Don't Let the McChrystal Frenzy Obscure the Dirty Truth About Afghanistan
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Anan Gobal noted that in 2008, after seven years of fighting, less than a third of the country was under the control of the central government in Kabul, and added: “Many say even that is now an optimistic assessment.” Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon was making cash payments to Afghan warlords. According to Bloomberg , “Contractors told congressional investigators they believe that, in turn, the ‘warlords make protection payments to insurgents’ who are fighting the U.S.”
Our tax dollars are actually financing those trying to kill U.S. troops.
According to a report released in January, the U.S.-backed government is also awash in corruption, which Afghans now view “as a bigger concern than security and unemployment.” The government we’re backing may be extracting as much as one quarter of Afghanistan’s gross national product in bribes. And Karzai’s own brother has been implicated in Afghanistan’s rich drug trade.
Hastings’ report also paints a picture of a White House that despite its grand promises of change continues to fight George W. Bush’s war much the same way as he waged it for seven years. He noted how similarly divorced from reality the rhetoric coming from this White House has been to that of the Bushies:
"There is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years – in education, in health care and economic development," the president says. "As I saw in the lights across Kabul when I landed – lights that would not have been visible just a few years earlier."
It is a disconcerting observation for Obama to make. During the worst years in Iraq, when the Bush administration had no real progress to point to, officials used to offer up the exact same evidence of success. "It was one of our first impressions," one GOP official said in 2006, after landing in Baghdad at the height of the sectarian violence. "So many lights shining brightly." So it is to the language of the Iraq War that the Obama administration has turned – talk of progress, of city lights, of metrics like health care and education. Rhetoric that just a few years ago they would have mocked.
The conflict in Afghanistan is now the longest one the United States has ever fought. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, at a cost of hundreds of billions of U.S. tax dollars. That there are electric lights in Kabul is as pathetic a “milestone for success” as one could imagine, and Obama’s focus on how sparkly the approach to Kabul’s airport is offers evidence of the same obstinate dismissal of reality that was so maddeningly common in the Bush White House.
Ultimately, what the Rolling Stone story tells us is that even those tasked with carrying out Obama’s Afghanistan policy know it’s an exercise in futility. McChrystal and his aides are protecting his legacy against history’s harsh judgment of what will prove an incoherent policy from its inception.
Max Bergmann of the Center for American Progress didn’t miss what lies at the heart of the R olling Stone report. “The significance of this food fight is not in what was said,” he wrote, “but in what it says about where the United States is in Afghanistan":
What has become apparent is that … the mythic status now given to the surge in Iraq led to a significant degree of over-confidence on the part of McChrystal and others about their ability to turn the Afghan war around after it had utterly deteriorated year after year under the neglectful watch of the Bush administration.