Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Forgotten War

Amid the media din over Senator Todd Aiken this week, the Afghanistan war approached a dubious milestone that went largely unnoticed by the talking heads: The death of the 2,000th soldier. He was Specialist James A. Justice.
Save for a front-page story in Wednesday’s New York Times, the growing death-toll for the nearly 12-year-old war received scant news coverage. And don’t hold your breath waiting for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to weigh-in on a conflict intrinsically linked to the economic recession.
Instead, both camps remain fixated on Sen. Aiken’s admittedly misogynist comments, and the larger debate on abortion his remarks seem to have re-ignited. Of course, the glaring irony of the refusal of “pro-life” conservatives to acknowledge (let alone oppose) the continuation of bloodshed in Afghanistan (not to mention Iraq, Yemen, Syria, etc.) does not go unnoticed by thinking citizens outside the Washington Beltway.
Truthdig columnist William Pfaff may have summed up the general malaise of the war succinctly with the headline of his most recent piece: “Did Someone Say ‘War’?”
The 2,000th soldier death comes amid growing pessimism about both the capability and trustworthiness of the U.S.-trained Afghan police force, which will be charged with maintaining security when American forces (theoretically) withdraw from the country in 2014. (I anticipate troops will “withdraw” from Afghanistan by that time, in much the same way they “withdrew” from Iraq, leaving behind some 30,000 “noncombat” forces, private, for-hire mercenary guards, military contractors and corporate oil representatives.)
The NY Times (8/22/2012) story also notes the sharp increase in U.S. deaths from members of the Afghan training coalition. These attacks are often committed by “Afghans dressed in the uniforms of Afghan security forces.” According to the article, nine soldiers have been killed by such “insider” attacks in the past two weeks, and at least 39 in the last year.
Just as with the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. once again finds itself embroiled in a war where the goal remains nebulous and undefined, against a people and culture we do not truly understand.
The Afghanistan war is now the longest war in U.S. history, having outpaced the Vietnam War in June of 2010. Yet while the vocal, ubiquitous antiwar movement of the 1960s and ‘70s ultimately contributed to the latter war’s end, there has been little comparable resistance to the Afghanistan conflict.
While the lack of a civilian military draft seems the most obvious reason for the absence of visible protest, this view is somewhat misleading. The truth is, despite the mislabeling of our armed forces as “volunteer,” those who enlist are, in many respects, victims of an economic draft. Indeed, for young Americans who cannot find work in the anemic job-market, cannot afford college, and have no other career prospects, the military is, for them, not only a “noble” option, but in fact the only option.
As Pfaff writes about the forgotten war in Afghanistan, “…nobody in the U.S. and the allied countries, except for the relatives of the victims, gives a damn.”
Case in point, Portland’s nonprofit, Peace ActionMaine has all but shut down due to lack of funding. The group’s closure is perhaps symbolic of an election year in which citizens are concerned about gay marriage, abortion and the economy, but seem to have grudgingly accepted the “new normal” culture of permanent war. (Not, mind you, that I believe the above issues are unimportant. Though, as I mentioned earlier, the wars and the economy are not two separate issues, even though the media routinely frames them as such.)
Yet, despite the lack of mass protest, when surveyed on the issue of the Afghanistan war, respondents routinely register their opposition. An AP-GfK poll back in May found 66 percent of Americans now oppose the war, while a mere 27 percent support it. The poll results, which appeared on the Huffington Post (5/09/2012), also noted “about half of those who oppose the war” believe the U.S. occupation there is “doing more harm than good.”
Unfortunately, even when independent or web-based media sources cover Afghanistan, they often do so within the same narrow parameters as the corporate outlets. Take, for instance, a recent video interview from Russian Television (RT News) with blogger/activist, David Swanson. Swanson is the co-founder of the popular activist website, After Downing (now renamed, War Is a Crime), and has written extensively about U.S. wars and imperialism in his 2010 book, War is a Lie.
But while Swanson is intelligent, informed and clearly committed to ending the war(s), it is disappointing his “what-viewers-can-do” recommendations amount to little more than “re-elect Obama, and push him to end the war.” Well, that was pretty much the strategy for President Obama’s first term, and yet, four years later, we’re still there. Then again, given that candidate-Obama campaigned on re-directing U.S. forces from Iraq to Afghanistan (which he claimed was “the good war”), this was a flawed strategy in the first place.
It is well past time to leave Afghanistan. There is no military victory there. The British and the Soviets failed to take over the country. It is only through arrogance and imperial hubris that America’s leaders believe it can prove successful. Let Specialist Justice be the last soldier to die for this war.     

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