Left, right, left, right, left, right, left … who can tell the difference these days? The party in power — whichever party that may be — makes policy on the basis of precedent, not ideology. Old programs are preserved, perhaps “reformed.” The opposition party fights tooth and nail against new programs — then keeps and expands them when it comes out of opposition and into power. Government gets larger, never smaller, and as President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point last Tuesday demonstrates, politicians are at least as likely (if not more so) to double down on their predecessors’ bad ideas as on any stray good ones which might have accidentally worked their way into the program.
The US government’s war in Afghanistan has entered its ninth year with no light at the end of the tunnel. So far its fruits come to more than 800 US and nearly 1,500 “coalition” dead, and as many as 30,000 Afghan civilians killed.
Brought on by the horrific blowback of American foreign policy hubris, the war marks not a retreat from, but an enshrinement of, that hubris. It was flawed from conception: As soon as its objectives exceeded or varied from the liquidation of al Qaeda’s command and control apparatus — as they did from the beginning — it was virtually guaranteed that neither that objective nor any other would be achieved. Nor have they.
Comes now Obama, with a plan to “surge” 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan (having already doubled the size of the US force there in the previous year to no effect), at a cost of $30-$45 billion, on a promise to “begin ending” the war two years from now, around its 10th birthday.
Those who are surprised shouldn’t be. For all the talk of Obama as “peace candidate” in 2008, the fact is that he waxed bellicose at every opportunity, promising to expand the war in Afghanistan and perhaps even extend it further into Pakistan. He’s done both, and just this last week approved an expansion of the US “murder by remote control” drone program in Pakistan, expecting to take it beyond the Waziristan province and into Baluchistan.
The problem with politics as it applies to foreign policy is that no politician believes he or she can afford to appear “weak” while running for office. And every politician, with the possible exception of a second-term president, is always running for office. Obama had to out-hawk John McCain — and George W. Bush — to get elected. In office, he has to out-hawk both his predecessor and every prospective GOP opponent to get re-elected.
The only time a “peace candidate” has a shot at the Oval Office is at that point where the nation is exhausted by and disenchanted with war … a situation which the system is geared toward reaching inevitably but slowly. Richard Nixon managed election in 1968 as a “peace with honor” candidate, at a point where the the US had obviously and irrevocably lost the conflict in Vietnam. Still, he dragged it out for another four years rather than be seen as “weak.”
The incentives of politics all point toward war, or at least the constant will to war.
Since politics — both domestically and internationally — is ultimately no more than a turf contest between street gangs, it’s only natural that jingoism plays well and that the advantage goes to the “strong man” candidate in the first place. Politics is about force. A bona fide “peace candidate” in such a contest is about as viable as Mother Teresa in the selection process for head of the Gambino crime family.
The existing warlike tendency of politics is fertilized and watered by the truckloads of cash poured into the political process by “defense” contractors and other parasites of the state capitalist system’s digestive tract. They spend a great deal of money attempting to get you and your wealth into one end of that tract in the expectation of dropping your bare bones out the other end. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve thus far skinned you to the tune of about a trillion dollars, above and beyond the 5,000+ American lives directly taken.
Even “mainstream” politicians have had occasion to warn us of the dangers this system entails, as Dwight D. Eisenhower did in his 1960 farewell address. What they’re unwilling to admit — and what we must at some point come to grips with — is that those dangers are inherent, congenital, unavoidable and progressive. We can have politics or we can have peace. We can’t have both.