Afghan Death Trip 

Broke and on a losing streak, Obama doubles down

NEW YORK—Contrary to myth, the Nazis weren't crazy. But during the winter of 1944-1945, with the Allied and Soviet armies closing in on Berlin, German leaders made an insane decision. Instead of doing whatever they could to hold out as long as possible, they sped up the Holocaust.

The Nazis' policy of accelerated genocide deprived the war effort of increasingly precious resources. Soldiers and paramilitaries were pulled back from the battlefront in order to arrest and guard ever-increasing numbers of Jews and other "enemies of the state." As battle after battle was lost, trains assigned to transport reinforcement troops were reassigned to ship the regime's victims to the death camps.

Killing Jews was the Nazis' top priority. It came ahead of everything else—even their own lives. Total madness.

But who are we to judge? Here we are 64 years later, doing the same thing. The United States is locked in a last-ditch struggle for survival, and the U.S. government is diverting vital resources to its own top priority: killing Muslims.

President Barack Obama and the Democrats always asserted that Afghanistan was the "good war"—the one thing George W. Bush did right before he "took his eye off the ball" by invading Iraq. Not me. I realized that the invasion and subsequent occupation were doomed from the start. My Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment came while watching Afghan villagers sobbing outside a house being searched by U.S. troops. "The Russians never violated our homes," an old man told me. As in many societies descended from nomads, Afghan culture dictates that a man's home is truly his castle. "Even when they came to kill you, the Taliban knocked on the door and waited for you [to] come out. They didn't touch your wife or daughter. They never came inside. Never."

I stared at the house's front door, smashed and splintered after having been kicked in, and thought: They'll never forgive us. Women were shrieking inside the house. The soldiers yelled at them: "Shut the f*** up!" At least they did it in English, so they couldn't understand. Hearts and minds.

I went to my rented room and filed a story with the headline: "How We Lost Afghanistan." It was Dec. 11, 2001.

Bush spent the following seven years sending more and more troops to Afghanistan: 8,000 at first, then 18,000, then 30,000. Afghan resistance fighters killed more and more of them. It became more dangerous to serve a tour of duty in America's "forgotten war" than in Iraq. The more the size of the U.S. occupation force increased, street-level violence, warlordism and opium poppy cultivation spiraled out of control.

Chaos doesn't come cheap. It costs $390,000 to sustain one American soldier overseas for one year.

Now Obama is "doubling down" on a "new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy," reported The Washington Post. "Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorized last month, Obama said he will send at least 4,000 more this fall ..." There were 38,000 when Obama took office. Soon there will be 55,000. By early next year, at least 70,000. Thousands more will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan. There have been few protests. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, we must be out of our collective minds.

I stand nearly alone in my long-running criticism of the Afghan war. But even if you disagree with my pessimistic assessment of the foreign policy repercussions of the "good war," surely we can find common ground on the economic front.

The United States is broke. One cause is the $3 trillion we've already wasted on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (With compound interest, that debt comes to over $10 trillion—or a dozen $700 billion Wall Street bailouts.) In a move that echoes Hitler's misdirected obsessiveness, Obama is about to waste even more money we don't have. According to the Pentagon's notoriously rosy projections, Obama's "Afghan surge" will increase the cost of that misbegotten quagmire (remember when right-wing pundits ridiculed those of us who used the Q-word to describe Afghanistan?) by 60 percent, up from the current $2 billion a month.

Millions are losing their jobs and their homes. Is this the best possible use of our federal tax dollars?

Obama says his war aims in Afghanistan are to fight insurgents, "train Afghan Security Forces," improve the Afghan economy and reduce opium production. Of course, some of these goals are self-actualizing. If the United States withdrew, there wouldn't be any insurgents. And Afghanistan wouldn't need so many more security forces to keep order.

As for the Afghan economy and narcotics, Obama doesn't stand a chance. "We're pretty good about getting rid of old governments, but not really good at building new ones. I don't think any other country has that skill, either," said Gordon Adams, professor of foreign policy at American University and former Clintonista. "We can burn millions of dollars and lose thousands of American lives pretending we know how—but we don't know how."

And anyway: so what? As the real unemployment rate in the United States surpasses 20 percent and we sail off the cliff of fiscal oblivion, how can Obama justify spending hundreds of billions dollars more? To reduce unemployment in Afghan cities (while increasing it in the countryside, which depends on opium farming)? Even if Obama meets his metrics in Afghanistan, what's in it for us?

In this depression, there's still one gig with high job security: writing a column for The New York Times that repeatedly gets everything wrong. Columnist David Brooks, one of the Dying Gray Lady's resident neocons, agrees with Obama that seven years of bombing wedding parties isn't enough. "This energetic and ambitious [Afghan troop surge] amid economic crisis and war weariness—says something profound about America's DNA," says he.

Maybe it does. Seventeen percent of Americans have German roots, more than any other ancestry group.

Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin.

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