August 26, 2010

Our Empire Addiction

It’s starting to feel like our economic problems are never going to end. Yes, I know Obama keeps insisting that things are improving, but the numbers tell a different story. Home sales are lower than they’ve been in over a decade. Unemployment is on the rise, as is our trade deficit.

The president maintains that we’ll be fine as long as we keep on spending. Sound financial advice there. You’re having money problems? You know what you need? More debt. Yes, spend, spend, spend—that’ll fix everything. What’s really needed, as more and more people are starting to realize, are spending cuts, drastic spending cuts. Nothing else has any chance of staving off the complete collapse of the dollar.

And with so many Americans still suffering, still losing their homes and unable to find work, I think we should begin with our $1 trillion a year defense budget. We could start by ending the war in Afghanistan, which is costing us a staggering $100 billion a year. And why wait until next August? Why wait until Petraeus’s end-of-year status report? Why not just bring our troops home now?

Of course, there’s the Taliban. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking: If we leave, aren’t the Taliban going to regain power? And the truth is that they might; it’s possible. But it’s hard to understand why American taxpayers should be forced to pay $100 billion a year to keep this from happening. The Taliban didn’t attack us on 9/11. The Taliban don’t pose a threat to us. Although they provided a safe haven for Osama bin Laden before 9/11, it’s hard to imagine that they’d be dumb enough to make that same mistake a second time. And even if they did, as Richard Haass writes, “[s]uch situations call for more modest and focused policies of counterterrorism along the lines of those being applied in Yemen and Somalia, rather than a full-fledged counterinsurgency effort.”

And if our leaders insist on keeping the Taliban out of power, there are other, far cheaper ways to accomplish this. As Selig S. Harrison points out, none of Afghanistan’s neighbors, save Pakistan, want the Taliban back:

Iran, Russia, India, and Tajikistan all played a key role in helping U.S. forces dislodge the Taliban in 2001. More importantly, all of them, together with China and Uzbekistan, fear that a resurrected Taliban regime would foment Islamist insurgencies within their own borders. Russia faces nascent Islamist forces in its Muslim south. India worries that Taliban control in Kabul would lead to an upsurge in Pakistan-based terrorism. The Shiite theocracy in Iran fears that a Taliban regime would help the Sunni Jundullah separatist movement in Iranian Baluchistan and Salafi extremists in other regions. Tajikistan faces Sunni extremist groups led by Hizb ut-Tahrir and is increasingly unsettled by an influx of Afghan refugees, which could grow if the Taliban were to return to power. China is beset by Islamist Uighur separatists in Xinjiang.

Harrison goes on to argue that the U.S. should make “a diplomatic push to mobilize the support of neighboring states,” all of which, as Henry Kissinger has stated, would be threatened “more than we are by the emergence of [an Afghan] base for international terrorism.” Of course, in order to get these other nations involved, the U.S. would need to get out, as these nations “have no desire to legitimate an enduring U.S. presence in the country—particularly with regards to the U.S. air bases now being used for intelligence surveillance missions in areas of Afghanistan bordering Russia, China, and Iran.”

Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t actually intend to leave Afghanistan, not now, not ever. As the Washington Post reported last Monday:

Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future…

None of the three projects in southern and northern Afghanistan is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts.

Overall, requests for $1.3 billion in additional fiscal 2011 funds for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan are pending before Congress.

So the problem seems clear enough. The Afghanistan War isn’t about our national security. It’s about our empire. Put another way, we have an empire addiction, and because of this addiction we’re acting against our own best interests. Though it’s obvious that these trillion-dollar deficits are destroying our economy and, along with it, our future, not to mention our children’s and grandchildren’s futures, our leaders just can’t quit the empire.

I’m reminded of those meth commercials. It’s like our future is looking up at us, all cut and bruised, pleading, “Don’t do it.” But I can’t imagine our leaders doing the right thing. No matter who wins this November, I can’t see anything changing—for they’re all essentially the same. So if you care about your future, if you want to do something for yourself, don’t waste your time trusting in politicians; invest in China.

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