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Dissecting Obama’s Afghan Escalation Speech

December 3, 2009

There has already been a great deal written about President Barack Obama’s speech at the West Point Military Academy on Tuesday night. Most of what has been written in the mainstream media has been to either summarize the President’s comments or to provide reaction from pundits, politicians or military personnel and their families.

What we have yet to see from much of the journalism community is a clear analysis of the President’s speech, with particular emphasis on verifying the major claims made by Obama. We will try to address some of those major points here.

“For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 — the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network, and to protect our common security.”

Paul Street, academic and author, responded to this claim by the President by saying, “the UNSC did no such thing since the attack met none of the UN’s criteria for legitimate self-defense.  The United States ‘ attack on Afghanistan met none of the standard international moral and legal criteria for justifiable self-defense and occurred without reasonable consultation with the United Nations Security Council.

As the prominent U.S. legal scholar Marjorie Cohn noted in July of 2008, “The invasion of Afghanistan was as illegal as the invasion of Iraq.”  The U.N. Charter requires member states to settle international disputes by peaceful means.  Nations are permitted to use military force only in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After 9/11, the Council passed two resolutions, neither of which authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan.

“Only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden did we send our troops into Afghanistan.”

Here again Paul Street responds by saying, “This was completely false. In the actual history that occurred, the U.S. refused to respond to the Taliban government’s offer to turn bin-Laden over to a foreign government for a trial once elementary evidence pointing to his guilt was presented.  The U.S. deliberately made sure that bin Laden would not be turned over through legal and diplomatic channels because (quite frankly) the Bush administration wanted war and did not wish to follow the UN Charter’s requirement that nations pursue “all means short of force before taking military action”

“Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.”

Wow, bringing the war in Iraq to an end……this couldn’t be farther from the truth. As Gareth Porter and other writers have pointed out US forces will continue to remain in Iraq after 2011. Porter states that between 30-50,000 US troops will remain, as will several permanent US military bases. The only thing that will change is these troops will no longer be labeled Combat Troops, they will be called “Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations” (BESO).

In response to the idea that the US is “successfully leaving Iraq to its people,” independent journalist Nir Rosen had a clear response on Democracy Now yesterday. “The civil war indeed is over, but you have an incredibly corrupt government, weak, oppressive and this so-called success in Iraq which we’re using as a model for Afghanistan, success that included the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of millions of Iraqis, the devastation of a country, the spread throughout the region of sectarianism and instability – so Iraq should hardly be a model for anything and certainly not for population security for peace and stability because Iraq is still a much more dangerous place than Afghanistan is. But again, the surge in Iraq followed the civil war in Iraq.”

“The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest pace possible — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”

So, even though the President admitted during his speech that Al Qaida has fewer numbers than in 2001 and all in the border region (a point which can be disputed), he states here that the US troops will be used to “secure key population centers.” Anyone who has seriously looked at Afghanistan knows that the country is mostly rural and that is where the Taliban are located, so securing population centers doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy.

Then there is the issue of training Afghan security forces, a point that Michigan Senator Carl Levin has emphasized. Here is what Nir Rosen had to say about the Afghan Security Forces. “Nobody familiar with the Afghan security forces really expects this to happen. Having spent time with them—I don’t even know if it is a good thing. I mean, the McChrystal report or assessment identified the Afghan police as one of the main problems in the country, so you’re going to double them? Basically the Afghan police are the recruiters for the Taliban. They oppress the population. They are mostly on drugs. They are incompetent. Some of them are very brave and they are being killed in large numbers, but your going to double this corrupt and oppressive force? That is truly not going to win you any support among the local population. The Afghan army, meanwhile, which we have spent billions on, was a failure. We saw in the Helmand operation in July, they just decided not to show up. I was in Helmand and the Americans and Brits were surprised and complaining the Afghan army didn’t feel like taking part. They perceive themselves more as a force designed for external threats, not for internal purposes. So that’s a complete waste. And they also just don’t have the ability. They are also dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks and they are fighting Pashtuns. You are going to see this force break down along ethnic lines. We see the increase or return of ethnic based militias throughout the country.”

“The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They have been confronted with occupation — by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country.”

It is true that the people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades, but the President fails to acknowledge what role the US has played in perpetuating that violence. Foreign policy scholar Bill Blum has pointed out that the US funded and trained the Afghan Mujahadeen forces in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation. However, once the Soviet Army left Afghanistan those that made up the Mujahadeen began fighting each other and attacking the Afghan civilian population. Many of the US funded and trained forces of the 1980s are now the very same warlords within the Karzai government.

Moreover, how can the President say the US has no interest in occupying Afghanistan? What would you call the past eight years other than an occupation? If there is no intention of occupying the country, why build permanent US military bases and the new 1,100 person prison facility at Bargram?

“But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades — a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty. For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources.”

This statement is propaganda at its finest. The US has militarily intervened in more countries in the last six decades than any other nation. According to Professor Zoltan Grossman, the US has militarily intervened over 100 times around the world since the end of WWII.

And when the President says, “we will not claim another nation’s resources,” does he really think that the American public is that stupid? The CIA-led coup in Iran in 1953 was for oil and in 1954 in Guatemala it was to protect the right of United Fruit to extract that country’s resources. These are just two examples of the long list of times when the US claimed another nation’s resources.

Like many US President’s before him, Barack Obama wants to try to convince the American people that the US only send its troops to foreign lands with the noblest intentions. We must do our best to not simply accept this premise without serious scrutiny.

(There were many other aspects of the speech that could be critiqued. For additional analysis we encourage people to read an excellent article by Phyllis Bennis and a short interview with Anand Gopal who has been reporting on Afghanistan for years.)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2009 8:10 pm

    How many more will die ,
    how much more will we spend
    The soil turns red
    from the greed that its fed
    Its happened before and it will happen again
    Perhaps this be our epitaph to end where we began
    Red sand and bullets left where we stood
    Were just being humans and so misunderstood

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