Examining Obama’s Rationale for Escalating the War in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama invoked the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a justification for his announced troop increase for the war in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama invoked the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as a justification for his announced troop increase for the war in Afghanistan.

Outlining his rationale for the decision to send yet more troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama on Tuesday began with a familiar refrain: “We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people.”

“Al Qaeda’s base of operations”, he said, “was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban”, who “refused to turn over Osama bin Laden”.

In fact, the Taliban offered to either try bin Laden in their court system or hand him over to a third country if the U.S. provided evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The evidence, however, was not forthcoming, and so the Taliban did indeed refuse on that basis.

There’s another half-truth in this remark, which suggests that the reason we went into Afghanistan was to get bin Laden. This is belied by the fact that there were plans to overthrow the Taliban that predated 9/11.

The consideration then had mostly to do with U.S. interests in seeing oil and gas pipelines constructed in transit through the country. It cannot have been coincidence that President Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban was Zalmay Khalilzad, who had previously conducted risk analysis for Unocal, the company trying to woo the Taliban and heading the consortium to establish a pipeline across Afghanistan until 1998, when company Vice President John J. Maresca testified to the House Committee on International Relations that unless there was a change in regime, no such pipelines could be built.

Unocal was later bought by Chevron, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s former company, which is heavily invested in the region. Then Vice President Dick Cheney was also very personally involved in the region. He served, for example, as a member of Kazakhstan’s Oil Advisory Board. The list goes on.

So far, the proposed TAPI and other pipelines haven’t quite panned out as desired, but the plans are still on the table. TAPI, for example, the main proposal presently backed by the U.S. (which is opposed to an alternative route through Iran), which evolved from the Unocal consortium, is to be financed by the Asian Development Bank, of which the U.S. and Japan are the major shareholders with significantly more voting power than the rest of its members, thus rendering the ADB a useful instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

Obama’s suggestion that the war was about getting bin Laden is also belied by the fact that both General Tommy Franks – then commander of U.S. Central Command who oversaw the U.S. military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan – and Richard Myers – then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – denied that getting bin Laden was ever a goal of the U.S.-led war. These denials were no doubt self-serving, in light of the failure to capture or kill bin Laden; but that does not mean they were not also honest admissions.

Obama’s remarks also suggest the 9/11 attacks were planned and executed from Afghanistan. He added further into his speech, “it is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”

The latter part of this statement is simply the politics of fear and nothing more, akin to the statements from government officials prior to the invasion of Iraq that the “smoking gun” of Iraqi WMD and ties to al Qaeda “could come in the form of a mushroom cloud” – a claim those making it knew was absolute nonsense. This is not to say there aren’t terrorists plotting against the U.S. But they hardly need to be confined to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and it’s our policies, including the continuing war in Afghanistan, that serve as the catalyst for such extremism in the first place.

The former part of this remark, needless to say, is just false. 9/11 was neither planned in nor executed from Afghanistan. The attacks were planned in places like Hamburg, Germany and Venice, Florida — or Malaysia, where the CIA had tracked two of the would-be hijackers, both known al Qaeda associates. (Despite being on the terrorist watch-list, and despite the agency having known that they had visas to enter the U.S., the CIA still chose not to notify the State Department, the Department of Immigration, or the FBI). They were executed from American soil.

Continuing, Obama attempted again to associate the Afghan insurgency with al Qaeda, saying “the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government”.

9/11. Al Qaeda. Taliban.

Similarly deceptive rhetoric was employed to convince Americans the U.S. had to invade Iraq:

9/11. Al Qaeda. WMD. Saddam Hussein.

Obama certainly must know of the public opinion surveys showing that most Afghans are opposed to the Taliban. He must certainly know those same polls also reveal that most Afghans want foreign forces out of their country. He must also certainly have been advised of the fact that most Afghans who join the insurgency do so not out of allegiance to the Taliban or al Qaeda, but because they oppose the presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil, or because they are fed up with the corruption and ineffectual rule of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

In other words, the insurgency has nothing at all to do with Al Qaeda. The only connection between most insurgents and Al Qaeda is a common goal to rid the country of foreign troops and/or replace the U.S. puppet regime. It’s instructive that Obama noted the overthrow of the Afghan government as a goal, but not the ousting of foreign forces from their soil. It’s no insignificant omission, given that the policy just announced will predictably serve to fuel the insurgency, following the trend of strengthened insurgency as the number of troops has increased over the years.

As an elementary observation, the increase in troop numbers has nothing to do, therefore, with quelling the insurgency – any more than invading Iraq was about ridding the world of WMD.

The insurgency having nothing to do with Al Qaeda, therefore the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan has nothing to do with fighting Al Qaeda. That’s equally elementary, despite Obama’s claim that “Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda”.

But Obama couldn’t very well tell the truth to the American people and still expect to garner their support for yet another escalation of troops to Afghanistan. Much better to use the old Bush formula: We need to send more troops because we were attacked on 9/11. If we don’t escalate the war there, al Qaeda will attack us on our own soil.

And so on.

On the matter of Afghanistan’s corrupt government, Obama had this to say: “although it was marred by fraud”, Afghanistan’s recent election “produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.” How a government maintained through fraudulent elections could possibly be “consistent with” the law and constitution Obama chose not to bother explaining. We’re just supposed to take his word for it that two plus two equals five.

Forget what you think you know about the Israel-Palestine conflict

Jeremy R. Hammond

Jeremy R. Hammond is an award-winning political analyst, editor and publisher of Foreign Policy Journal, and author. His new book is Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Read the first chapter FREE at ObstacleToPeace.com! 

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  • Obama stands for imperial war, power and deception

    By Nasir Khan

    What President Obama decided was no surprise. The Bushite high officials and generals in his administration had made it all possible. Bush and  Cheney may have already sent their congratulations to their worthy successor, who knows?

    With the limited resources we have at our disposal, an existential reality, we who believe in human values and respect for human life should stand up, and say loudly and clearly: No to imperialist war in Afghanistan, No to fascism, No to warmongers.

    Can we do that? Yes, we can. The people can.

    We can defeat the warmongers and their criminal plans. I believe, the vast majority of ordinary Americans will be with us when they become aware of what crimes are being perpetrated in their name for the wars of aggression under the cover of false pretexts and misleading propaganda. A big task though, but we should do what we can because we love peace and hold humanity in respect. The war criminals have to use the rhetoric of ‘good wars’ though, to deceive their people to gain support for their criminal wars and human bloodshed.

    If we can inform the people by our continuous struggle about the reality of war, the motives of war and the profiteers of war, then and only then the ordinary man and woman will stop supporting genocidal wars.

    The military-industrial complex in the United States has economic interests to carry on such criminal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
    What Obama is doing now is part of the same game.

    For the warmongers, weapon manufacturers, war contractors and the rest of the war profiteers war is a very lucrative business. The loss of human life, either of the invading soldiers or their victims has no significance. It is part of the game.

    • Ellen Lenox

      Dear Nasir Khan,

      Congratulations on this very well written, clear and brave comment! I hope many will read it, along with Hammond’s brilliant article, and do whatever be in their power to change, really change things… Best and blessings

  • Doug

    In the same way that a squirrel is just a rat with good PR and a cute bushy tail, Obama is just a likable George Bush with good PR and the ability to pronounce English words correctly.