THE ROVING EYE Vietnam-lite is unveiled
By Pepe Escobar
The United States is in the midst of the most serious unemployment crisis since
the Great Depression, and US President Barack Obama is following George W Bush
in lavishing trillions of dollars on a few big banks. American taxpayers got
nothing. Now, they get the cherry in the cheesecake; Obama escalating his war
in Afghanistan. A Vietnam-lite - with a tentative expiry date, July 2011, for
the start of a withdrawal.
The much-hyped Obama speech on Tuesday night at West Point - edited by the
president himself up to the last minute - was a
clever rehash of the white man's burden, sketching a progressive narrative for
US national security clad in the glorious robes of "the noble struggle for
On a more pedestrian level, history does repeat itself - as farce. With Obama's
surge-lite, US plus North Atlantic Treaty Organization occupation troops in
Afghanistan will reach in the first half of 2010 the level of the Soviet
occupation at its peak in the first half of the 1980s. And all this formidable
firepower to fight no more than 25,000 Afghan Taliban - with only 3,000 fully
Each soldier of the new Obama surge (a word he did not pronounce in his speech
except when he referred to a "civilian surge") will cost US$1 million - though
the Pentagon insists it is only half a million.
Real men go to Riyadh
Obama still says Afghanistan is a "war of necessity" - because of the September
11, 2001 attacks. Wrong. The Bush administration had planned to attack
Afghanistan even before 9/11. See
Get Osama! Now! Or else ... Asia Times Online, August 30, 2001.)
"War of necessity" is a polite remix of the same old neo-conservative "war on
terror"; blame it on the "towelheads" and exploit public ignorance and fear.
That's how al-Qaeda was equated with the Taliban and how Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein was involved in 9/11, according to the neo-con gang.
For all his lofty rhetoric, Obama is still pulling a Bush, not making any
distinction between al-Qaeda - an Arab jihadi outfit whose objective is a
global caliphate - and the Taliban - indigenous Afghans who want an Islamic
emirate in Afghanistan but would have no qualms in doing business with the US,
as they did during the Bill Clinton years when the US badly wanted to build a
trans-Afghan gas pipeline. On top of it, Obama cannot admit that the "Pak"
neo-Taliban now exist because of the US occupation of "Af".
Taking pains to distance his new policy from the Vietnam trauma, Obama
stressed, "Unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from
Afghanistan." Wrong. If the official narrative of 9/11 holds, the hijackers
were trained in Western Europe and perfected their skills in the US.
And even while he still emphasizes the drive to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat"
al-Qaeda and deny it a "safe haven", Obama is fully contradicting his own
national security advisor, General James Jones, who has admitted that there are
fewer than 100 al-Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan.
The myth of al-Qaeda has to be exposed. How could al-Qaeda pull off 9/11 but be
incapable of mounting a single significant attack inside Saudi Arabia? That's
because al-Qaeda is essentially a thinly disguised brigade of Saudi
intelligence. The US wants to win "the war on terror"? Why not send special
forces to Saudi Arabia instead of Afghanistan and knock the Wahhabis - the root
of it all - out of power?
Obama could at least have noticed what notorious Afghan mujahid, former Saudi
protege, former Central Intelligence Agency darling and current American public
enemy, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, told al-Jazeera. He stressed, "The Taliban
government came to an end in Afghanistan due to the wrong strategy of
This is a graphic illustration of the current, total split between al-Qaeda and
the Taliban, both "Af" and "Pak". The Afghan Taliban, starting with their
historical leader, Mullah Omar, have learned from their big mistake - and are
not allowing al-Qaeda Arabs to fester inside Afghanistan. Equally, the rise of
neo-Talibanistan on both sides of the border does not necessarily translate
into a "safe haven" for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda jihadis are harbored by a handful of
selected, paid-up tribals which the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence, if it
really wanted, could pinpoint in a flash.
Obama also bought in the Pentagon premise that America can re-colonize
Afghanistan with counter-insurgency.
In General David "I'm always positioning myself to 2012" Petraeus' own
counter-insurgency doctrine, the proportion of soldiers to natives must be 20
or 25 per 1,000 Afghans. Petraeus and General Stanley McChrystal have now got
30,000 more. Inevitably the generals - just like in Vietnam, whether Obama
likes it or not - will ask for a lot more till they get what they really want;
at least 660,000 soldiers, plus all the extras. At present the US has about
70,000 troops in Afghanistan.
That would imply the reinstatement of the draft in the US. And that's trillions
of dollars more the US does not have and will have to borrow ... from China.
And what would that buy in the end? The mighty Soviet red army used every
single counter-insurgency trick in the book during the 1980s. They killed a
million Afghans. They turned five million into refugees. They lost 15,000
soldiers. They virtually bankrupted the Soviet Union. They gave up. And they
What about the new great game?
So why is the US still in Afghanistan? Facing the camera, as if addressing "the
Afghan people", the president said, "we have no interest in occupying your
country". But he could not possibly tell it like it really is to American
prime-time TV viewers.
For corporate America, Afghanistan means nothing; it's the fifth-poorest
country in the world, tribal and definitely not a consumer society. But for US
Big Oil and the Pentagon, Afghanistan has a lot of mojo.
For Big Oil, the holy grail is access to Turkmenistan natural gas from the
Caspian Sea - Pipelineistan at the heart of the new great game in Eurasia,
avoiding both Russia and Iran. But there's no way to build the hugely strategic
TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline - crossing Helmand
province, and then Pakistan's Balochistan province - with Afghanistan mired in
chaos, thanks to the pitiful performance of the US/NATO occupation.
There's a hand in surveying/controlling the $4 billion-a-year drug trade,
directly and indirectly. Since the beginning of the US/NATO occupation,
Afghanistan became a de facto narco-state, producing 92% of the world's heroin
under a bunch of transnational narco-terrorist cartels.
And there's the full spectrum dominance Pentagon agenda - Afghanistan as part
of the worldwide US empire of bases, monitoring strategic competitors China and
Russia at their doorstep.
Obama simply ignored that there is an ultra-high-stakes new great game in
Eurasia going on. So because of all that Obama did not say at West
Point, Americans are being sold a "war of necessity" draining a trillion
dollars that could be used to reduce unemployment and really help the US
We also know how to surge
The Taliban will inevitably come up with their own, finely tuned,
counter-surge. Even surge-less, and up against tons of Petraeus'
counter-insurgency schemes, they recently captured Nuristan province. And
remember Obama's summer surge in Helmand province? Well, Helmand is still the
opium capital of the world.
In his speech, Obama tried by all means to convey the impression that the
Afghan war can be controlled from Washington. It simply can't.
For all his pledges of "partnership with Pakistan" (mentioned 21 times in the
speech) Obama could not possibly admit his surge-lite will destabilize Pakistan
even more. Instead, he could turn over the whole war to Pakistan. Unlike the
Obama-approved July 2011 date for the (possible) beginning of a withdrawal,
subject to "conditions on the ground", this real exit strategy would have to
come up with a fixed timetable for a complete withdrawal attached. That would
be the go-ahead for Islamabad to do what neither the Soviets nor the Americans
could do - sit down with all the relevant tribal locals and negotiate through a
series of jirgas (tribal councils).
Obama bets on what he calls "transition to Afghan responsibility". That's a
mirage. The Pakistani intelligence establishment - which still regards
Afghanistan as its "strategic depth" in the bigger picture of a conflict with
India - will never allow it to happen strictly under Afghan terms. That may not
be fair to Afghans, but these are the facts on the ground.
Virtually everyone in rural Afghanistan considers - correctly - that President
Hamid Karzai is the occupation president. Karzai, who can barely hold on to his
throne in Kabul, was imposed in December 2001 on King Zahir Shah by Bush
proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad after a heated argument, and recently ratified in an
American-style, blatantly stolen election. The American way is not the Afghan
way. The tried-and-tested Afghan way for centuries has been the loya jirga
- a grand tribal council where everyone joins, debates and a consensus is
So the endgame in Afghanistan cannot be much different from a power-sharing
coalition, with the Taliban as the strongest party. Why? One just has to
examine the history of guerrilla warfare since the 19th century - or take a
look back at Vietnam. The guerrillas who are the fiercest fighters against
foreigners always prevail. And even with the Taliban sharing power in Kabul,
Afghanistan's powerful neighbors - Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, India - will
make sure there won't be chaos spilling over across their borders. This is an
Asian issue that has to be solved by Asians; that's the rationale for a
solution to be developed inside the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation
Meanwhile, there's reality. The full spectrum dominance Pentagon gets what it
wanted - for now. Call it the revenge of the generals. Who wins, apart from
them? Australian armchair warrior David Kilcullen, an adviser and ghostwriter
for Petraeus and McChrystal and who is a demi-god for Washington warmongers.
Some light neo-cons - certainly not former vice president Dick Cheney, who's
been blasting Obama's "weakness". And overall, all subscribers to the Pentagon
concept of the "long war".
Two weeks before going to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama sells his
new Vietnam-lite to the world out of a US military academy. George Orwell, we
salute you. War is indeed peace.