentage of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan: 57%, according to the latest CNN poll, an 11% rise since April. Only 42% now support the war.

Percentage of Republicans who support the war: 70%, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Percentage of Americans who approve of President’s Obama’s handling of the war: 48%, according to the latest CBS poll, a drop of 8 points since April. (Support for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan is now at just 25%, down 14% from April.)

Percentage of British who feel their forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan: 59%.

Percentage of Germans opposed to that country’s 4,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan: More than 70%.

The Presidential Election

Estimated cost of staging the 2009 Afghan presidential election: $500 million.

Number of complaints of voting irregularities: More than 2,500 and still climbing, 691 of them described as “serious charges.”

Number of members of the “Independent Election Commission” not appointed by Afghan President (and presidential candidate) Hamid Karzai: 0.

Cost of blank voting-registration cards in Ghazni Province in May 2009: $200 for 200 blank registration cards.

Cost of such a card purchased by “an undercover Afghan journalist working for the BBC” this fall: $8.

Number of voter registration cards (not including fakes) reportedly distributed countrywide: 17 million or almost twice the estimated number of eligible voters.

Number of ballots cast at the Hajji Janat Gul High School polling place, half an hour from the center of Kabul: 600.

Number of votes recorded for Karzai at that polling station: 996. (Number of votes for other candidates: 5.)

Number of ballots marked for Karzai and shipped to Kabul from 45 polling sites in Shorabak District in Southern Afghanistan that were shut down by local officials connected to Karzai before voting could begin: 23,900.

Number of fake polling sites set up by backers of Karzai where no one voted but hundreds of thousands of votes were recorded: as many as 800, according to the New York Times. (Another 800 actual polling sites were taken over by Karzai supporters “to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai.”)

Number of ballots in Karzai’s home province, Kandahar, where an estimated 25,000 Afghans actually voted, submitted to be counted: approximately 350,000.

It is becoming apparent, and has been apparent for some time now, that there is likely no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems, problems that we largely created, I might add.

Here may be the single strangest fact of our American world: that at least three administrations – Ronald Reagan’s, George W. Bush’s, and now Barack Obama’s – drew the U.S. “defense” perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.Imagine for a moment, as you read this post, what might have happened if Americans had decided to sink the same sort of money – $228 billion and rising fast – the same “civilian surges,” the same planning, thought, and effort (but not the same staggering ineffectiveness) into reclaiming New Orleans or Detroit, or into planning an American future here at home. Imagine, for a moment, when you read about the multi-millions going into further construction at Bagram Air Base, or to the mercenary company that provides “Lord of the Flies” hire-a-gun guards for American diplomats in massive super-embassies, or about the half-a-billion dollars sunk into a corrupt and fraudulent Afghan election, what a similar investment in our own country might have meant.

Ask yourself: Wouldn’t the U.S. have been safer and more secure if all the money, effort, and planning had gone towards “nation-building” in America? Or do you really think we’re safer now, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7%, an underemployment rate of 16.8%, and a record 25.5% teen unemployment rate, with soaring health-care costs, with vast infrastructural weaknesses and failures, and in debt up to our eyeballs, while tens of thousands of troops and massive infusions of cash are mustered ostensibly to fight a terrorist outfit that may number in the low hundreds or at most thousands, that, by all accounts, isn’t now even based in Afghanistan, and that has shown itself perfectly capable of settling into broken states like Somalia or well functioning cities like Hamburg.

The MSM has, to no one’s surprise, been paying little attention to this, and would instead like to bloviate endlessly about things no one cares about, like Michelle Obama’s shorts.

In a perfect world, Congress would be putting more pressure on the President. They would be demanding a timetable for withdrawal, since a majority of Americans are now opposed to how he is handling the War.

Americans who voted for Obama expected better. He ran his entire Campaign on an obscure speech he gave in 2002 as a State Senator from Illinois, where he allegedly said

Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.


What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Well, I’d wager that this is a dumb war, wouldn’t you?

Obots threw this speech in our faces, citing it as proof of his superior foreign policy judgment.

Too bad for them, huh?

Cross posted at Age of Aquarius

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65 Responses

  1. Whatever happened to Code Pink?

    • They’re lunatics that never should have been taken seriously in the first place.
      That is what happened to Code Pink.

    • I wondered that, too. Are they on break, disbanded or are they just not getting any press?

    • “CODEPINK denounces Obama plan for Afghanistan
      Calls for reallocation of war funds in American needs, rapid withdrawal, diplomacy

      WASHINGTON — At a time of sky-high unemployment, rising cost of living and lower wages, and outrageous corporate bail-outs and bonuses, CODEPINK Women for Peace condemns President Obama’s announced plan today on Afghanistan, which will continue to drain billions from on our economy, further destabilize the Middle East and Central Asia, and threaten worldwide security. CODEPINK calls for a reallocation of war funds into the needs of the American people: health care, education and infrastructure, a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the closing of bases, and tireless diplomatic engagement with Afghan and Pakistan governments……….”


      • Okay.

        I got the impression from the media that the anti-war protesters folded up their tents and went home after last November.

        After all, Obama gave that speech.

        • Not only did they fold up their tents for the most part, they started saying things like “We knew this all along. Obama always said during the campaign he was going to ramp up the war in Afghanistan.” Funny, I don’t remember them saying that back when Hillary the war monger forced Edwards, Kerry, and hell, Bush into it and the great anti-war hero was going to have our troops home before lunchtime on Inauguration Day.

          • They were busy protesting Hillary, the biggest monger to ever monger! Hawk Hillary! She’s flying down with her lady talons to scoop up all your childrenz! Code Pink! Yeah!

          • I don’t remember them saying that back when Hillary the war monger forced Edwards, Kerry, and hell, Bush into it and the great anti-war hero was going to have our troops home before lunchtime on Inauguration Day.

            It’s the Kool-aid man…the kool-aid!

          • Kool-aid is a helluva drug!

          • OHHH YEAHHHHH!!!! :mrgreen:

      • Good for Code Pink! I thought they had all passed away until now.

  2. Excellent post. I think the MSM knows that Afghanistan and the likely upcoming “surge” are Iraq redux, and would rather not pay attention to it.

  3. >problems that we largely created, I might add.

    Well you can add it, but you’d be wrong. The problems were caused mostly by internal divisions and the effects of the brutal invasion and occupation by the Soviet Union. Which isn’t to say we can solve them by sending in more troops.

  4. Okay, I don’t want to incur everyone’s wrath here but what happens to those women and girls if we leave and the Taliban takes over everywhere again. I don’t know the answer but we deserted them at least once before.

    • No wrath intended because I also worry about the state of women and girsl in Afghanistan. However, I worry about them even with us there since I don’t believe Karzai is exactly a friend to modernity. We will be leaving someday in any case.

      • Everyone worries about it, but I honestly don’t think our presence improves the situation. I included a picture of A Thousand Splendid Suns at the top of this post for a reason.

  5. OT, but another “family values” Republican has been caught in another sex scandal

  6. When you ask if the war was worth it that depends on your perspective. For all the defense contractors it was definitely worth it, for the private contractors, for the politicians. For the troops, families, taxpayers? Not so much.

    The problem at this point is that we can’t just walk away without leaving a humanitarian disaster, similar to what happened with Vietnam. Our rush to get out didn’t include much thought about the impact on who we were leaving behind and what they would face. Wars are horrendous but once started there is no turning back, no do overs, and there is a lot of long term responsibility that should go with the decision to intervene, otherwise the damage you do walking away can exceed the damage you did getting involved in the first place.

    Hillary spoke of this. She talked a lot about the consequences of simply walking away, about what would happen to all the widows and orphans now living with no infrastructure.

    Ironically wars traditionally have brought the economy back up. I have no doubt that the wars in Iraq and Afganistan are entwined in propping up our economy. I suspect that aspect also has something to do with why they will continue for years to come.

    • Actually, I know where you’re coming from on that. The sad thing is that now that the War is started, how are we supposed to get out? I hate so much that so many fools (like Code Pink, for example) propped up Obama as some Anti-War Hero, when the ENTIRE time, he was talking about troop build up in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this could be another Vietnam for him, and the effects of our presence there will have long term negative effects on the region.

    • We indeed left a nightmare behind in Vietnam. However, it was also a nightmare for most of the Vietnamese while we were there. The only thing that would have made it all less so is if we had left years earlier.

      We should not repeat our past mistakes in AfPak. We should declare victory and come home now!

      • I agree. I think the nightmare is coming and why break ourselves trying to postpone it. Who knows what real adults in the white house might have done? I’d like to think there was some third way that we have not thought of.
        On the other hand sometimes I just resent the idea that we are supposed to fix everything. I care about the rest of the world, but I care about us more. I know that is completely politically incorrect from the mouth of a liberal…..but it is truth.

      • Yes, it sounds like what happened during the 70s in Britain. Every time someone would suggest pulling out the troops from Northern Ireland, someone would argue against it,saying think of the blood bath that would happen, and the women and children who will suffer at the hands of those terrorists (the IRA) if they leave.

        The longer troops stay the worse it is, and the more abuse of power occurs.

    • I agree we have a responsibility. What is the best course of action in your opinion.

  7. We can’t leave….then the heroin might stop flowing . We are there to ensure it keeps being produced . We are not there to stop a ” humanitarian disaster ” ,and that ‘s for damn sure.

  8. “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster…”

    Lieut.-Col. T.E. Lawrence,
    The Sunday Times, 22 August 1920

  9. get out…only we would think by making their country a battleground, we are “helping ” them . If we wanted to help them, perhaps we shouldn’t bomb them during their weddings? Just a thought.

  10. Just saw this on Huffo

    Pressed on his remarks, Obama said that the speech would give “a lot of clarity” but would not offer any details: “I want everybody to tune in.”

    That’s good, Hope™ Change™ … and now…..



    Anything but details, never give the details….deceive, inveigle, obfuscate.

  11. That’s an excellent, thorough and well-linked post, littleisis. Thanks for pulling all that together.

    This is and always has been true:
    no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems,

    this, “problems that we largely created” though, isn’t exactly accurate, assuming by “we” you mean the US. They’re latecomers to the scene. Talk to the Brits who created lots of problems and bogged down there a century ago.

    I’ve visited Afghanistan three times over about a decade (long ago, when you could still do stuff like that). In some ways, the Afghanis are (were?) wonderful people, but the levels of corruption and misogyny are seeds of destruction they’ve always had within them.

    The US is certainly creating more problems, and at this point they aren’t helping matters. They could have when they first came in if they’d concentrated on women’s rights, democracy, and creating the foundation for an actual economy. Yeah, I know. Nation-building. But at this point, they’re definitely part of the problem. Throwing lives and money at it will pay off about as well as Iraq has and will.

    • We wanted the Russkis out of Afghanistan so we supported people (like Osama) who turned out to not be so nice or friendly to us after the commies left.

      The Cold War is still paying dividends.

  12. When we first went into Afghanistan, I supported that action. It was clear that Af/Pak had become a training ground for radical islamic terrorism. The Taliban had a deadly grip on the Afghan people. We had just experienced a direct attack on our own soil from that crucible for bringing to dust Western Civilization as we know it. We had NATO allies and UN backing. Even so, it was a risky business knowing as we did that the Soviet Union/Russia had literally been brought to its knees by engagement there.

    We did have initial success in breaking the grip of the Taliban. But we left that legitimate theater of action to the back burner and spent billions on Iraq. Where, I might add, we almost lost it all. In the interim to the surprise of no one I guess except George and his minions, we steadily lost ground in Afghan. We are now in a very tenuous situation there and also in Pakistan.

    I do not play 11 dimensional chess. But I do know enough to know that this is a very difficult issue. Little Isis you have done a great post in summing up all the down side of continuing or upping our commitment of resources to this area. What is not in your post is what the costs are going to be for pulling out and the calibration of those costs to various ways we might limit or close out our presence there. I do not think you can rationally make a decision by looking at only one side of the ledger.

    We know that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. We know that the Taliban and radical Islamic/terrorist groups have significant encampments within Pakistan along the Afghan border. We know that if the Pakistan government fails, it could be a huge destabilizing effect on the entire region. We know the political situation in Af/Pak region is very fragile. It could mean nuclear weapons in very dangerous hands.

    As you have summed up, we also know that we have dwindling resources and political will to stay the course. Certainly the same can be said for our allies. I personally would like to hear from HRC on this. If she were POTUS, what would she do. I do not think she would pull out. I do think that she might negotiate some alternative or have a plan that would have limited but clear goals that would garner the support of a broad range of Americans.

    I also am very leery of the fact that we are hearing some “cut our losses” talk from the right and some Republican congress critters. I think their motives are deeply suspect. I think they see a withdrawal as the last nail in the Dem coffin–big government spending and laying down on national security.

    • Check out GOP rhetoric about our military involvement in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia during the Big Dawg’s administration and then look at what the same people said about Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush maladministration.

      • I know. Big Dawg took some heavy hits about starting a war to divert attention from the Republican attack dogs. There is a very good autobiography from a young Somalian who was caught up in all of that but eventually was intervened through a UN/US program. I can’t remember the title in this moment but it was an extraordinarily painful read about how young boys get pressed into civil wars and the drugs and violence that fuel them. Well, Big Dawg did the right thing in that time and place and too bad the Republican chicken hawks refused to see the facts because maybe we would not have that big black hole in the middle of Manhattan today.

  13. This seems so ironic; I was driving home today from Carson City, NV listening to xm radio/the Forties. They played a speech of FDR announcing the armistice in Italy. He was so clear, so strategic—-talked about all that had been done, what the victories were, what the sacrifices were, how this armistice was significant but not yet the time for celebration. He laid out a clear road map about exactly what we had to do before we could truly celebrate. He talked about exactly what Americans on the home front were doing that helped our troops to victory and how important every American was. He urged everyone who could to buy the new issue of war bonds—that each small thing that each American did was like a sand bag added to the walls that would stop a raging river. I found myself so envious of that time and being a part of a national community willing to do whatever it would take.

    I was sure of one thing. Obama is no FDR.

  14. Wow. I come back to check this post and wow! You folks are just amazing. You are so thoughtful and well reasoned. This is an important dialogue. Thank you littleisis and all.

  15. I just love this man! Here’s from the Cronkite memorial. No teleprompter, no ums, uhs, or practiced cadence. Just raw charisma, heart, and intelligence.

  16. WTV: Thank you for posting this. I watched the full presentation. Always so impressive. I particularly noted her comments on Iraq and what I think at the time was the debate going on about “the surge”. I thought it was very instructive. I am not sure if Hillary would have the same stand about “no increase in troops” in Afghanistan as she had for Iraq—she might have a different take on that now and in that place. But I thought the rest of her remarks about what to do were probably a footprint of what she would do today in AfPac. Although some of her remarks were Iraq specific, the basic thrust of steps to take I think could be the outline for AfPac. But what was most important to me was how she defined a plan that even I could understand. She was so clear, step by step. No confusion. No wondering what her stand really was. Oh the missed opportunity!

    • Oh, the missed opportunity (equals) oh, the travesty of justice!

      I think that every time I see Clinton in action. I will never forget 2008.

  17. Excellent post.

    Interesting bits about Carter and Brzezinski:

    Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

    Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

    • And after they invaded we helped anyone who opposed them, no matter who they were.

      The original pro-soviet regime was far more benign than the Taliban.

      • You would have a hard time finding a serious fuckup in US foreign policy since the ’70s without Brzezinski’s fingerprints on it somewhere. His being an Obama advisor is one of the things that turned me against Teh One.

  18. Thanks everyone for contributing to this duscussion about Afghanistan. ILU all.

  19. Are women ever worth it. A world war was fought for jews and a war for bosnian mislim but when it is just about the women and girls, it is never worth it. It is time like this I wish we could have a public beheading of George Bush, he ruined a good chance we had in Afghanistan with his Iraq war.

    As always women will never be worth it. The world just pretends to give a damn about women when it suits them.

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