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Obama's Afghan surge is neither right nor wise

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 14 December 2009

After what appeared to be a long debate within the Obama administration, the White House has announced the dispatching of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan and a new strategic roadmap for both Afghanistan and Pakistan or AfPak as it nowadays is called.

Whatever we might think about the strategic wisdom behind the surge, we must ensure that ethical considerations are front and centre in analysis.

Over the past few months countless words have been written in the West about the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of that most unfortunate country. Perhaps only a Martian might notice something very odd here. Surely it is odd that nobody seems to have bothered to ask the Afghan people, especially the Pashtun population of the South who will be most affected by the Obama surge, what they think about an escalation of combat operations in Afghanistan.


It is their opinion that counts; not mine, yours, Barack Obama's, Maxine McKew's or Felicity Hampel's.

I submit that it is not just to wage war in another country, supposedly in order to defend the population of that country, if the people themselves do not provide their sanction for that war nor are even asked to provide it. We are told that the US is to now wage a classical "counterinsurgency" campaign directed at protecting the Afghan population.

But nobody has bothered asking Afghans, especially the Pashtunis, whether they want such protection. We might take the fact that Karzai found reason enough to rig the recent presidential elections, especially in the South, as a sort of proxy expression of popular opinion on this matter.

Historically counterinsurgency warfare has been a type of warfare directed against populations, not their protection. Tariq Ali has argued that the problem in Afghanistan is the western state building project itself, which is now widely regarded as a foreign imposition and thereby a type of occupation. Escalating a war in order to cement a political and social project engineered by foreign powers is not moral.

Consider the ethical question from another point of view, that of the western soldier in the field. Since the latter part of 2008 and up until the recently held elections most military operations in Afghanistan could be described as "pre-election shaping battles". This is the phrase given to describe the early battles in Iraq, such as Najaf, Tal Afar, first Fallujah and so on, following the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

The purpose is to clear the ground for the conduct of elections.


We know that the elections in Afghanistan were fraudulent. We even know that the alleged leading figure behind these rigged elections, the brother of Hamid Karzai, is on the CIA payroll. US military intelligence surely has an extensive network in Afghanistan. It is likely that Washington, and perhaps also Canberra, knew that these elections were going to be fixed before they were held. Could such extensive vote rigging have been hidden from western intelligence?

If not, pause to consider. Our political leaders would have sent our soldiers to fight and die in battles designed to prop up elections which they might have known were going to be rigged. If this be true, great would be our leaders’ sin. At least think about the possibility next time you see Obama and Rudd out on a photo op with the troops.

We might make an additional point. During President Bush's second term Hamid Karzai requested that the US sign a Status of Forces Agreement with Afghanistan much like Washington eventually did with Iraq. The purpose was to place some limit on what the US military could do in Afghanistan. Karzai did so in order to appeal to domestic disquiet about the wanton use of military firepower in Afghanistan. Washington flatly rejected this entreaty. The US reserves the right to do as it pleases in Afghanistan.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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