October 2009 has been the deadliest month thus far for the United States’ in what has been the deadliest year of the occupation of Afghanistan, where empires go to be embarrassed. A recent article from the New York Times(In Deadliest Month, 53 U.S. Troops Die in Afghanistan), and one from the Los Angeles Times (October deadliest month yet for U.S. troops in Afghanistan), highlight this moment in the US’ continued presence in Pashtun land.
Not of note in either article is what the Afghan population thinks of the war and bombings, neither a surprising omission. Settling for the ambiguous, the NYT informs us that ‘The American public is split on whether to put more troops in harm’s way.’ This is demonstrably true in light of an October 7 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, in which why troops are put in harm’s way has everything to do with the public’s opinion. We are, sometimes, a reasonable people.
The QU poll found that ‘American voters’ were willing to make the sacrifice of their soldier’s lives if the goal of the war were to ‘eliminate the threat of terrorists from operating in Afghanistan.’ One might be hard-pressed to find anyone who would oppose, say, the occupation of North Dakota or their own privy were this the motive.
But, presumably, if the purpose of the US occupation of Afghanistan were to control an important area in the world’s region of great energy recourses, the American voters might not be so ready to sacrifice the lives of their soldiers. President Obama’s honoring these sacrifices at Dover Air Force Base was greeted with great acclaim the morning of October 29. An Associated Press reporter wrote, ‘The lifting of the ban on media coverage of bodies returning to Dover was done to keep the human cost of war from being shielded from the public. Obama saw it directly.’ The American cost, of course, not the Afghan one, which is immaterial. The NYT (Obama Visits Returning War Dead) put the President’s excursion into context: ‘The trip early Thursday morning came several hours after Mr. Obama signed a defense spending bill.’ A bill,AlJazeera reports, ‘which includes $170bn in funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.’ Fortunately, after signing, Obama said that he has ‘always rejected the notion that we have to waste billions of dollars of taxpayer money to keep this nation secure.’ As the line goes, A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
Which brings us to what is most interesting about the NYT and LAT articles. They both cite icasualties.org as their source for US casualties in Afghanistan. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (icasualties.org) compiles its statistics based upon news reports (from NYT and LAT?) and ‘press releases from the US Dept. of Defense, CENTCOM, the MNF, and the British Ministry of Defense.’ (This description from Wiki; none offered on icasualties.org.) This is rather like the Iraq Body Count Group, whose statistics show 102,000 civilian dead in Iraq, though the Oxford Research Bureau estimates well over a million Iraqis have died as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (The ICCC estimates 46,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since 2005.) The IBC and ICCC are fine in their proper context, but wholly misleading otherwise. They recognize this frankly, the ICCC site stating, ‘Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are much higher than the numbers recorded on this site.’ The point, obviously, is moot if the cost to the victims is not worthy of mention.
Why the NYT and LAT have chosen this moment to start using icasualities.org as their source is uncertain. Anyone who has greeted each day of the last decade by reading up on the wars/occupations will wonder where this source was in our prior reading. Perhaps, with Obama’s ‘Right War’ not going so hot, the Timeses didn’t want to parade out the statistics of the genuine consequences – for the Afghan people – of what our occupation has meant for them. Or perhaps only deaths recorded in media are of consequence to media? Whichever the case, the occupation is extremely unpopular with Churchill’s ‘uncivilized tribes.’ As a resigning US official (see below) wrote in his resignation, ‘Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people.’
Adding rain to the downpour, Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. in Zabul Province in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh, who recently resigned from his post in protest of the war, offered advice on the conflict in a recent online Q&A with Washington Postreaders. ‘The people we are fighting, for the most part, in Afghanistan are fighting us because they do not want to be occupied by either a foreign army or a central government force.’ Hoh’s resignation, contrary to the war’s critics sited by the LAT, was ‘based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.’
The LAT gives further evidence that the US has only happy wishes for the Afghan population, explaining that the 40,000 additional troops requested by Gen. McChrystal are to ‘pursue insurgents in Taliban strongholds [the entire country], protect civilians [when not bombing them] and promote development to build support for the government [the most corrupt entity pushing junk, no small feat].’ The LATdoes give voice to opponents of the troop buildup, claiming these peace-lovers ‘have suggested a variety of more limited strategies that would focus on pursuing members of the Al Qaeda network [Omar Khadr?] without putting as many U.S. troops in harm’s way.’ Perhaps via drone-bombings, which are very selective about which wedding party or untried criminals put in the way of harm.
Also unheeded is the observation, reiterated by Hoh, that ‘the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.’ No taxation without industrialization! Or at least water purification! Or even- No taxation without Gutternburg!
Unhappily, what US citizens think of US policy has little bearing on US policy. A World Public Opinion poll from March 2008 found that ‘when making “an important decision”‘ government leaders ‘should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public’s views.”‘ And attractive women should pay attention to my views because only then will they know how best to attract me.
The Onion, of course, offers the most hilarious headline of recent memory: U.S. Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan. Or maybe Reuters outdoes them with, Obama to Karzai: Crack down on corruption, reporting on Obama’s chat with the Afghan President about his recent election victory, even though the election was crookeder than a crosier. An adviser to Gen. McChrystal, Stephen Biddle, is priceless: ‘Arguably the most consequential effect [of the Afghan election] has been here.’ Here in the US. Here in the US is where the most significant consequences are felt from the Afghan election. It has, after all, been our deadliest month.
It’s been dicey for Afghans as well. In February of this year a NYT headline stated the unavoidable consequences: ‘Afghan Civilian Deaths Rose 40 Percent in 2008,’ sagaciously noting the deaths ‘have become a political flash point … eroding [Afghan] public support for the war.’ A recent Brookings report puts the civilian Afghan death count for 2009′s first nine months at 1,788. Against the wishes of just about every one on this deteriorating globe, Obama is about to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, to …. help? Hurt? Is there a difference? War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength.
The 34,000 might begin arriving as the little Lord Jesus caresses the West with his birth yet again, on through the end of 2009 and into 2010, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan nearing the decade mark, and before you know it someone will need to look tough on terrorism for the 2010 elections, so more troops, and then Christmas, and maybe send some more troops, and then in 2011 the administration will be gearing up for 2012′s election and need to look tough or act tough or maybe they really are just tough so more troops and maybe a shift in strategy, and then Christmas, and then 2012 is election time, plus the World Cup, and then Christmas. . . . .