Propping up a puppet

By TED RALL  |  February 25, 2009

"Throughout vast areas of the country, 2008 felt like a slow descent into hell," wrote Chris Sands in The National, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. "Down in Kandahar the Taliban knew they were winning and so did just about everyone caught in the crossfire. Tribal elders who had initially sat on the fence now gave weapons and money to the rebels. They said the Soviet occupation had never been so brutal and, whether that is true or not, they clearly believed it."

Bush never bothered to clearly define war aims for the invasion of Iraq. Obama is repeating Bush's mistake in Afghanistan. What would victory look like? He can't say. He's all over the place.

"If you've got narco-trafficking that is funding the Taliban, if there is a perception that there's no rule of law in Afghanistan, if we don't solve the issue of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we're probably not going to solve the problem," Obama told the CBC.

The opium issue is more complicated than Obama says. True, the Taliban are buying weapons by taxing local poppy farmers. Put the farmers out of business by spraying their crops, however, and they won't just pay a tithe — they'll sign up as soldiers. But if the Taliban wins — an increasingly likely outcome — they may curtail or even eliminate opium cultivation as un-Islamic. Letting the Taliban win is likelier to reduce the amount of heroin on the streets of Amsterdam than staying the course.

US and NATO forces aren't the solution to anarchy in Afghanistan. They're its cause. Before we came along, the Taliban had consolidated control over 95 percent of the country. Highways were safe. Rapists were executed. Warlords lived in exile. After the 9/11 the CIA brought back the warlords and showered them with bricks of cash worth tens of millions of dollars. Security vanished. Neo-feudalism took over. Allied forces have never lifted a finger to protect ordinary Afghans from the thieves and murderers in their midst; to the contrary, they installed many of them as officials in Karzai's corrupt government.

If you were a US soldier shipping off to Afghanistan, what would you think you were fighting for? Obama couldn't tell you. I think I can: to prop up Karzai's regime until a new-and-improved strongman can be found to replace him, then to prop him up. To flex military muscle against neighboring countries, most notably China, Iran, and Pakistan. And to keep a shot at scoring a piece of the action if the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline oil and gas pipeline is ever finished.

It hardly seems killing, much less dying, for.

Ted Rall can be reached at tedrall@aol.com.

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