Afghanistan war under the radar

Last Thursday night Barack Obama said, “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

It was a night of real enthusiasm – a kind of night American politics has not seen for at least 16 years, since Clinton’s first run in 1992.

But when Obama said that, I noticed about half as much cheering, and I am very glad about that.

Is it because the country is not united around a withdrawal from Iraq? No. Is it perhaps because Obama’s supporters are not sure if they believe him when he says he will get us out of Iraq? That is a strong possibility, but that’s not my point.

It’s because Afghanistan has been in the background. We have forgotten about it. The last time the country’s collective mind was focused on Afghanistan, people were wildly supportive of the war there. Since then, our country has gotten into the habit of opposing wars. For a lot of people, Obama’s mention of Afghanistan was a rude awakening, and prompted a moment of discomfort because it caused us to realize how inconsistent we are. Shall we continue supporting “the right war?” But just a few years ago didn’t we feel like Iraq was “the right war” too? And then, because most people are not informed about Afghanistan, they either push the thought away or try reverting to their old war-like way of thinking.

But 2001 and 2008 are two very different years. In 2001, we cowered around our televisions and prayed for neoconservative saviors. In 2008, we are ready to throw them the hell out of office, pull out of Iraq and start universal healthcare.

We all know deep down we must move forward; the old way of thinking has no place in this new era. So allow me to inform you about Afghanistan.

Are we “winning” in Afghanistan? I don’t think winning should be a criteria for whether or not a war should be opposed, but “we” are not “winning.” Much like the failure of the Iraqi government’s crackdown on the Madhi Army last May, the military situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. As recently as mid-August, a large assault on U.S. and French forces was attempted in eastern Afghanistan.

Why are “we” in Afghanistan? Is it to fight terrorism? Many Americans have become disaffected with the war in Iraq because it is seemingly about oil. Afghanistan is also a key part of the global oil picture.

Early in the war the United States installed a number of new bases in western Afghanistan that run in a north-south straight line. These protect an oil pipeline, which continues its course north through Turkmenistan (a U.S. ally and former Soviet ally) and south through Pakistan (a U.S. ally, now destabilized by protest because its government has supported President Bush). This pipeline connects the Caspian Sea, as rich a source of oil as Iraq, with the Arabian Sea, so that the oil may be shipped and traded (or not) on the world market.

I am proud that the people of this country have turned against the war in Iraq. Now it is time to carry out that spirit to its logical conclusion and oppose the war in Afghanistan, too. (Looking at a map might help.)