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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2009, pg. 28

Two Views

Should the U.S. Stay in Afghanistan?

Intervention, Empire, and the Taliban

By Jacob G. Hornberger

An Afghan man carries his wounded son at the site of a blast which struck vehicles with the NATO-led force in the capital of Kabul, Sept. 17, 2009. AFP photo/Shah Marai

The U.S. government’s primary justification for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan is to prevent the Taliban from regaining power and providing a sanctuary for al-Qaeda. Ironically, however, this is another example of the disastrous consequences of imperialism and interventionism, for it was the U.S. invasion itself that created the problem that now serves as the main justification for the indefinite occupation of the country.

Interventionists often delude themselves with respect to why the U.S. government attacked both al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11. They say that the Taliban had provided a “sanctuary” for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Yet, what exactly is a “sanctuary”? Does it mean simply that terrorists are living in a country when they are planning a terrorist attack on another country?

If so, then what about the 9/11 terrorists who were living here in the United States prior to the attacks, especially those who were living here by permission of the U.S. government? Would that mean that the U.S. government provided a “sanctuary” for the 9/11 terrorists?

Or how about Germany, where some of the 9/11 terrorists had some of their planning sessions? Was Germany providing a “sanctuary” to them?

Of course not. Simply because terrorists are residing in a country when they’re conspiring to commit a terrorist act is insufficient to hold the particular regime of that country responsible for the criminal act. Obviously, more is needed to justify an attack against a nation state. Complicity in the attack has to be a necessary prerequisite to justify going to war against a foreign regime.

Did the Taliban regime actually conspire with Osama bin Laden to commit the 9/11 attacks? Did the Taliban even know that bin Laden was planning the attacks and fail to do anything to prevent it?

If the U.S. government had any evidence whatsoever that established Taliban complicity in the attacks, don’t you think it would have released such evidence by now? Yet, eight years after the attacks it still hasn’t done so, and the only possible reason for that is that no such evidence exists.

After 9/11, Bush requested the Taliban to voluntarily turn bin Laden over to the U.S. Does anyone think that Bush would have made such a request if he actually possessed evidence that the Taliban had participated in the attacks? Not a chance. If Bush had had such evidence, he wouldn’t have asked the Taliban to turn bin Laden over to the U.S. He would have simply attacked both Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, perhaps even with the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war.

In fact, if the Taliban had complied with Bush’s request to deliver bin Laden to U.S. forces, it is a virtual certainty that the U.S. would never have attacked the Taliban regime and ousted it from power.

Why didn’t Bush limit his military attacks in Afghanistan to going after bin Laden and al-Qaeda? Why did he use his military forces to also oust the Taliban from power? Simply because the Taliban had refused to grant his request to turn bin Laden over to the U.S. In a world in which the U.S. government is the sole remaining empire, Third World regimes either comply with the Empire’s requests or suffer the consequences.

(Although there was no extradition agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S., the Taliban did indicate a willingness to turn bin Laden over to an independent tribunal if Bush could provide evidence to justify his extradition request.)

We should also keep in mind that in 2001 prior to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government had already provided $125 million in foreign aid to Afghanistan. In an article dated Nov. 5, 2001, Ron Paul observed that as late as May 2001, “the U.S. announced that we would reward the Taliban with an additional $43 million in aid for its actions in banning the cultivation of poppy used to produce heroin and opium.”

We also shouldn’t forget the Taliban was nothing more than the outgrowth of the very group that the CIA had funded and supported to oppose the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan.

So, after having previously supported the Taliban, by choosing to oust it from power when it invaded Afghanistan the U.S. government converted the Taliban into a force that U.S. officials now feel must be prevented from regaining power at all costs, even if that means a permanent U.S. military occupation of the country. It’s just one more interventionist “success” story in the life of the U.S. Empire.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. This commentary was first posted on “Hornberger’s Blog,” at , Sept. 15, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

Obama at the Rubicon

By Patrick J. Buchanan

If the aphorism holds—the guerrilla wins if he does not lose—the Taliban are winning and America is losing the war in Afghanistan.

Well into the eighth year of war, the Taliban are more numerous than ever, inflicting more casualties than ever, operating in more provinces than ever, and controlling more territory than ever. And their tactics are more sophisticated.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal calls the situation “serious.” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen calls it “serious” and “deteriorating.”

President Barack Obama thus faces a decision that may decide the fate of his presidency. For if the situation is grave and deteriorating, he cannot do nothing. Inaction invites, if it does not assure, defeat.

Does he cut U.S. losses, write off Afghanistan as not worth any more American blood and treasure, and execute a strategic retreat?

Or does he become the war president who sends McChrystal the scores of thousands of U.S. troops necessary to stave off a defeat for all the years needed to conscript and train an Afghan army that can and will defend the Kabul regime and pacify the country?

Afghanistan is being called Obama’s Vietnam.

It could become that, and bring down his presidency as Vietnam brought down Lyndon Johnson’s. But Afghanistan is not yet Vietnam in terms either of troops committed or casualties taken.

The 68,000 Americans who will be in Afghanistan at year’s end are an eighth of the forces in Vietnam when Richard Nixon began to bring them home. Vietnam cost the lives of 58,000 Americans. The Afghan war has cost fewer than 1,000. U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are as yet only a fifth of the U.S. losses in the Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902.

If we compare Afghanistan to Vietnam, we are about in 1964, when the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed and the bombing of the North began, or December 1965, when the Marines came ashore at Danang.

Obama can still choose not to fight this war.

But should he so choose, he will be charged by Republicans and neoconservatives with a loss of nerve, with having cut and run, with having lost what he himself has repeatedly called a “war of necessity,” with having abandoned the noble cause for which many of America’s best and bravest have already paid the ultimate price.

And it needs be said: The consequences of a U.S. withdrawal today would be far greater than if we had never gone in, or had gone in, knocked over the Taliban, run al-Qaeda out of the country, gotten out, and gone home.

Instead, we brought NATO in, put tens of thousands of troops in and declared our determination to build an Afghan democracy that would be a model for the Islamic world, where women’s rights were protected.

After inviting the world to observe how the superpower succeeds in taking down a tyranny and creating a democracy, we will have failed, and we will be perceived by the whole world to have failed.

While there was no vital U.S. interest in Afghanistan before we went in, we have invested so much blood, money, and prestige that withdrawal now—which would entail a Taliban takeover of Kabul and the Pashtun south and east—would be a strategic debacle unprecedented since the fall of Saigon.

But what if Obama approves McChrystal’s request and puts another 20,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops into the war?

Certainly, that would stave off any defeat. But what is the assurance it would bring enduring victory closer? The Taliban have matched us escalation for escalation and are now militarily stronger than at any time since the Northern Alliance, with U.S. air support, ran them out of Kabul.

About the political consequences of escalation, there is no doubt.

Obama would divide his party and country. His support would steadily sink as the roll call of U.S. dead and wounded inexorably rose. He would watch as the NATO allies moved toward the exit and America was left alone to fight alongside the Afghans in a seemingly endless war.

Consider. If there were no Americans in Afghanistan today, and the Taliban were on the verge of victory, how many of us would demand the dispatch of 68,000 troops to fight to prevent it? Few, if any, one imagines.

What that answer suggests is that the principal reason for fighting on is not that Afghanistan is vital, but that we cannot accept the American defeat and humiliation that withdrawal would mean.

Thus Obama’s dilemma: Accept a longer, bloodier war with little hope of ultimate victory, a decision that could cost him his presidency. Or order a U.S. withdrawal and accept defeat, a decision that could cost him his presidency.

In such situations, presidents often decide not to decide.

Harry Truman could not decide in Korea. LBJ could not decide in Vietnam. Both lost their presidencies. Ike and Nixon came in, cut U.S. losses and got out. The country rewarded both with second terms.

Patrick J. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist. Copyright Creators Syndicate, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Patrick J. Buchanan and Creators Syndicate, Inc.