This is part 2 of a review of the book Crossing Zero: The Afpak War At The Turning Point of American Empire
Click here for part 1
As Stuart Gottlieb, director at Yale University’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies writes:
“If you were under the impression that U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise to craft new counterterrorism policies ‘in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideal’s’ could be accomplished without exposing dangerous contradictions, consider this: Since Obama’s swearing-in, the United States has executed dozens of suspected al Qaeda leaders and operatives without court hearings, the presentation of evidence, or the involvement of defense lawyers. These executions, typically carried out by missile strikes from unmanned CIA drone aircraft, have taken place in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Scores of civilians, including many women and children, have reportedly been killed or maimed in the strikes.”
Obama also continued to support a 10-year-old failed counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), proven to be fundamentally flawed under General McChrystal, according to former U.S. military strategist William R. Polk, who pointed out that the force applied during the failed campaign in Marja was not the “counterinsurgency model of 1 soldier for 50 inhabitants but nearly 1 soldier for each 2 inhabitants. If these numbers were projected to the planned offensive in the much larger city of Kandahar, which has a population of nearly 500,000, they become impossibly large.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to provide billions in aid to Pakistan hoping they would eliminate insurgent safe havens, only to find Pakistan had been using the funds to build up its military to fight a future war against India, while its spy agency continued providing sanctuary and support to Taliban elements. Not to mention, because Obama promised to begin withdrawing troops in mid-2011, Pakistani military officials boldly indicated they would continue to support Taliban “assets” so they could control a post-NATO Kabul.
Obama mentioned, as he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize of irony, that meeting future challenges would require new ways to think “about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace”. But Obama’s AfPak strategy defies any definitions of justice, as the authors write:
“But in crossing Zero, the United States has crossed a threshold where its capacity for violence undermines its own standards of justice and individual rights without which the violence has no meaning. In other words, the United States has come to a turning point at which the purpose of the force it has created has become its own undoing.”
Crossing Zero exposes the Pentagon’s plans to retain military bases in Afghanistan indefinitely in an effort to further America’s global power projection long after Al Qaeda and the Taliban are a distant memory, and how President Obama has continued the vast expansion of the interests of private corporations across the globe and the building of the largest military establishment in history to protect them, as his administration requested an increase in total war spending to $708 billion in 2011, a figure that is 6.1% higher than the peak under the Bush administration.
The Guardian’s Priyamvada Gopal highlights the truth that the U.S. doesn’t actually have anything substantial to offer Afghanistan beyond feeding the gargantuan war machine that’s been unleashed:
“And how could they? In the affluent west itself, modernity is now about dismantling welfare systems, increasing inequality (disproportionately disenfranchising women in the process), and subsidising corporate profits. Other ideas once associated with modernity – social justice, economic fairness, peace, all of which would enfranchise Afghan women – have been relegated to the past in the name of progress. This bankrupt version of modernity has little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators. A radical people’s modernity is called for – and not only for the embattled denizens of Afghanistan.”
The book offers a few game-changing solutions that address problems such as Afghan’s women’s rights – a crisis which derives directly from the influence of Saudi Arabia and Sunni Muslim clerics who wish to impose a questionable interpretation of ultra-orthodox Sharia law. The authors argue that a declaration of women’s rights in an Islamic society should be established, made universal through a standardized interpretation of the issue by accepted Koranic authorities.
A regional solution has been impossible because the U.S. and NATO have been backing the wrong horses such as Islamic fundamentalists from Karzai to the Taliban – who differ only in their length of beards – and Muslims who espouse dangerous neoliberal economic policies.
Gould and Fitzgerald see the need for empowering a mix of moderate and secular Muslims and pragmatic nationalists, who are mostly trained professionals and former bureaucrats from the Zahir Shah, Daoud Khan and PDPA governments – a group deep in Keynesian, liberal and third-world economic, social and political policy expertise.
The authors underline how difficult it is for Afghanistan to establish a legitimate sovereignty when the will of its people is overridden by prominent Western intellectual, corporate and military power centers who seem to think reconciling with brutal, religiously-extreme crime syndicates is a workable solution. U.S. neoconservatives, Saudi financiers and Pakistan’s military and civilian elite have also controlled Afghanistan’s narrative, leaving its people voiceless in their own affairs.
The authors endorse a plan proposed by Khalil Nouri of the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), an Afghan-American organization seeking to implement a de-militarized tribal solution to the conflict, who believes the only viable solution for achieving peace in Afghanistan is to hold traditional tribal meetings called jirgas in neutral countries – free of the kind of outside interference that brought Hamid Karzai and the warlords to power in 2002, which is outlined in a white paper entitled Restoring Afghanistan’s Tribal Balance.
Islam must be moved off center stage, Gould and Fitzgerald stress, where the current acrimony has been intentionally focused by the combatants and replaced with another model that incorporates histories and enduring beliefs that link Afghans with the West in a common struggle.
This can only be done by moving the initial jirga – or an initial planning session – to more than just another place, but to another environment entirely that supersedes today’s crisis, such as the five thousand year old UNESCO World Heritage Site north of Dublin known today as Newgrange, which the authors believe would be beneficial for a number of reasons:
“Parallels have been drawn by numerous experts to the complexities of Afghanistan’s sectarian/tribal dynamic with the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland. Various tactics employed by peacekeepers in Northern Ireland have been tried in Afghanistan with limited success, but the circumstances surrounding the two countries are not dissimilar and for very good reasons. Aside from sharing a long colonial heritage with Britain, and in Pakistan the Frontier Crimes Regulations (which were adapted from the medieval Irish Penal codes) Ireland and Afghanistan share an ancient legacy of tribal law and secular codes of moral conduct that long precede the Christian and Islamic eras. Ireland’s pre-Christian Brehon Laws provided a sophisticated set of rules for every aspect of Irish society from the quality of poets to the “ordering of discipline” to the worthiness of kings. Prior to hostile European invasions, Pashtunwali was a guide for a peaceful and hospitable Afghanistan that was known to accommodate Jews and Christians, considering them both to be religions of ‘the book’.”
Afghanistan has become more than just a stark illustration of the ineptitude of Obama’s misguided AfPak strategy – it reflects the futility of de-emphasizing diplomacy and how U.S. militarism has worked against our own interests. War and the endless preparations for it do more harm than good, destroying what they claim to protect. As Gould and Fitzgerald close:
“Afghanistan has given us a mirror with which to understand the truth about ourselves and to see what we have become as a nation and a democracy. Our future will depend on whether we can accept the challenges that it portends.”
Click here for part 1 of “Crossing Zero: Obama’s AfPak War and imperial overreach”