Monday, September 14, 2009

Afghanistan: Now it's Obama's war

By Greg Burry

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- The Birmingham Bloomfield Democratic Club of Michigan hosted a presentation and discussion on Afghanistan: Now It’s 'Obama’s War' by Dr. Prasad Venugopal, professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, recently. It was a well-received presentation and a needed discussion at an important time when troop increases are ramping up to employ the president’s strategy.

Faced with a difficult topic, Venugopal did an outstanding job developing the historical and material conditions of Afghanistan that the United States confronts.

He told the audience that Afghanistan is large, mountainous and a land locked nation that is difficult to traverse. These geographic features lend to the cultural and ethnic diversity making national identity unlikely because ethnic and tribal affiliations are more important. Any attempt to promote nationalism is seen as suspicious and outside meddling.

Furthermore, Venugopal said historical trade routes coming from Iran, Pakistan and India through Afghanistan over the centuries had a “regional influence that dominates the Afghan ethnic communities,” and had a lasting effect on dividing Afghans ethnically and culturally.

Additionally, Venugopal said that conquest from the Greeks, Mongols, Islam, British, Soviets and the U.S. have heightened suspicion of outsiders in a largely poor and illiterate population spread out into isolated tribal and ethnic communities. Drug money from various factions has perpetuated the drug trafficking and strengthened the warlord’s domination.

The Taliban have been successful in taking advantage of these divisions. Faced with Taliban, insurgent, and Al-Qaeda attacks combined with NATO bombings of civilians, Venugopal said, “The situation in Afghanistan is very bad and is deteriorating rapidly. People in Afghanistan are becoming more divided and hostile to foreign occupiers.”

In the face of these historical and material conditions, will additional troops and the “Clear, Hold and Build” strategy introduced by the President bring about an end to the war? That strategy aims to clear southeast Afghanistan of militants. Then hold areas cleared and build factories and infrastructure. Venugopal asked, “What is the likelihood of success?”

His conclusion was that without adding jobs and providing a hope for a rising standard of living, the likelihood of success is doubtful.

It was thought that the recent elections could bring about some success and stability. But as Venugopal pointed out, the election corruption and drug trafficking has only added to the deteriorating conditions. “Elections are a mess right now and very fluid, it is hard to tell what is going to happen.” For the strategy to succeed, Venugopal stated, “You need a unified center in Afghanistan.” But as he pointed out, a unified center will be difficult if not impossible.

Due to these conditions, the NATO coalition of Britain, Germany, France and Canada is calling for a conference to discuss an exit strategy and timetable before they agree to any more troops.

He asked, “Is the president’s strategy so flawed and mistaken that he becomes the main enemy.” “I think this would be a mistake,” he stated. There are those in the peace movement that have been pushing this. “Attacking the President as the main enemy responsible for this mess in Afghanistan would be a mistake.” “Opposing anything he does would be a mistake. “On the other hand, keeping silent would be a mistake.”

“How do you support the President even though he is wrong?” Troop increases only radicalize the Afghanistan population and bolster the Taliban. Venugopal believes we need to get the troops out now, but he would support and push very hard for the McGovern bill that calls for an exit strategy and timetable. “If there is a movement against troop increases or in support for an international conference of the NATO coalition or international civilian aid,” he would also push for that. He concluded that the McGovern proposal is the bare minimum needed to move forward.

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