Columns » Ernest Dumas

On Karzai's side



Republicans and other enemies of President Obama have a real chance this month to achieve their dream of sabotaging the president's legacy and do good for the nation at the same time, but it is not by denying health insurance to as many Americans as they can or by encouraging as many people as they can not to buy it.

Here's how they can achieve those goals. Side with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, in his standoff with Obama over the bilateral security agreement that would keep some 8,000 American troops in Afghanistan somewhere between another 10 years and the millennium. Encourage Karzai to stand his ground with the swarthy president. He refuses to sign the agreement unless Obama makes more promises, including U.S. participation in peace talks with the Taliban and the release of 17 Afghans who have been held incommunicado at Guantanamo for the past decade.

If Karzai refuses to sign in the next 25 days, maybe the administration will then follow through on its threat to withdraw all our troops in 2014 and end the $4 billion to $6 billion of military aid and bribes that annually flows to Karzai and his officialdom and armed forces.

That is where doing good for the United States comes in. We would return to our bedrock democratic values. We would no longer be killing innocent civilians and creating thousands of new enemy insurgents in the name of national security, we would no longer be participating in historic fratricide in a foreign land, and we would no longer be engaging in international bribery.

That, of course, is not how the president, his national security team or the op-ed writers in The New York Times view it. They say we need to maintain a presence in Afghanistan for many years to maintain the status quo that our warriors and money have achieved there, to keep the Afghan army trained, to continue to kill insurgents and to prevent our former friends, the Taliban, from returning to power and removing the rights that Afghan women won when the Taliban were chased out in the winter of 2001-02.

This should be the clincher for the president's enemies: The American people will love them for it.

Polls show Americans are sick of the war, sick of reading about local boys dying over there, sick of the billions of their tax dollars spent there every year on graft and, yes, sick of the drone strikes and other missile hits that U.S. commanders insist killed insurgents rather than gangs of boys or wedding parties.

Alas, all this is a futile scenario. Republicans love this war, even though Barack Obama now is waging it instead of their hero, George W. Bush, who started and waged it vainly and ineptly for seven years. It is now the longest continuous war in our history. President Obama embraces it because he can claim immoderate success, if you measure success by the death of Osama bin Laden and the destruction of virtually the entire al Qaeda hierarchy and not by the number of fresh insurgents and U.S. enemies created by the indiscriminate bombings by U.S. and international forces. The administration insists that the U.S. needs to keep launching attacks in the region to prevent attacks on the United States, so that those who want to end our part of the war look like they are inviting new 9/11 attacks.

For his part, Karzai is not going to scuttle the agreement and lose the satchels of money the CIA has been delivering to him on a regular basis for most of a decade — to pay for some of the essential needs of the Afghan officialdom, he says. He is just holding out for a better financial deal for himself and his family.

But you may have to grant the old boodler some charity, some sincerity, when he complains about the repeated killing of civilians and his demand, at one point, that President Obama at least publicly apologize for them before he will sign the agreement.

The most corrosive aspect of this futile war is the degradation of principles that the United States has honored since the Revolutionary War, the value we place on human lives, especially those who are not engaged in combat with us.

No one has even a wild approximation of civilian casualties. The Afghan government keeps no numbers and international agencies have found it impossible to keep good numbers, mainly because the U.S. command doesn't cooperate very much and contests every Afghan account of civilian casualties. When the CIA and the supersecret Special Forces are involved, absolutely nothing is known. It is safe to say casualties run to many thousands. In one candid moment in 2012, the administration conceded that all military-age males in a strike zone are counted as combatants, unless it is somehow determined absolutely after their deaths that they were not fighters.

Leave it to the former top U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to explain the futility of the whole war effort.

"Because of CivCas [civilian casualties], I think we have just about eroded our credibility here in Afghanistan," McChrystal said in 2010. Every time a strike kills a civilian, he estimated, 20 new insurgents are created from the innocent person's friends and relatives. It explains why the number of insurgents mushroomed after 2004 and why it continues to grow in spite of U.S. success in annihilating al Qaeda and snuffing out Taliban leaders with whom the Afghan government, at our insistence, is supposed to be negotiating.

For our sake, let us pray that for once in his life Hamid Karzai is sincere.

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