Left completely, and rather conspicuously, absent from the democratic charade, which is the US presidential election, has been America’s longest war: Afghanistan.
Over a decade of occupation has seemingly left neither of the two presidential candidates, nor the elite media, able to stomach so much as a mere mention of the nation’s latest “forgotten war.” Of course, Afghanistan was long ago cast down that vast American memory hole.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a mere two percent of all US press content in 2011 dealt with the war in Afghanistan. Despite 80,000 occupying US troops, a near equal number of US-funded private contractors (i.e. mercenaries), and billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars, the US media devoted the same amount of content to the war last year as to sports. The same amount of content as was devoted to celebrity and entertainment news. (And this, mind you, says nothing of the quality
of the coverage.)
It’s fairly easy to see why the chauvinistic US media has largely ignored the war; the US has plainly lost. And the defeat of the celebrated military machine clearly makes for bad copy.
In just the latest evidence of America’s defeat, this year has already seen 45 NATO forces gunned down by their Afghan counterparts. In the month of August alone, 15 NATO soldiers-including 12 Americans-were killed in such “green-on-blue” attacks. As a worried New York Times
editorial on the precipitous rise of Afghan “turncoats” stated: “American officials are struggling to understand the forces at work.”
The forces at work are those of imperial defeat. The occupied have begun to shake themselves free from their occupier. A process long since foretold to all those with a rudimentary understanding of Afghan history.
Indeed, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent for NATO forces that on a mid-August visit to Kabul, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, had his idle plane come under enemy shelling. A “lucky shot,” a NATO spokesman would later say.
Even the battle for the hearts and minds of Afghans has been lost. (A tall order, given the brutality of the Taliban.) The knockout blow perhaps came with the series of revelations earlier this year that US forces appear to busy their time in country burning copies of Holy Qur’ans, pissing on Afghan corpses, and coldly mowing down sleeping villagers in the night. Although to be fair, it’s difficult to imagine exactly how, even absent such atrocities, the US was ever to win over ordinary Afghans with Hellfire missiles.
The battle within the homeland over the hearts and minds of the imperial subjects is now lost as well. According to a recent Chicago Council of Global Affairs poll, 67 percent of Americans now deem the war to be “not worth fighting.” Seven in ten, moreover, say the war either “made no difference” in US security, or actually made the country “less safe.”
Faced with defeat on all fronts, Washington planners, nonetheless, continue to uphold the delusional dream of an indefinite US stay in Afghanistan. Imperial dreams die hard.
Despite President Obama’s pledge to pull out US forces by 2014, the Strategic Partnership agreement signed in May of this year between the US and Afghan governments commits the US to at least another decade of economic and military aid. It also, as the Wall Street Journal
reported, “provides for the possibility of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda.”
Such schemes are evidence that those in Washington remain suspended in an illusion akin to that gripping the party of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984
. They appear to believe (and have believed for over a decade now) that total victory in Afghanistan is near at hand-perhaps only one decisive battle away. Such, though, is the modern-day imperial orthodoxy permeating the corridors of power in Washington. For as Orwell wrote, “Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
Predictably, President Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, promises to pursue much the same in Afghanistan. As Senator Arthur Vandenberg once remarked, American “politics stops at water’s edge.” Thus with no choice, there is no need for either candidate or the media to even broach the subject of the war.
In lieu, then, of discussing Afghanistan and US militarism more broadly, the presidential campaign devolves into spectacle and triviality. Substance, where it is to be found, is limited to squabbles over who promises to cut the most from the already gutted American social safety net. The fact that the Pentagon appropriates over half the US budget (52 percent in 2011, according to the War Resisters League) in order to conduct campaigns of misery and terror abroad, leaving the hollow mantra of “shared sacrifice” in its wake at home, is beyond debate-beyond the pale. US militarism is simply an unquestionable pillar of the American way of life. Something the people of the world (from Vietnam to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Korea and beyond) have come to learn firsthand.
But US imperialism will not-cannot-continue in perpetuity. The determining factor in just how much longer the US power elite shall be able to maintain their imperial delusions in Afghanistan and elsewhere is ultimately dependent on how much longer those forced to bear the costs of Washington’s runaway militarism take it. After all, the domestic and foreign victims of US imperialism alike, as two wise men once wrote, “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”