[Marxism] Afghanistan Syndrome

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 3 08:42:52 MDT 2009

Obama Is Leading the U.S. Into a Hellish Quagmire
By Mark Ames, AlterNet
Posted on September 3, 2009, Printed on September 3, 2009

America now has more military personnel in Afghanistan than the Red Army 
had at the peak of the Soviet invasion and occupation of that country. 
According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of March of 
this year, the U.S. had 52,000 uniformed personnel and another 68,000 
contractors in Afghanistan -- a number that has likely grown given the 
blank check President Obama has written for what's now being called 
"Obama's War."

That makes 120,000 American military personnel fighting in Afghanistan, 
a figure higher than the Soviet peak troop figure of 115,000 during 
their catastrophic 9-year war. Just this week, General McChrystal, whom 
Obama appointed to command American forces in Afghanistan, is talking 
ofsending tens of thousands more American troops. At the height of the 
Soviet occupation,Western intelligence experts estimated that the 
Soviets had 115,000 troops in Afghanistan -- but like America, the more 
troops and the longer the Soviets stayed, the more doomed their military 
mission became.

We're also heading into the same casualty trap as the Soviets did. This 
summer has been the deadliest in the eight-year war for American troops. 
While the number of uniformed Americans killed in combat in Afghanistan 
may seem comparatively low -- just over 800, most of those since 2007 -- 
the Soviets also suffered relatively light casualties. Between December 
1979 and February 1989, just 13,000 Soviets were killed in Afghanistan, 
a seemingly paltry figure when you compare it to the 20 million Soviets 
killed in World War Two, and the millions upon millions who died in the 
Civil War and Stalin's Terror. Unlike America, Russians have a 
reputation for tolerating appalling casualty figures -- and yet the war 
in Afghanistan destroyed the Soviet Empire. Which only proves that crude 
number comparisons explain nothing at all in warfare today, particularly 
when that war is an occupation of an alien environment like Afghanistan.

Why hasn't anyone pointed out that America's troop commitment now 
exceeds the Red Army's? For some inexplicable reason the corporate media 
has decided to shuffle the figures and exclude the US military 
contractors from the total figure of US military personnel. It makes no 
logical sense -- we still count the Hessians among the British forces in 
the War of Independence. It's as if the only thing left that Americans 
are capable of is accounting fraud -- the only talent we perfected over 
the past decade was how to move all the bad numbers off the official 
books, as if it's become an instinctive reflex.

But just as those accounting tricks didn't change all those banks' and 
funds' insolvency, so the American media's troop-counting tricks, in 
which contractors are "off books," can't make the disaster in 
Afghanistan disappear. We're already more deeply invested in our 
Afghanistan war than the Russians were, and as we head into our ninth 
year -- the magic number for when the Soviets pulled out and their 
empire collapsed -- President Obama is dragging the country deeper into 
that disaster. (Moreover, if you add in all the NATO personnel -- 
useless as they are as a "fighting" force -- the number of Western 
troops already far exceeds the number deployed in the Soviet Union's 
"unwinnable" war.)

The Afghanistan War has somehow escaped most of America's attention. 
People just assumed that since Obama is a decent guy with a sharper mind 
than Bush's, he must know what he's doing in Afghanistan, and his 
intentions can't be bad -- so why bother paying attention, when we have 
all these other problems here at home? Besides, war isn't a fun topic 
anymore. Thanks to Bush and Cheney, any talk of war is a total bummer, 
whether you're from the right or the left. And Americans don't like 
bummers -- instead, America is always "moving on" from its bummers. 
Nothing bums Americans out more than losing wars, which helps explain 
why Afghanistan is the most we've-moved-on subject of our time. The 
problem is that you can't move on from something while it's still a 
problem -- but try telling that to a nation of delusionals.

Remember how long after Vietnam it took for for Americans to "move on" 
and get their war appetite back on? It took a decade before we could 
talk about 'Nam again, and that probably would have gone on longer if it 
wasn't for the kick-ass performance by Robert Duvall as Col Kilgore 
stirring a new generation's blood lust. (For a taste of just how 
cinematic this budding tragedy could be,< a 
here to check out these amazing photos.) We suffered then from "Vietnam 
Syndrome," which was a strange way of assigning a mental illness to a 
totally rational aversion to invading far-away countries. This time it's 
going to be even worse, though: given our 0-2 war record this decade, 
and the shameful way that America's pseudo-imperialists snatched defeat 
from the jaws of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, like a nation of Bill 
Buckners, it's no wonder no one here wants to talk about Afghanistan.

Since we've already long ago "moved on" from Afghanistan, it means that 
our agony of defeat there will be far more painful than anything we've 
experienced before. The most frustrating thing is how obvious this 
catastrophe is: Obama is leading America into a predictable sequel of 
superpower-loses-in-hellish-Third-World-quagmire: he's doubling down 
troops in a war fewer people understand, a war that's 
growingincreasingly unpopularas the casualty count accelerates; 
investing more into a corrupt regime which just stole elections in a way 
that would make the hardliners in neighboring Iran blush; suicide 
bombers are beingdirected by the Afghan defense department to blow up 
American journalists, leading to a dusty version of the ol' "who's in 
charge here?" "I thought you were"; and now, the American right wing -- 
the only thing that approximates a real opposition this country -- is 
having a collective Walter Cronkite moment, withGeorge Will of all 
people leading the call for the West to pull its forces out now in order 
to limit the defeat's damage. George fucking Will as the conscience of 
our nation?! This must be what Marx meant by tragedy turning to farce.

And through it all, the Russians must beenjoying America's decline more 
than anyone, after all the gloating we did over their downfall: in our 
two nations' ongoing Tom & Jerry Show, America's looming defeat is 
shaping up to be Russia's revenge on America's revenge for what Russia 
did to America in Vietnam.

Which reminds me of an interview a couple of years ago I did with a 
former top Soviet advisor to the puppet Afghan government's General 
Staff, Pyotr Goncharov. I was still in Moscow then, and I was working on 
a story to counter the then-popular neocon meme that Iraq wasn't really 
the disastrous war that its critics said it was because after all, 
"only" 4,000 Americans died there. A lot of Russian nationalists still 
argue that they could have won the war in Afghanistan and that it wasn't 
going so badly, given the low body count--and yet the empire collapsed 
there. I was curious why even a police state like the Soviet Union 
collapsed, and what lesson America could learn from that.

And this is where it got strange, because the first thing Goncharov said 
to me when I met him was, "I just want to say to you that what the 
Americans are doing in Afghanistan is perfect. You're doing everything 
right that we did wrong over there. You're not making any of our 
mistakes, and with my experience there, I can only commend you." 
Goncharov told me he was the top Soviet advisor to the Afghan regime's 
joint chiefs of staff from 1986-9, the year of the pullout, and today he 
is a leading military analyst on Afghanistan issues for state 
RIA-Novosti. He wasn't interested in my line of questioning about why 
low body counts are so devastating to superpowers -- instead, all he 
wanted to talk about was what a great man John McCain is. "Everything he 
proposes for the war in Afghanistan is exactly right. He really knows 
what he's talking about," Goncharov said. Then his otherwise cheerful 
face took on a confused almost dour expression: "But I have to ask: is 
it really possible that Americans will elect Barack Obama? Because this 
would be a disaster for the world. If Obama is president and he 
withdraws from Afghanistan, the whole world will pay, much worse than we 
all paid after the Soviet pullout. It can't really be possible that 
Obama will win, could it? I can't believe America would do that."

Now we know how it really turned out: Barack Obama won the presidency, 
but in terms of dealing with Bush's war legacy it may as well have been 
McCain. Because Obama's Afghanistan War policy is indistinguishable from 
McCain's, which is why McCain has nothing but good things to say about 
Obama's conduct of the war. I always wondered after that interview with 
Goncharov what his reasoning was for supporting another Republican 
president, given the disaster America suffered under Bush: did he want 
America to get sucked into Afghanistan and collapse like his country 
did, out of vengeful spite? Or was Goncharov being sincere, as I think 
he was? My guess is that Goncharov really wanted McCain and genuinely 
liked him, because McCain was someone a military man like Goncharov 
could understand. And anyway, as intelligent and refined as Goncharov 
was, he proved what Obama is proving today: we never learn from our 
mistakes, as much as we pretend we do.

Call it "Afghanistan Syndrome": Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was 
Russia's "Vietnam"; today, Afghanistan is becoming America's 
"Afghanistan." Obama is walking into this disaster like one of the 
doomed victims from the Scream series: everyone, including the 
protagonists, knows that it's going to be a disaster, everyone's seen 
the script so many times they can recite it from heart. And yet Obama's 
leading the nation into the trap all over again. And Obama can't even be 
compared to LBJ, who at least managed to give millions of Americans 
Medicare. What will Obama's legacy be? The PPIP program? Protecting 
AIG's bonuses?

Read more of Mark Ames at eXiledonline.com. He is the author of Going 
Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to 
Clinton's Columbine and Beyond.

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