Castles in the Air

Afghanistan war: Just what was the point?
By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
February 25, 2016

Sometimes the occasional jolt reminds the world that the war is still ongoing. The conflict, begun initially to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., has cost the lives of more than 3,500 Coalition service members and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.

I pause here for comparison, 4,799 dead in Iraq.

This week, Afghan troops, after months of fury at poor supplies and low morale, fell back from two vital positions in the volatile Helmand province. It leaves Lashkar Gah and Sangin as the major strongholds the government still holds, and a sense of foreboding that the opium-rich southern region will eventually entirely belong to the Taliban.

So what was achieved?

Well, at one point, al Qaeda was said to be in its mere hundreds in Afghanistan — hiding away in the eastern hills. Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. A few thousand Afghans became absurdly rich on the U.S. presence. Far many more thousands (there is no real, reliable figure) died or were injured.

Women saw a brief moment when Western aid programs and ideals let them think about lives outside of the home, where they could flourish. (They still can think about that, but now risk more than ever brutal reprisals from conservatives). The West flooded the country with money and weapons to the point that it is now a land of warlords on steroids.

The Afghan army, briefly, swelled. But it could never hold the ground NATO did. NATO advisors would swear blind that you were wrong, that the ramshackle units you saw could defeat a hungry and angry local insurgency. But it became clear they were misinformed. That an inner malaise — corruption — would undo the Afghan National Security Forces, whose upkeep has cost the U.S. taxpayer well over $60 billion, and whose brave losses continue now at an unprecedented speed.

According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR — the U.S. government’s money watchdog there), the Taliban hold more territory now than at any time since 2001. There are about 10,000 U.S. troops left, who can hunt extremists, but not hold territory. And it seems neither can the Afghan army at times. It is losing fast in Helmand. It lost Kunduz temporarily in October. If you suggested either of these losses were remotely possible two years ago, most NATO advisors would accuse you of mild insanity.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people. Without that the result is thousands of refugees in Europe, and ISIS gets a new safe haven. What is left is a country where the West is discredited as unwilling to stay the course; where most fighters are meaner, better armed, and more chaotic than they were in 2001; and whose name causes opinion-formers in the West to try and change the subject.

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is pure fantasy
by Marcy Wheeler, Salon
Friday, Feb 26, 2016 4:45 PM UTC

In this year’s Democratic primary, surrogates for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have attacked Senator Bernie Sanders’s domestic policy agenda for being unfunded or overly ambitious. For example, after signing onto a letter attacking Sanders’ economic agenda — backed by no data or modeling — University of Chicago economist and former Obama White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Austan Goolsbee went on to suggest Sanders’ agenda promises were “magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars.”

But Clinton made a comment at Tuesday’s town hall in Columbia, SC, that might make those “magic flying puppies” promises look cautious by comparison.

The comment came at the end of an exchange sparked by a question from University of South Carolina student Dennzon Winley. “As we have learned in Iraq and, recently, Libya,” Winley noted, “getting rid of long-time dictators and their affiliates can lead to problems unforeseen.” He then asked Clinton how she’d ensure that regime change in Syria would “install within that country a government capable of containing and mitigating the sectarian and insurgency violence that will undoubtedly increase, thus further destabilizing the region?”

After addressing a potential ceasefire in Syria and the need to stop Russia’s bombing in that country, Clinton turned to Libya. She boasted of the election held in the country in 2014, describing the moderates elected. She then suggested the country needed some time and support to get over internal disputes. “I’m hoping that we can give them the time and space to actually make a difference for their country in the future,” she said.

“How do you explain the time and space to people?” debate moderator Chris Cuomo asked in response. He then asked Clinton to assess one of the key efforts from her tenure as Secretary of State: “Maybe we shouldn’t have done it that way. Do you believe there was a mistake involved in Libya?”

In response to a question about what she meant about time and space (and a question about whether regime change that has led to chaos was a mistake), Clinton responded by raising deployments that have lasted upwards of 60 years.

Meanwhile, while Bernie Sanders may be recommending the U.S. adopt domestic policies that match those of our Canadian and European counterparts, thus far he has mentioned nothing about 60-year military deployments. Moreover, unlike Sanders, Clinton has not even called for taxes to pay for what would be a costly endeavor — unless her reference in this exchange to Libya’s oil means she hopes to be more successful billing Libya for defense than the U.S. has been with Iraq.

Such is the nature of our politics that Sanders can be attacked as a fantasist for daring to aspire to live as well as Europeans, while 60-year military deployments get treated as magic ponies that cost nothing.


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