Letter from the US: NYT admits Afghan War lost

In a lengthy editorial on October 13, the United States’ most important ruling-class voice concluded that the war in Afghanistan has failed, and that the US should get out as soon as possible.

New York Times editors said in an editorial titled "Time To Pack Up and Leave Afghanistan" that:“The United States will not achieve even President Obama’s narrowing goals, and prolonging the war will only do more harm.”

The NYT has extensive sources in the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.

So when its editors say the war has failed, and reverse their support, they are likely basing this on hard facts known to the military and the Obama administration.

The editors wrote of Obama’s goal of withdrawing most combat forces by the end of 2014, “two more years of combat, two more years of sending the one percent of Americans serving in uniform to die and be wounded, is too long”.

They added: “Administration officials … offer no hope of achieving broad governance and security goals. And the only final mission we know of, to provide security for a 2014 Afghan election, seems dubious at best and more likely will only lend American approval to a thoroughly corrupt political system.”

They note Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s stance that “we don’t want to lose the gains we’ve gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban doesn’t come back in.”

The editors replied: “More fighting will not consolidate the modest gains made by this war, and there seems little chance of guaranteeing that the Taliban do not ‘come back in,’ at least in the provinces where they have never truly been dislodged.

“Last month, militants struck a heavily fortified NATO base. Officials say the Pakistan-based Haqqani network is behind many of the attacks on Americans.

“Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home. President Obama ... and the coalition partners have committed to remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014 at reduced levels, which could involve 15,000 or more American troops to carry out specialized training and special operations.

“Mr. Obama, or Mitt Romney if he wins, will have a hard time convincing Americans that makes sense – let alone Afghans.”

They note the war’s huge costs in treasure and lives. More than 2000 Americans have died in the war, and many more have been maimed. More than 50 US soldiers have been killed recently by Afghan government forces.

They put the cost of the war at more than US$500 billion. That is a low figure, counting only the special fund for the war over and above the regular military budget. But much of the war’s expenses are actually covered by the regular budget.

The editorial says: “Suicides among veterans and those in active service reached unacceptable levels long ago.

“A recent article by The Associated Press quoted studies estimating that 45 percent of returning veterans — 300,000 to 400,000, depending upon the study — say they suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. That is far too high a price to go on asking of troops and their families.

“Four years ago, Mr. Obama called Afghanistan a ‘war we have to win.’ His strategy relied on a newly trained Afghan army and police force that could take over fighting the Taliban; a government competent to deliver basic services; and Pakistan’s cooperation.”

The editorial goes over each of these objectives, and details how each has failed. Morale is low in the Afghan army and attrition rates are very high. The attacks on NATO troops by the forces the US is supposed to be training has brought such training to a virtual standstill.

The editors detail the depths of corruption and cronyism of the Karzai government. “A recent report by Afghanistan’s central bank said the Afghan political elite had been using Kabul Bank as a piggy bank. In 2010, word that the bank had lost $300 million caused a panic, and the number later tripled.”

They said the Hamid Karzai government was “not only unreliable, but a force undermining American goals and Afghan’s interests”. The central government is making little or no progress in fighting corruption, but “there has been even less progress in restoring local governance, the bedrock of Afghan society, where the Taliban exert enduring influence”.

They added: “Mr Karzai stole the last election, and he got away with it with American forces in place. After giving him 10 years and lots of money, things keep going in the wrong direction. Why would this now change?”

On Pakistan, they reported: “American officials say the Pakistanis may have decided that sowing chaos in Afghanistan by supporting Taliban proxies is not in their best interests after all. This could be wishful thinking.

“Last week the Pentagon blamed the Pakistani-backed Haqqani network for some of the recent ‘green on blue’ attacks. Islamabad’s collusion with the Taliban and other extremist groups is the biggest threat to Afghan stability.”

The editorial concluded, “We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not.” But, say the editors, “America’s global interests suffer when it is mired in unwinnable wars in distant regions”.

Therefore, they conclude, “we need to exit as soon as we safely can”.

From the point of view of the best interests of US imperialism, the NYT is undoubtedly correct. It is better to cut further losses and run.

But not all capitalist politicians are as sober as the NYT editors. Neocons still dream of new wars of conquest. Others are not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

I am reminded of a protest song during the Vietnam War. It goes something like, “Waste deep in the Big Muddy ... and the big fool says push on.”

But the defeat of the US war in Afghanistan, coupled with the Iraq debacle, will have an impact on the relation of forces in the world to the detriment of US imperialism. How this plays out in the months and years to come will deserve careful attention.

[Barry Sheppard is a former leader of the US Socialist Workers Party, which was a key part pf the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and '70s.]