Afghanistan: The War Turns Pathological—Withdraw!
The latest occupation crime in Afghanistan is a shooting spree on March 11  by a lone American soldier in the village of Balandi in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, were shot in their homes in the middle of the night without any pretense of combat activity in the area. Such an atrocity is one more expression of a pathological reaction by one soldier to an incomprehensible military reality that seems to be driving crazy American military personnel on the ground in Afghanistan. The main criminal here is not the shooter, but the political leader who insists on continuing a mission in face of the evidence that it is turning its own citizens into pathological killers.
American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, Koran burning, and countryside patrols whose members were convicted by an American military tribunal of killing Afghan civilians for sport or routinely invading the privacy of Afghan homes in the middle of the night: whatever the U.S. military commanders in Kabul might sincerely say in regret and Washington might repeat by way of formal apology has become essentially irrelevant.
These so-called ‘incidents’ or ‘aberrations’ are nothing of the sort. These happenings are pathological reactions of men and women caught up in a death trap not of their making, an alien environment that collides lethally with their sense of normalcy and decency. Besides the desecration of foreign lands and their cultural identities, American political leaders have unforgivably for more than a decade placed young American’s in intolerable situations of risk, uncertainty, and enmity to wage essentially meaningless wars. Also signaling a kind of cultural implosion are recent studies documenting historically high suicide rates among the lower ranks of the American military.
Senseless and morbid wars produce senseless and morbid behavior. Afghanistan, as Vietnam 40 years earlier, has become an atrocity-generating killing field where the ‘enemy’ is frequently indistinguishable from the ‘friend,’ and the battlefield is everywhere and nowhere. In Vietnam the White House finally speeded up the American exit when it became evident that soldiers were murdering their own officers, a pattern exhibiting ultimate alienation that became so widespread it give birth to a new word ‘fragging.’
Whatever the defensive pretext in the immediacy of the post-9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan War was misconceived from its inception, although deceptively so. (to my lasting regret I supported the war initially as an instance of self-defense validated by the credible fear of future attacks emanating from Afghanistan) Air warfare was relied upon in 2002 to decimate the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda, but instead its top political and military commanders slipped across the border. Regime change in Kabul, with a leader flown in from Washington to help coordinate the foreign occupation of his country, reverted to an old counterinsurgency formula that had failed over and over again, but with the militarist mindset prevailing in the U.S. Government, failure was once again reinterpreted as an opportunity to do it right the next time! Despite the efficiency of the radical innovative tactic of target killing by drones, the latest form of state terror in Afghanistan yields an outcome that is no different from earlier defeats.
What more needs to be said? It is long past time for the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw with all deliberate speed from Afghanistan rather than proceed on its present course: negotiating a long-term ‘memorandum of understanding’ that transfers the formalities of the occupation to the Afghans while leaving private American military contractors—mercenaries of the 21st century—as the outlaw governance structure of this war torn country after most combat forces withdraw by the end of 2014, although incredibly Washington and Kabul, despite the devastation and futility, are presently negotiating a ten-year arrangement to maintain an American military presence in the country, a dynamic that might be labeled ‘re-colonization by consent,’ a geopolitical malady of the early 21st century.
As in Iraq, what has been ‘achieved’ in Afghanistan is the very opposite of the goals set by Pentagon planners and State Department diplomacy: the country is decimated rather than reconstructed, the regional balance shifts in favor of Iran, of Islamic extremism, and the United States is ever more widely feared and resented, solidifying its geopolitical role as the great malefactor of our era.
America seems incapable of grasping the pathologies it has inflicted on its own citizenry, let alone the physical and psychological wreckage it leaves behind in the countries it attacks and occupies. The disgusting 2004 pictures of American soldiers getting their kicks from torturing and humiliating naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib should have made clear once and for all to the leaders and the public that it was time to bring American troops home, and keep them there if we cared for their welfare. Instead punishments were inflicted on these hapless young citizens who were both perpetrators and victims, and their commanders resumed their militarist misadventures as if nothing had happened except an unwelcome ‘leak’ (Donald Rumsfeld said as much) What this pattern of descretation exhibits is not only a criminal indifference to the wellbeing of ‘others’ but a shameful disregard of the welfare of our collective selves. The current bellicose Republican presidential candidates calling for attacks on Iran amounts to taking another giant step along the road that is taking American over the cliff. And the Obama presidency is only a half step behind, counseling patience, but itself indulging war-mongering, whether for its own sake or on behalf of Israel is unclear.
President Obama recently was quoted as saying of Afghanistan “now is the time for us to transition.” No, it isn’t. “Now is the time to leave.” And not only for the sake of the Afghan people, and surely for that, but also for the benefit of the American people Obama was elected to serve.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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