Christian Parenti, journalist who has reported extensively from Afghanistan.
Administration officials say President Obama will unveil his decision on sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan next week. Obama is expected to announce the plan in a prime-time address next Tuesday night. At the White House yesterday, Obama said he intends to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, you recently returned from Afghanistan. You have covered Afghanistan for a long time. This is switching gears, but to ask you about the leak that came out of the last war council meeting of President Obama, where it is clear he’s going to be calling for an expansion of war in Afghanistan, an increase in the number of troops by tens of thousands. I wanted to get your take on this.
CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, I think this is utter insanity, along with being, you know, morally reprehensible, when you think about all of the people who will be killed along the way. I think this is political insanity for the Obama administration. I think the fundamental issue driving Obama in Afghanistan is fear of being called a wimp here in the United States by Republicans. And we saw that there was a division within the administration with the Eikenberry leak — Ambassador Eikenberry, who was the general who ran the war for NATO less than two years ago, saying that we should not endorse McChrystal’s escalation, and Vice President Joe Biden suggesting that we essentially, I would see it as, rebrand the wars, not as counterinsurgency, but counterterrorism, and essentially withdraw and save face by bombing people using drones from the air. You could see that there are elements within the administration that realize this is crazy. Why is it crazy? Because there is no way the United States can win, “get the job done,” as Obama says. What is the job exactly? To rebuild Afghanistan? The country is, you know, one of the most underdeveloped in the world. It’s covered with land mines, to pick up on the last guest, and the government there is so thoroughly fundamentally corrupt that it is beyond redemption.
The news that broke recently that Hamid Karzai’s younger half-brother Walid Karzai, former governor of Kandahar, was involved in the drug trade was old news in Afghanistan. Everybody knew that, not because some secret report had been leaked, but because if you drove past the man’s land outside Kandahar during the right seasons, you could see that it was covered in poppy. The rest of the cabinet are similarly heavily involved in, if not drug trafficking, though many of them are involved in drug trafficking, taxing the production of opium. You know, every ministry in the Afghan government is riddled with corruption. Civil servants pay to have their jobs. Every transaction between the citizens and the state is mediated through bribery. And as a result, people are increasingly embittered, no services are provided, the vast majority of aid is stolen. You know, the most recent example from this week is the ministry of Hajj, where the Afghan minister was stealing money from the Afghan budget, about $70 million, $20 million of it apparently he took, and also shaking down landlords in Saudi Arabia to channel Afghan pilgrims to their accommodations.
So, this is the nature of the government that the Obama administration is going to try and build up. And it’s just — it’s utterly impossible. And I think they realize this, but I think what Obama wants to do, because he ran on the — you know, getting out of Iraq by winning the good war in Afghanistan, and has performed that myth to the point where he can’t back out of it, that he’s going to make an effort to sort of show that he’s done due diligence. He’s going to escalate the war, have more American soldiers maimed and killed, kill more Afghan civilians, and degrade the political situation further in that country so that instability ratchets out further, deeper into Pakistan, deeper into Central Asia, deeper into Iran, and then try and get reelected and, after that, claim victory and withdraw. And it’s tragic and totally shortsighted.
And it’s also — you know, it’s important to remember the history here. I mean, this is the second round of US intervention. The US helped create the problem by supporting the mujahideen throughout the 1980s to oppose the Soviet occupying troops and the Afghan communist government that was there. And Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who runs a party called Hezb-e Islami, that is allied with the Taliban, was the largest recipient of US aid during those days. The Haqqanis also were US-supported mujahideen. They’re also part of the Taliban forces, broadly defined. And ironically, many of the people who now run the — for example, the national security director to the Afghan secret police — are former communists. And the communists, in many ways, in Afghanistan represented the urban classes, who, for almost a hundred years, had been trying to impose the writ of Kabul upon the countryside, and there was a conflict between the urban elites and the rural elites. And at first, the ideology of the day was constitutional monarchy. Then, after the coup in 1973, it was republic — nationalist republicanism. Then, after the communist coup of '78, it became communism. Now, with the NATO invasion, it's liberal democracy and capitalism. And actually, there have been elements of the same population, sometimes the same people, pursuing the same essential project.
And the ideological question for many of these folks in Kabul is, "Does that ideology come with electricity and paved roads? Because if it does, that’s what we want." And then, conversely, out in the countryside, you have the warlords/armed landlords who, since the 1920s, have been opposing any kind of modernization. They might approve of a paved road, but they don’t want the central state to stop them from taxing traffic on it. They don’t want the state to tell them to send their girls to school. They might want wells drilled or other resources, but they don’t want to have to pay taxes or relinquish any of their control over their tenant farmers and over their local resources. And so, this is one of the basic conflicts that undergirds this war. There’s another conflict, which is the conflict between the Pashtun of the south and the ethnic minorities of the north, the Tajiks, the Hazaras and others. And the Taliban is a —
AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, we’re going to have to leave it there.
CHRISTIAN PARENTI: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will certainly continue the discussion, because next week President Obama is expected to announce the escalation of war in Afghanistan. I want to thank you very much for being with us.
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