Collapsing Afghanistan & Pakistan Refuse to Cooperate with Obama Photo Op

President Barack Obama sneaked in and out of Afghanistan by the cover of night, his advance security team clearly too worried about the situation in Kabul to allow him to appear in public by day. And they would have been right, since shortly after Obama departed, Taliban hit a foreign workers’ guest house (which was very secure) and killed 6 people (some reports say 17), announcing that Obama is not welcome in Afghanistan.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was to sign a [pdf] Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. The SPA is essentially an executive order, not a treaty, since Obama did not take it to Congress. On the Afghan side, I think it is also an executive order and was not approved by the Afghanistan parliament. Although the White House assures us that it has the force of law, it clearly falls short of being a binding treaty.

The agreement designates “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” as a major non-NATO ally of the United States, the same status as is enjoyed by Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan and a handful of other countries.

The document speaks of commitment to democracy, but Karzai stole the last presidential election, and there were serious allegations of irregularities in the most recent parliamentary elections, as well.

The document pledges that the US will have no permanent bases in Afghanistan, but the issue won’t even come up again for discussion until a decade or a decade and a half. There are roughly 88,000 US troops in Afghanistan, but that will come down to some 69,000 by September, and then most of those will leave by the end of 2013.

In the meantime, the US will have access to Afghanistan bases and will provide special forces for the continued fight against “Taliban” (most of the ones we call that aren’t), as well as continuing to train the Afghan army.

And more importantly to pay for it (roughly $4 billion a year). Afghanistan cannot afford the enormous army being created for it, so it will go on being supported by ‘strategic rent’ from outside powers or it will collapse.

Obama’s four-fold strategy for Afghanistan is sickly if not dead. It consisted of:

1. Finding a way to replace the eratic and undependable Hamid Karzai with someone else (perhaps Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister of the Northern Alliance).

But Karzai stole the last presidential election and is still there, and Obama had to grin and bear it.

2. Conduct a massive counter-insurgency strategy, rooting out the Taliban and winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans for a new political order.

I don’t think there is any reason to believe that ‘counter-insurgency’ succeeded. The hearts and minds were un-won by night raids (sometimes with a mistaken target), peeing on corpses of dead Taliban, burning Qur’ans at Bagram base, etc., etc.

3. Train up a capable new Afghanistan National Army.

The army, now 187,000 strong, suffers from being 86% illiterate, and from being disproportionately Tajik (Dari Persian-speaking Sunnis not respected by the majority Pashtuns), and from having almost no buy-in from Qandahar and Helmand provinces (Taliban strongholds). It loses the equivalent of counties in the east to the Taliban and can’t seem to fight independently of US troops. Only one ANA military unit is assessed as able to fight independently, out of nearly 100). It is bloated, over-equipped, but under-trained and lacking in initiative and apparently esprit de corps. That this army can defeat the Taliban or even just keep Karzai from being hanged when the US and NATO depart is not at all a sure thing.

4. Use drone strikes to hit al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the tribal belt of Pakistan, while pressuring Pakistan finally to step up and help defeat the Taliban.

Actually the drone strikes have created a strong backlash in the Pakistani public, jealous of their national sovereignty. When the US air force inadvertently hit 24 Pakistani troops in December, the Pakistani parliament stopped NATO supply trucks from using the Pakistan route from Karachi to the Khyber pass, marooning thousands of tons of military equipment intended for the Afghanistan National Army. Parliament is recommending against letting the US ship military goods through Pakistan, and against allowing further drone strikes.

Ordinarily foreign policy is an executive prerogative, but the executive in Pakistan is paralyzed by a constitutional crisis, with the Supreme Court holding the Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, in contempt because he hasn’t moved against President Asaf Ali Zardari for corruption.

Obama just disregarded the parliamentary report and used drones again in Pakistan, to public dismay.

Pakistan is not going well, and neither, really, is Afghanistan.

So, Mitt Romney, who is jumping up and down like a little boy in the background, shouting ‘Me, too!’, ‘Me, too!’, seems unaware that he is me-tooing a policy that is in deep trouble with the exception of the killing of Bin Laden last year.

Obama told the US troops there that everyone over here knows of their sacrifices and deeply appreciates them. Alas, I fear few Americans are paying attention to Afghanistan. The war is unpopular now with the part of the public that does know about it, including even Republicans (so Mitt has little chance of picking up leverage here). I seldom see it reported on on television, and even a lot of newspapers are basically ignoring it. You wouldn’t know we had nearly 90,000 troops fighting and dying abroad.

So although Afghanistan and Pakistan have not gone well for Obama, there is likely no US political gain to be had on either side from the misery of those two countries.

23 Responses

  1. Professor, it’s still a surprise to me, though perhaps it ought not be, that the American public isn’t more vocal. When I was a volunteer for the Obama campaign, we Dems had high hopes for an expedient withdrawal.. Having settled in Pakistan, I can tell you first hand of the near daily increase in anti-Americanism here.. Winning hearts and minds is a pipe dream for an Administration that is seen as propping up a corrupt gang in office here..

    • When I was a volunteer for the Obama campaign, we Dems had high hopes for an expedient withdrawal.

      Can I ask why you thought that? He spent the campaign talking about Afghanistan as the right war, the one we should have been fighting all along, and promising to devote more resources to it.

      • That’s the genius of all the parties and their campaigns these days. Wave a vague, qualified hand in the general direction of the Tenets of the Faithful, have your surrogates lay out the deceptions, then ride on in with a lariat spin and a whoop and a big bunch of pre-packaged lies to cover the fundamental purpose of politics in America (does anyone call it that any more?): Wealth transfer, via the infinitely spoiled and despoiling thing that everybody despises but nobody wants to lose the chance of Winning Big in — the “spoils system.”

        All “sides” whine about how “elections have consequences.” No recent elections have done a damn thing to open the windows, air out and sanitize our Imperial outhouse, or unhorse any of the Apocalypse Riders: the MIC, the Financial Kleptocracy, the Scum-suckers of C and K Streets, Big Religion, Big Carbon, and that worst of all Wraiths, Big “Medicine.” Oh, and Nine Old Men, some of whom are women, whose edifice is undergoing massive rebuilding, starting with a new Overton Window that is irretrievably, for our lifetimes, shoved to extreme right (wrong?) wing of the structure…

        All those angry white folks, too stupefied by focus-grouped rhetoric and the hot-buttoning of their id(-iot’)s shibboleths and chimaeras to realize they are being led by their amygdalas and gonads into realms that are toxic to them and their children, born and unborn. And the sheep so happily follow the Judas Goats, up the chutes and into the slaughterhouse…

  2. Thank you . These facts will not be seen in any other publication newspaper or magazine. The President ‘s party are overjoyed that he is as nonsensically blood thirsty as the Bush White House

    • “The President’s party are overjoyed”?!?

      I have not found one Democrat who has expressed anything other than disapproval for the administration’s policies of continuing the occupation, using the assassin drones, eavesdropping, and the whole nine yards. “Overjoyed”? Nobody is overjoyed, as far as I’m able to see – not even the Republicans, who are just angry that it’s not them who are doing these things.

      • It ain’t just “the President’s party,” unless you limit that set to the ones that hang around the West Wing. It seems like maybe somewhere in the bowels of the whole MICsecuritystate thing there are people who, like maybe some of the former Israeli Game Players reported on below, have some reservations about the REAL axis of evil, the planet-wide one, the one that, by virtuoso playing on the strings and keyboards of tribalism and fear, increasingly militarizes everything, sucks up ever more of the world’s wealth, invents ever-more-morbid and murderous weapons, and makes some nice bonuses and pensions off of “policies” and lobbied profit-taking.

        So even some of the executive agencies are a little concerned about an Obama-gang initiative to make it easier to push ever more weapons out the doors of “our” post-national weapons manufacturers, into places where the Sneaky Petes and Foggy Bottomers and Congressional junketers and all the other pond slime are happy to stir passions and get folks ready to shoot each other or blow each other up. Making a largely innate urge almost irresistible. White House Efforts to Relax Gun Exports Face Resistance link to

      • “The President’s party are overjoyed”?!?


        “I have not found one Democrat who has expressed anything other than disapproval for the administration’s policies …”

        The “President’s party” and rank-and-file Democrats are entirely separate entities. Check the campaign donations to the Obama reelection campaign. The big donors are the “president’s party.”

  3. My God.

    How sick has the US become?

    Juan’s column today yet again shows that the war is justified by lies and on a course for failure.

    Who will continue to fund our folly?

    Look to what lengths we go to fund the military, support corporations in the world, and to take foreign policy off the Republican agenda and show that Obama is tough.

    Real tough guys, and a real military that is in control, do not have to sneak in and out at night. This is for show.

    “Why America Failed: The Roots of America’s Decline” came out just a few months ago but now seems like a long time. When Morris Berman’s earlier book in 2006, “Dark Ages America” stated that there was no way to stop the decline, and an empire in decline selected leaders who would hasten the decline, I didn’t want to believe his prediction. Well, the facts have forced me to see his point.

    If the US is going to get back on track, it will take a huge effort to confront the power structure. The very power structure that has been aided by the state.

    To ensure that will be more difficult, US builds up the capabilities of repression at home. Hot off the press is Glenn Greenwald’s column yesterday listing the assaults on civil liberties in the year since Bin Laden’s death.

    link to

  4. The Agreement does not specify a dollar amount. Where did you get the $4 billion figure? I also note that the bribery provision says half of the financial support will be administered by Afghanistan entities. This is a guarantee for the Karzai corruption and bribery regime. So figure about $2 billion annually siphoned to Swiss bank accounts until 2024. Way to go Obama.

  5. Juan:

    Great post! Two questions:

    1. When you say that we are ill-defining the “Taliban”, what do you mean? Are there multiple “Talibans”, or is there distinctions the US is missing?

    2. Do you think it is a tenable strategy to have enough troops in Afghanistan to let Karazi fall, but hope it is replaced with a new government with more legitimacy?

    Keeping 50,000 or so troops in the Af-Pak region, to ensure Afghanistan does not become Somali, or allow the rise of future terroist cells, is not all that costly…


    • Keeping 50,000 or so troops in the Af-Pak region, to ensure Afghanistan does not become Somali [sic], or allow the rise of future terroist cells, is not all that costly.

      Huh. Just in dollar terms, it costs a million bucks a year to keep a single GI in the field like that. More, if Our Troops are expected to keep doing the crap they have been doing, even salted with little acts of kindness and decency, that breeds more people who hate the US, for good reason, and want “us” the hell out of THEIR territory.

      And what a wonderful set of assumptions, that 50,000 or so troops have a prayer of inoculating “Afghanistan” against becoming “Somali,” let alone catching and “surgically excising” “future terrorist cells.” It has never worked before, it’s not working now, and gee, in spite of all the technology and wealth transfer, it ain’t likely to work in the future.

      Remember that little scene where the Marine officer is telling the Afghan man that he just HAS to move himself and his family back into a ghost market town emptied by insurgency, because “doctrine” requires it as part of the pageant of “pacification?” And that the GIs would “protect them?” Remember what the Afghan said? “Sir, with all your weapons and your technology, you cannot even protect yourselves. How can you expect to protect US?”

      Of course if you would like to cut a check on your personal account to cover the cost of keeping those unfortunate “troops” hanging out there, well, maybe there’s enough mercenaries willing to take your money… I bet even a fourth of the “Afghan Army” would be happy to sign up, for a fraction of the cost to the US economy and citizenry. Not that any of this does a damn thing to “increase security” in the world. Unless “security” just means “job security” for people in the MIC and state security apparatus…

  6. We invaded a country and installed a government of our liking. We continue to occupy the country with troops and are solely supportive of what passes for their army. How can any meaningful treaty be had with such a country? It’s equivilent to the US signing a treaty with itself. If this happened with another country in our position it would be laughable. I would think the rest of the world sees such gestures for the hogwash that it is. This treaty or whatever it is is purely for domestic US consumption. It was a campaign gimmick in an election year.

  7. I have got to the point that I’m not sure whether Obama is so stupid He don’t see the Forest for the Trees or is just Con Man enough that He Thinks He can pull the wool over Ours eyes once again. The trip Yesterday was purely Political and did nothing to change the downward death spiral US?Obama Policy is in. I am old enough to remember very well the Viet Nam pack of lies and American Government deciet and We are once again in redux. Obama needs to immediately call up Mccain and Grahm while Their in agreement, have the Army dress Him and Them, get a big flag and lead the charge up San Juan Hill ala TR. The clue to failure is that Obama had to sneak into Town under cover of darkness. In other words, His Afghan Partners don’t want Him there. Somebody needs to speak for Americans, Obama seems to want to punt. It will not get Him re-elected.

  8. Frank, I think the point is that anyone who dares to fight against the NATO invasion is considered Taliban.

  9. Perhaps the real strategy is to make Afghanistan a South-Asian version of a Central American banana republic.

    As for Usman Ansari’s surprise that the American public hasn’t been more vocal, others more inclined to consider America a nation of sheep are probably surprised that so many Americans have raised their voices to a loud whisper.

  10. If you include operating the first gulf war, and the “no fly zones” in Iraq, the USA has been at war for twenty years in that area of the world.

    Twenty years.

    Who knows what the cost is. staggering in every way.

    I just read that the US military budget is one trillion dollars a year, 60 percent of the budget. Over a hundred bases around the world, permanent bases in Korea/Germany since the early fifties. for what?


    Americans citizens don’t want it; but that no longer matters.

    I don’t think an American could become President, would have even a one percent chance of becoming President, if the money men got the slightest whiff of an idea that he or she would put an end to this kind of thing.

    I have no idea what it will take to stop this insanity; Perhaps the financial collapse of the USA as some very well informed people believe.

  11. I do hope our host does actually address the question he raises, about just what is “the Taliban.” Because the “grim- visaged patriots” have been selling the whole World War Forever schtick based, among other lies, on the fraud that “the Taliban” is some huge, organized, evil entity, a wholly owned subsidiary of Al Quaeda, dedicated to the destruction of Truth, Justice and the American Way, “jest lahk th’ Commyanist Menace.” Which even a cursory look at the Afghan polity ought to make patently clear is not the case…

    Too bad the folks in overalls (and uniforms, apparently) just can’t seem to remember the moral of that wonderful little Uncle Remus fable, “Bre’r Rabbit and the Tarbaby…” link to

    “Did the fox eat the rabbit?” asked the little boy to whom the story had been told.

    “Dat’s all de fur de tale goes,” replied the old man. “He mout, an den agin he moutent. Some say Judge B’ar come ‘long en loosed ‘im – some say he didn’t. I hear Miss Sally callin’. You better run ‘long.”

    • Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby contains more truth than 99% of US foreign policy of the last 60 years.

  12. I was one of the folks who not only stood against the invasion of Iraq but the invasion of Afghanistan. I had read that the government of Afghanistan had demanded that the Bush administration provide hard evidence that OBL had his fingerprints on the 9/11 attacks. That the Bush administration could not provide that hard evidence. Several years after the invasion I had the honor of getting to know a young man from Afghanistan who was studying on a Fulbright scholarship at Ohio University. He missed his parents, wife and children so much. We would spend hours talking about them and what they were doing. How his family worked etc. We literally spent hundreds of hours talking about his deep faith, his scholarly studies and the history of Afghanistan. He had been born in Kabul and grew up in a family compound part of the time and in Peshawar, Pakistan. Had 12 brothers and sisters. His 34 years at that time had been spent living with war in his country. After Russia invaded Afghanistan his father (the equivalent to a General in the US) had fought with the Mujahadeen.”

    The Russians bombed his family compound and he remembers his mother picking up his oldest sisters body parts. His father then walked, trucked his family to Peshawar and went back to fight the Russians. My friend explained how during the war with Russia fruit and nut orchards had been destroyed by the Russians. How the wobbly infrastructure that Afghanistan had was completely wiped out. Creating a perfect situation for the illegal and violent drug industry (poppy growing) to prosper. How Afghanistan needs to replant these orchards, poppy growers supplemented while rebuilding the legal agricultural industry that they had had. How Afghanistan needs the infrastructure say to process pomegrante into pomegrante juice. Almonds into almond butter. Possibly find ways for the poppy industry to sell opium for legal medical use. The people of Afghanistan have suffered so long. I have and continue to learn from my friend in Afghanistan



    He is now back in his country He tells me I can use his name when referencing what he says. But I do not. Last night after President OBama’s speech about Afghanistan I contacted my friend about our role in his country and President Obama’s speech:

    “Regarding the Obama speech, we are glad for the signing strategic partnership agreement with the US. Afghanistan is located in a very sensitive region with two main regional powers, Pakistan and Iran, always want to keep Afghanistan politically and economically weak country in the region. Suppose Afghanistan rejects to sign strategic partnership with the US based on its moral obligation to care of the regional political sensitivities, but the Pakistan and Iran would not understand and appreciate this sacrifice. The only point they know is to fight for their political powers at the region. Therefore, Pakistan tries to use Taliban as a political tool in the region to put forward their internal interest in the region. We need a strong country like US to protect us from the regional distablizers.

    However, Afghanistan still needs to fight for its political and economical better condition in the future. The desired outcomes will not be gained soon. It needs decades.”

    • Too bad none of the tools and tactics and strategies the “infinitely strong, end-of-history US” ever deploys are in any way suited or fit or useful to “protect” people living in places like Afghanistan from the inherent destructive elements and effects of the Great Game. Quite the contrary, of course, by simple observation of what’s shakin’: “bugsplat” (“collateral damage”), bribery, corruption, diversion of a quarter of the planet’s Real Wealth into war toys and cozy places to hang a plethora of Brass Hats.

      We got megatons of “power” that our rulers are so quick to “project,” and ranks of grasping, history-illiterate hegemonists to “cheer the troops straining to perform an idiot’s mission/fool’s errand (IM/FE, in Milspeak) on” from the safety of our Imperial Capital, but not even ounces of decency or common sense or the kind of “intelligence” that would give those of us who pay for all this with our wealth and our blood a nickel’s worth of a chance at making things safer or more “secure” or in any way better for the most of us.

  13. With no draft, few Americans have any skin in the game. No wonder that we pay no attention to what our mercenaries are doing….

    • It’s not just that, Mike.

      We have an alleged ‘liberal’ media that happily promotes the military-industrial complex propaganda day in and day out.

      It’s far more effective to have the WaPo and the NYT (“on one hand”) and FAUX Nooze, etc. (“on the other”), selling the same shit than when the Soviets tried the same thing with Pravda.

  14. Why does your description of Obama’s strategy leave out the two most important planks: the peace negotiations with the Taliban, and the gradual withdrawal?

    You seem to be making the same mistake that the most hawkish of hawks make: the belief that talking peace and withdrawing from an occupied country is something to do when your policy has failed, as opposed to the way Obama has treated them in both Iraq and Afghanistan: as integral parts of his strategy.

    The military component of Obama’s strategy – the troop surge, the counter-insurgency – was only supposed to arrest the collapsing military situation he inherited when he came into office, and set the table from the same kind of negotiated exit he carried out in Iraq. On that front, we have promising ongoing negotiations, and a force that has shrunk by about 25% from its peak without a return to the rather desperate situation of 2009.

Comments are closed.