James Carroll, Boston Globe columnist and author of the bestselling Constantine’s Sword, wrote the following in review of Tom Engelhardt's current book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s:
.... the Pentagon-driven mistakes, myths, self-deceptions, and crimes ... have wreaked havoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. That the American wars are proving to be as fruitless now as they were then unnecessary keeps them from rising to the level of actual tragedy....Well, I don't know about that. Judging from Engelhardt's current perspectives, American statecraft is well on its way toward tragedy of Shakespearian proportions:
..... The question is: So what? Or rather, could success in Afghanistan prove worse for Americans than failure?It's refreshing that some Republicans in Congress are beginning to see that an ascendant Petraeusian Syndrome offers the U.S.A. only a road to further perdition. Where are the Democrats?
Let’s imagine that, in July 2011, the U.S. military has tenuous control over key parts of that country, including Kandahar, its second largest city. It still has almost 100,000 troops (and at least a similar number of private contractors) in the country, while a slow drawdown of the 30,000 surge troops the president ordered into Afghanistan in December 2009 is underway. Similarly, the “civilian” surge, which tripled the State Department’s personnel there, remains in place, as does the CIA surge that went with it -- and the contractor and base-building surges that went with them. In fact, the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands will undoubtedly have only escalated further by July 2011. Experts expect the counterinsurgency campaign to continue for years, even decades more; the NATO allies are heading for the exits; and, again according to the experts, the Taliban, being thoroughly interwoven with Afghanistan’s Pashtun minority, simply cannot in any normal sense be defeated.
This, then, would be “success” 10 years into America’s Afghan war. Given the logistics nightmare of supporting so many troops, intelligence agents, civilian officials, and private contractors in the country, the approximately $7 billion a month now being spent there will undoubtedly be the price Americans are to pay for a long time to come (and that’s surely a significant undercount, if you consider long-term wear-and-tear to the military as well as the price of future care for those badly wounded in body or mind).
The swollen Afghan army and police will still have to undergo continual training and, in a country with next to no government funds and (unlike Iraq) no oil or other resource revenues on the immediate horizon, they, too, will have to be paid for and supplied by Washington. And keep in mind that the U.S. Air Force will, for the foreseeable future, be the Afghan Air Force. In other words, success means that, however tenuously, Afghanistan is ours for years to come.
So what would we actually have to show for all this expenditure of money, effort, and lives?
We would be in minimalist possession of a fractious, ruined land, at war for three decades, and about as alien to, and far from, the United States as it’s possible to be on this planet. We would be in minimalist possession of the world’s fifth poorest country. We would be in minimal possession of the world’s second most corrupt country. We would be in minimal possession of the world’s foremost narco-state, the only country that essentially produces a drug monocrop, opium. In terms of the global war on terror, we would be in possession of a country that the director of the CIA now believes to hold 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives (“maybe less”) -- for whom parts of the country might still be a “safe haven.” And for this, and everything to come, we would be paying, at a minimum, $84 billion a year.
.....In any case, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be telling a rather different story. The singular thing the Iraq War seems to have done politically is promote Iranian influence in that country. Economically, it’s made Iraq a safer place for the state-owned or state-controlled oil companies of China, Russia, and a number of other non-western nations. In Afghanistan, in terms of those future natural resources, we seem to be fighting to make that country safe for Chinese investment (just as the recently heightened U.S. sanctions against Iran are helping make that country safe for Chinese energy dominance).
The Question Mark over Afghanistan
All of this leaves the massive American investment of its most precious resources, including lives, in Afghanistan an ongoing mystery that is never addressed. Somewhere in that country’s vast stretches of poppy fields or in the halls of Washington’s national security bureaucracy, in other words, lurks a great unasked question. It’s a question asked almost half a century ago of Vietnam, the lost war to which David Petraeus turned in 2006 to produce the Army counterinsurgency manual which is the basis for the present surge.
.....Why are we in Afghanistan? Why is our treasure being wasted there when it’s needed here?
It’s clear enough that a failed counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan will be an unaffordably expensive catastrophe. Let’s not wait a year to discover that there’s an even worse fate ahead, a “success” that leaves us mired there for years to come as our troubles at home only grow. With everything else Americans have to deal with, who needs a future Petraeus Syndrome?