Monday, August 17, 2009


Obama Still Trying to Define Victory in Afghanistan

by Ted Rall

NEW YORK--What if they gave a war and nobody knew why?

When the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan in October 2001, America's war aims were clear: capture or kill Osama bin Laden, overthrow the Taliban government, deny Al Qaeda training camps and a safe haven.

Of course, two out of three of these goals were based on lies; both bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda's camps and personnel were in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. There was also a fourth unmentioned war aim, a lie of omission: lay an oil and gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. Still, the Bush Administration deserves credit for articulating clear goals--metrics, in bureaucratese--against which success or failure could be measured.

President Obama has rebranded Bush's Afghan War as his own. Afghanistan, Obama said during the campaign, was the war America should be fighting. And so we are. Obama has dispatched tens of thousands of additional troops to the "graveyard of empires," many redeployed from Iraq.

But, unlike Bush, he still hasn't told us why we're in Afghanistan.

When he took office, Obama's stated war aims were muddled: propping up U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai, training local Afghan police, and reducing opium cultivation. The first two led to no clearly-enunciated end; how long would they take? If we really cared about number three, we might as well have put the Taliban--who'd had some success in getting rid of opium--back in charge.

Obama reads the polls, which reflect increased skepticism about his Afghan war. So, in May, Obama attempted a reset. "We have a clear and focused goal," he assured a White House audience: "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

In other words, back to Bush.

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