The Crematorium of Empires

By David Swanson

On Wednesday U.S. senators from both political parties asked the president’s representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke what in the world the goal could be for the ongoing war. He had no answer.

Senator Russ Feingold pointed out that our ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, opposed the escalation (at least until he agreed to oppose his own views). Holbrooke had no response.

Senator John Kerry noted that Taliban assassinations in Kandahar began when the United States announced a coming assault there. How then could the assault stop the killings? Holbrooke had no explanation.

I was reminded of General Stanley McChrystal’s comment at a press conference in Washington together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A reporter asked if those who helped the US forces tended to get their heads sliced off. McChrystal replied that they did but that this was only to be expected.

Senator Kerry on Wednesday noted that the assault on Marja had been a test for Kandahar and had failed. So why was an assault on Kandahar moving ahead? Who knows. Not Holbrooke.

Senators pointed out that terrorism has been increasing globally during the global war on terror. Holbrooke did not dispute it.

Holbrooke did dispute any comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam, claiming that the Vietnam War was not about national security, but that the Afghan War is. How so? Well, whoever got to Ambassador Eikenberry apparently got to Holbrooke too. Holbrooke now claims, but didn’t used to, that if the Taliban were in power it would allow al Qaeda to operate out of Afghanistan.

But Holbrooke claimed no particular progress or success, mostly praising the team he’s assembled to “support the military.” Nine years in, the best we can do is claim to be putting a strong team on the field. Well, that and blaming the Afghans for failing to trust and fight for foreigners, which is forcing us to “Americanize” the American occupation of their country. Also, nine years in, the COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy that requires 80% of our investment to be civilian contrasts with the reality of 5%, and that 5% is to “support the military.”

Oh, and Holbrooke promised that Karzai is upgrading his anti-corruption office. Next I suppose BP will be designing a better EPA.

Not every important point that could have come up did during the portion of Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that I heard. Here are a few more:

The war is illegal, and the strikes into Pakistan are illegal.

The blowback in Times Square involved a would-be bomber whose father used to guard nuclear weapons.

Terrorism in Uganda and around the world is encouraged, not prevented, by occupying Afghanistan and by the prisoner abuse there at Bagram.

The Afghans we’re training to “stand up” are starting to shoot their trainers.

Last year’s escalation was followed by an 87% increase in violence, according to the Pentagon.

U.S. troops are increasingly killing themselves, perhaps in part because they have no better idea than the senators who fund the slaughter what its purpose is.

Howard Hurt, Ray McGovern, and various other CIA experts, some of them on video at say Get Out.

Matthew Hoh, senior US civilian diplomat in Zabul Province and former Marine captain, resigned and says Get Out.

So does former diplomat Ann Wright.

Our National Security Advisor says more troops could just be swallowed up. Doesn’t he get to advise on national security?

Vice President Joseph Biden, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the late Charlie Wilson are among those wondering what in the world we’re up to.

And all the experts who lack the prestige that comes with having been wrong about everything for decades also say Get Out.

Malalai Joya says it. William Polk says it. The U.S. public says it. In a U.S. Army-funded survey, 94% of Kandaharis say they want negotiations, not assault, and 85% say they see the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.”

The RAND corporation says that 90% of insurgencies against weak governments like Afghanistan’s succeed.

So, why are we escalating, rather than ending?

A clue comes from the fact that President Obama sent his first 17,000 troops early last year, openly stating that he would sit down and consider what his strategy was only after sending them. We all know there are interests in wars from those who profit, that we are building military bases, and that Washington insiders like Zbigniew Brzezinski openly point to a gas pipeline as a primary reason to occupy Afghanistan. But the real reason we’re there is pure cynical, and probably wrong, electoral politics. Obama doesn’t want to end a war without having an escalation first, because his advisors tell him that would look bad — even though he still claims to be planning to end another war in Iraq, a country that by some measurements of violence and stability is worse off than Afghanistan.

If all of this sounds less than brilliant, it may be time to really start worrying, because Secretary of War Robert Gates said that if he didn’t get the money for the latest escalation in Afghanistan by the Fourth of July he would have to begin doing stupid things. Begin? Begin?

Gates, who has moved the dealine to the end of this month, meant not that he would have to undo and apologize for an escalation that has not been funded. He meant that he would have to fund it out of the military budget of all crazy things — exactly what Congressman Alan Grayson’s “The War Is Making You Poor Act” would require him to do, eliminating taxes on Americans earning $35,000 or less, while substantially reducing our national debt. How stupid would that be?

But because 6 months have gone by since the president and his not yet insubordinate generals publicly debated the escalation, nobody even talks about the current off-the-books “emergency” war spending bill as an escalation, instead claiming it’s to “support the troops” who are overseas, never mind how they got there or how we’ll get them home.

Frida Berrigan pointed out yesterday what sort of alternatives there are to what we are doing with the money our children will have to pay back to China with interest:

“Rethink Afghanistan — Robert Greenwald’s effort to help us understand the war on terror, its costs, and consequences — has a new Facebook application aimed at breaking down exactly how much we can get for one trillion dollars.

It is fun (in a qualified-world wide web-war on terror sort of way), and eye-opening.

During one round of the game, we were able to spend $999.5 billion to:

* Hire every worker in Afghanistan for one year at a total cost of $12 billion;

* Fund the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill (costs as of May 28th) at a total cost of $930 million;

* Build 4 million affordable housing units at a total cost of $516 billion;

* Provide health care for 4 million average people for one year at a total cost of $13.6 billion;

* Provide health care for 5 million children for one year at a total cost of $11.5 billion;

* Hire 5 million music/arts teachers for a year at a total cost of $292.5 billion:

* Fund Head Start places for three million children for one year at a total cost of $21.9 billion;

* Generate renewable energy for 1 million residences for one year at a total cost of $969.3 million;

* Hire 2 million elementary school teachers for one year at a total cost of $122.2 billion;

* Provide a one-year university scholarship for 1 million students at a total cost of $7.9 billion.

… And have $516.5 million left over (way more than enough to pay off my college loans).

A trillion dollars is also what the United States has spent since 2001 on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, it is being estimated that another $800 billion plus will be added to the tab before the wars are ended.”

And that’s just the add-on, off-the-books bit. The base military budget that Gates doesn’t want to dip into for such trivialities as wars (together with military debt payments) makes up over half of the spending our income taxes go to, and it is destroying our economy. Even tax cuts are better for the economy than military spending, even here at home, and investment in other industries (education, energy, infrastructure) is even better — in fact, necessary. We can have a war economy or a sustainable economy. We have to choose. It’s way to late to be talking about beginning to do stupid things.

The geniuses who run the University of Virginia have decided that with the state cutting them off, the sensible thing is to hike tuition rates up to “the market rate”, the same mumbo-jumbo excuse the university uses to pay its workers poverty wages. But there is no market rate for war, or for the nuclear power plants packaged into the same bill. Some things could never survive in a market. Had the Ludlow Amendment passed in 1938, and the public been given the right to vote wars up or down, we’d end wars. The U.S. public wants unemployment benefits extended and overwhelmingly views jobs as the top priority, not deficits — and certainly not the pretense of deficit-concern-except-for-wars. When the Program on International Policy Attitudes showed Americans the federal budget and asked for changes, on average they said to cut 35% out of the military.

Try getting Americans to agree to the war escalation spending bill the House sent to the Senate on July 1st. Try showing them the lines buried in the bill in which the House requires itself to vote on any proposals passed by the Senate out of the President’s Cat food Commission to cut Social Security. Try finding 30% of Americans to support a bill that destroys jobs and retirements to fund the escalation of a war we oppose.

I’ve got a much easier task for you. Take all those senators who just asked Holbrooke what in the world we were in Afghanistan for, and ask them if they’re going to vote to fund the escalation.

David Swanson is the author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union”

Related embeddable videos: here.

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