Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bush Widens America's Afghan War, a Throwback to Cambodia

News that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff are calling for American troops to pursue "extremists" across the Afghan boarder into Pakistan reminds me of the failed US policy in Vietnam when, faced with an unwinnable war, the decision was taken in 1970 to widen its scope into neighbouring Cambodia.

As today in Afghanistan, the situation in south east Asia in 1970 appeared to justify the initiative. Viet Cong forces had extended the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos and the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh was under threat of communist attack. American forces were vulnerable to attacks originating from within Cambodia and on that basis Commander of US forces in South Vietnam
General Creighton Abrams argued for the elimination of their bases on the Cambodian side of the boarder.

Without consulting of informing the Cambodian government of Lon Nol,
President Nixon agreed with his General's advice and ordered 20,000 American troops and warplanes across the boarder, announcing on a televised broadcast on April 28th that the future of world peace depended on America's success in Cambodia.

38 years later, and illustrating the maxim that there is nothing new under the sun, we are faced with an American military commander (Admiral Mike Mullen) calling publicly for a military strategy that covers "both sides of the boarder" between Afghanistan and Pakistan, announcing to the House Armed Services Committee that

"In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency....We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."

One can only hope that President Bush resists this call in the final months of his administration - an initiative that will plunge America's only "ally" in the region into complete turmoil and dissipate the remnants of any good will that may exist among the Pakistani population. The evidence so far gives little hope for that outcome:

  • in July, President Bush approved orders enabling US Special Operations forces to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistan government
  • since April, missile strikes have been carried out on positions within Pakistan, attributed to coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan - strikes that have killed both Pakistani civilians and militants
  • A raid in South Waziristan last week left 15 people dead and prompted Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to strongly criticise the raids and insist that there was no deal allowing foreign troops to conduct operations inside the country: "The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost," he added in a statement subsequently backed by the country's Premier Yousaf Raza Gilani.

It seems to be a principle of imperialism that when losing a war, the "arrogance of power" (to quote Senator J. William Fulbright) dictates an expansion of that same war. The Senator's observation from 1966 still seems relevant in 2008:

"Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations — to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence."

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