MARK THIS DATE IN YOUR CALENDAR. Today is the date in which Barack Obama officially betrayed the last hope of his supporters by sending 30,000 more troops to kill and die in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Instead of "change you can believe in", we have gotten the Bush surge strategy redux. Exit Obama the Reformer, enter Obama the Emperor.
In a speech to the students of West Point - America's elite officer training university - Obama said that he was ordering the escalation, effective immediately and to be completed by May. And for anyone who didn't see the deja vu resonance with a certain earlier president, Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam war, Obama has thrown in an escalation of CIA activities inside of Pakistan - a country that the USA isn't at war with. This has taken us beyond the foolhardy hubris of Johnson's belief that he could sustain his Great Society welfare program and the Vietnam War. This was Obama's Nixon moment, when "Tricky Dicky" spread the war into neighbouring Laos and Cambodia with covert bombings and special ops incursions. This is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
The second tragedy of Obama's announcement is that this should be a moment when students occupy their campuses and protesters hit the streets. Sadly, too many of the anti-war organizations have been disoriented by their enthusiasm for Obama with some, like prominent activist Medea Benjamin, now opposing the call for troops to be withdrawn immediately. The logic of this backsliding is now clear - if troops need to be kept there to "protect women" or "protect democracy", then it only makes sense that there are "enough troops" to do the job right. And while the anti-war movement has virtually collapsed, thank goodness that gays and lesbians have loudly and proudly fought for their rights in the face of Obama's utter betrayal of their fight for equality. A heavy burden has fallen on their shoulders as the cutting edge of struggle in America. The hope is that the intransigent demand for full equal rights for gays and lesbians will provide an inspiration and springboard to revitalize the anti-war movement in the face of this obscenity.
Make no mistake what these troops will mean: more collateral damage, not less. It will mean death squads - as I reported previously. It will mean greater destabilization in Pakistan. There can't be anyone in the government of Pakistan that isn't cringing at this open announcement that the CIA will conduct assassinations, more drone attacks - much more deadly than accurate - and spying. If Pakistan accepts this, the government will be seen for what it is: a pliant tool of American policy.
What is more uncertain is whether Obama's plan will work - especially within the 18 month timeline he has proposed. Thirty-thousand is a lot of soldiers - especially at a million bucks a pop - but it is hardly enough to pacify a whole country. The resistance is now deeply rooted and widespread and the Americans have already surrendered the countryside to insurgent control. Presumably their plan is to turn the cities into fortresses that are impenetrable to insurgent attacks while they train a new pro-American Afghan Army and provide some development to win political support. In other words - exactly what the Soviets tried to do almost 30 years ago and what the Americans tried to do in Vietnam. That strategy led to the collapse of the Soviet empire. If we can hope for anything good to come out of this knife in the back from Obama it is that this adventure will facilitate the end of the American.