Commentary: GOP chairman should be lauded not rebuked for take on Afghanistan
By Sheldon Richman
They used to say the truth shall set you free. These days it might get you fired. Apparently, stumbling onto the truth is a grave offense in the Republican Party. Ask Michael Steele, its chairman.
Steele provoked the wrath of Republican neoconservatives William Kristol, Liz Cheney (the former vice president's daughter), and Sen. John McCain by saying that "the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan ... because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that."
Steele made that statement during partisan remarks at a GOP fundraiser. In bashing President Obama, Steele rewrote history by distancing the Bush administration from the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and portraying the military operation as purely Obama's war. That's ridiculous. It was Bush & Co. that decided to invade after 9/11 (though the attacks that day were planned in Hamburg, Germany, and elsewhere), pursue al-Qaeda, overthrow the Taliban, and create a unified and democratic nation.
But it became Obama's war as soon as he took office and decided not to withdraw American troops from the quagmire. Obama opted instead for a public relations campaign to disguise his escalation.
So Steele was right to remind Obama of Afghanistan's history as a meat grinder for empires. The British (three times) and Russians learned the hard way. Now it's "our" turn.
Yet Kristol, Cheney, and McCain took Steele's remarks as an insult to the U.S. troops. Actually it was an insult to anyone who had anything to do with the U.S. invasion and occupation in what is now America's longest military operation.
As if to punctuate Steele's remarks, American and other NATO forces are facing a deadly July, which could top June for the bloodiest month of occupation. The anti-U.S. and anti-government forces get stronger with the increase in American troops.
Unfortunately, Steele could not take the criticism -- the only Republican defense came from Rep. Ron Paul and (curiously) author Ann Coulter -- although Republican misgivings about Afghanistan are beginning to be heard. Within 24 hours Steele went from proclaiming Afghanistan unwinnable to calling victory vital to American security. Such nonsense is a sign of how politics is played in the United States. Insights that conflict with the ruling elite's agenda are severely discouraged, and the recalcitrant are shunned if not exiled. Steele proved himself capable of rehabilitation and saved his job.
Too bad, really. How refreshing it would be for some Republicans (besides Ron Paul) to deliver the clear anti-empire message that some Midwest limited-government Republicans, including Sen. Robert Taft, offered after World War II. When Harry Truman was bogging the country down in Korea and Dwight Eisenhower was trying to prop up the French colonialists in Vietnam, those noninterventionist Republicans stood in opposition. Don't get involved in a land war in Asia, they said. It will be bloody, beyond our means, and sure to create undesirable consequences elsewhere. No doubt they would have said the same thing about Afghanistan. Today's Republicans prefer to smear empire opponents as cowardly traitors. Persistence in bloody futility is their idea of patriotism.
It's clear now that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have met their match in Barack Obama when it comes to insulting the American people's intelligence. Obama surely knows that "victory" cannot even be defined, much less achieved, in Afghanistan -- except in imperial terms. He must realize that foreign occupiers stimulate opposition that will stop at nothing to drive them out -- and their puppet government with them. Yet he wants the American people to believe that an escalation of the violence combined with elusive nation building will succeed. He perpetuates the myth that Gen. David Petraeus's "surge" in Iraq worked and that something similar will work in Afghanistan, when in fact what actually "worked," in Iraq -- temporarily -- was massive U.S. bribery of the Sunni opposition and the completion of ethnic cleansing by Shi'ites in Baghdad. The violence in Iraq may have diminished, but the many-sided civil war rages on.
There is no reason to expect Afghanistan to turn out differently. Let's stop fooling ourselves and get the hell out.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation.