Obama delivers -- when it comes to war

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By Billy Wharton

December 4, 2009 -- When US President Barack Obama announced his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more troops to the war-torn country, he delivered on two campaign promises. The first was a campaign trail pledge to re-focus US military power on the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was mostly ignored by enthralled voters. The second was made more quietly to his many campaign donors in the defence industry. This promise was happily recognised by war hawks throughout Washington. The resulting troop surge into an already war-ravaged Afghanistan will lead to more of the same -- further Afghan civilian casualties, more dead US soldiers and the continuance of a military campaign in an unwinnable war. Good news for military contractors, bad news for the rest of us.

A hawk in dove’s clothing

Despite Obama’s clear campaign pledges to escalate the war, he was widely perceived by voters as a peace candidate. The hawkish claims coming from the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain provided just enough cover for Obama to cast himself as a reasonable alternative to a war-weary public. However, once public relations turned into policy, it was clear that Obama was a war president who had no intention of crossing either military hawks or an increasingly aggressive military industrial complex. Voters who wanted a roadmap to peace have now received an even bloodier quagmire.

Larger than this, Obama proved willing to employ arguments laid out by previous president George W. Bush. Sure, he did not utilise Bush’s crazy antics like announcing an “evil-doers” list, but Obama endorsed the key linkage that pushed the war process into motion. Afghanistan was invaded, he confirmed, in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Escalation is the logic strategy that grows from this premise. Faced with an opportunity for a wholesale abandonment of the failed Bush-era military policy, Obama chose to defend his suitors over his voters. First he drank the milk and now he owns the cow.

Profits and peril

For the defence industry, the announcement of the troop escalation was a positive return on a strategic investment. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that contributions to Obama’s campaign of more than US$1 million nearly doubled those made to the seemingly more friendly McCain campaign. No surprise, since weapons makers have grown fat on military contracts, and there are now more military contractors in Afghanistan than soldiers. Occupation has meant profiteering and these war profits have been reinvested in order to shape electoral politics and military policy in the US. No wonder that the occupation of Afghanistan has lasted twice as long as the US military’s involvement in World War II. It’s big business.

For Afghans, the consequences of schemes hatched in far-off Washington D.C. have been devastating. A flourishing narco-economy in the countryside offers the only option for a population faced with an average life expectancy of 48 years of age. Politically, Afghans are squeezed between the military aggression of US-directed NATO forces and the reactionary politics of the Taliban. The US client government of Hamid Karzai offers no alternative. Karzai rigged the most recent election and has helped to create a thoroughly corrupt state and government that has little authority outside of the capital city of Kabul. In short, nearly all parts of the US/NATO occupation have broken down in Afghanistan.

A domestic quagmire

There is also the US domestic context to Obama’s escalation announcement. Throughout the United States, essential services such as education, transportation and food assistance are being cut as state and local governments attempt to close budget deficits that stem from the economic crisis. The occupation of Afghanistan costs $3.6 billion per month. All of these funds could be redirected to meet social needs domestically and to make reparation payments to the Afghan people. Instead, they are allocated to wasteful military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose sole purpose is the projection of US military power in the region. People in the United States will see no positive outcomes from the continued militarisation of the Middle East. Just more killing, carried out in their name and more tax dollars carried off by the defence industry.

Bringing the war home

Less examined, yet certainly another domestic factor to consider, is the human cost of the war in terms of US soldiers. In many, sometimes subtle, ways returning and deployed soldiers are bringing the war home. As pawns in the larger game of the global projection of US power, they are first ripped from the social fabric in the US and then swiftly discarded after they outlast their utility. Our society is left to deal with the consequences.

This was made clear recently when the military attempted to deploy Spc. Alexis Hutchinson despite the fact that she had no caregiver for her 11-month-old child, Kamani. When the military recommended foster care, Hutchinson refused to deploy and was jailed. Perhaps Hutchinson’s refusal was not only based on defending the safety of her child, but a recognised desire to avoid the fate of many returning veterans who face a disproportionate amount of substance abuse, homelessness and suicide.

Time to act

In his escalation speech, Obama smoothly slid into Bush-logic. Escalating the war, he argued, was all part of a larger plan to remove the troops. Even a grade school student can appreciate the flaw in such a proposition.

However, the politics of war and peace are not a game of logic. Human lives are on the line. The lives of innocent Afghans, the lives of soldiers and their families and the lives of people living here in the US who are deprived of necessary social programs in order to fund this war.

The time to act is now. To state as clearly as possible that the US people want, “Troops out now!”. The politicians in Washington, indebted as they are to the defence sector, won’t end this bloody war. Only a mass movement, fueled by a sense of humanity, can win the peace and only we can build it.

[Billy Wharton is the national co-chair of the Socialist Party USA and the editor of the  The Socialist and the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Monthly Review Webzine, The Indypendent, Common Dreams and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]