Saturday, December 05, 2009

...because we really don't care about them

In some ways, Glenn Greenwald's column the day after Obama's Afghanistan speech refutes some of the unstated premises of my post below.  But it also highlights some of the conclusions, I think:
While Obama's speech last night largely comported to what his aides spent days anonymously previewing, there was one (pleasantly) unexpected aspect: he commendably dispensed with the propagandistic pretext that we are fighting in Afghanistan in order to deliver freedom and democracy to that country and to improve the plight of Afghan women. Many Democrats (the self-proclaimed "liberal hawks") love to support American wars on the self-righteous ground that we're going to drop enough Freedom Bombs to liberate millions and invade other countries in order to re-make other peoples' cultures for their own good. In order to maximize support for his escalation, Obama -- like Bush so often did -- could easily have relied on that appeal to our national narcissism and exploited justifiable disgust for the Taliban in order to manipulate "liberal hawks" into supporting this war on human rights grounds. During the build-up to the speech, it was predicted by several influential Obama advisers that he would do exactly that. Indeed, when announcing his prior Afghanistan escalation in March, Obama played up the humanitarian rationale for this war.

But there was almost none of that in last night's speech. As Ben Smith correctly notes, Obama did not even mention -- let alone hype -- the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan. There were no grandiose claims that the justness of the war derives from our desire to defeat evil, tyrannical extremists and replace them with more humane and democratic leaders. To the contrary, he was commendably blunt that our true goal is not to improve the lives of Afghan citizens but rather: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." There were no promises to guarantee freedom and human rights to the Afghan people. To the contrary, he explicitly rejected a mission of broad nation-building "because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests"; he said he "refuse[d] to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests"; and even vowed to incorporate the convertible factions of the Taliban into the government.
Not only did he refrain from those manipulative appeals, he made explicitly clear that we are in Afghanistan to serve our own interests (as he perceives them), not to build a better nation for Afghans. Nation-building, he said, goes "beyond ... what we need to achieve to secure our interests" and "go beyond our responsibility." We're there to serve our interests and do nothing else. That should throw cold water on all on the preening fantasies of all but the blindest and most naive "liberal war supporters" that we're there to help the Afghan people.
But Greenwald goes on to concisely point out that making Afghanistan and its people better off isn't even likely to be an unintended consequence of our occupation.  This, of course, means that the defeat of Al Qaeda will spur more enemies to eradicate in the future.  Business is business.

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