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Condemned to Endless War: The Sisyphean US terror policy

Sam Sacks is a political commentator and journalist, the last five years spent covering politics in Washington, DC.

Published time: March 27, 2013 15:01
 US Army troops from C-Company. 1st platoon, 1-23 infantry prepare to deploy 'A-pops' - charges fired by rocket onto surfaces suspected to have IED (improvised explosive devices) traps which explode and trigger the safe detonation of the devices at the village of Gerandai in Panjway district, Kandahar Province on September 21, 2012. (AFP Photo)

Remember all that talk about leaving Afghanistan in 2014? None of it was serious.

A promise by the administration to leave Afghanistan came as recently as last October, in the vice presidential debate, when Vice President Joe Biden promised, “We are leaving… We are leaving [Afghanistan] in 2014.”

Сan someone define the word “leaving?”

Because, according to the former commander in Afghanistan, when it comes to 2014 plans in that country, we’re not going anywhere.

Speaking to the Brookings Institution this week in Washington, DC, the retired General John Allen said out of all the options for American forces in Afghanistan after the supposed 2014 withdraw date, the “zero option” – removing all US troops – was never really an option at all.

“I was never asked to conduct any analysis with respect to the zero option,” General Allen told Brookings. 

Instead, the plan was always to keep between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal date, in order to beef up Afghan security forces. So then why did the White House’s deputy national security adviser suggest in January that the White House was considering a full troop withdrawal?

It was a ploy to keep Afghan President Hamid Karzai in check.

US servicemen inside of a plane before their departure to Afghanistan from the US transit center Manas, 30 km outside the Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, on March 27, 2012. (AFP Photo)

As retired Lt. Gen. David Barno writes in Foreign Policy,“Karzai comes to this week's discussions convinced that the United States desperately needs long-term military bases in Afghanistan. He sees an America without other viable options to maintain its regional influence, cajole Pakistan, threaten Iran, or launch raids against nearby terrorists.” Barno adds,

“Because of this, Karzai thinks that he holds all the cards in the upcoming negotiations. He is absolutely convinced that the United States has no workable strategic choice but to station substantial US troops in Afghanistan after 2014.” But Karzai’s in the same boat. With predictions swirling that an insufficient Afghan force would wither under a Taliban insurgency, Karzai needs US troops to prop up his regime beyond 2014.

The White House’s threat of a “zero-option” worked. It sparked panic among Afghan Members of Parliament like Naeem Lalai, who told Reuters, “If Americans pull out all of their troops without a plan, the civil war of the 1990s would repeat itself… It will pave the way for the Taliban to take over militarily."

So, a full troop withdrawal was never meant to inspire hope among those of us who desperately want to see more than a decade of war end. It was a bargaining chip so that the Pentagon can secure the deal it wants post-2014. And those soldiers overseas and their families here at home, who had a glimmer of hope for peace, now have to accept the cold reality of US foreign policy in the ‘War on Terror’ era: There is no peace, only endless war.

Greek mythology tells the story of Sisyphus, a man who tried to deceive the gods and was punished for it by being dragged down to the underworld and forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down the hill and repeat the task over and over again, for eternity.

America’s War on Terror is Sisyphus’ boulder

As a result of the Bush Administration’s decision to launch a global war after 9/11, and then President Obama’s decision to expand that war, the United States is today caught up in an endless struggle like Sisyphus.

We buy into the Orwellian notion that war will eventually bring about peace. That after enough drone strikes and military occupations, that boulder will settle at the top of the hill instead of rolling back down.

But it’s just a lie we tell the world and ourselves. In reality, a war to end terrorism is like an eating binge to end obesity.

This point was made last year by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, who talked about how the constant barrage of drone strikes in her nation is fueling anti-Americanism. “As the drones fly over the territory of Pakistan, it becomes an American war,” she said, “and the whole logic of this being our fight, in our own interest, is immediately put aside and again it is a war imposed on us.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness.”

Just as rolling a boulder up a hill will inevitably lead to that boulder falling back down the hill, and thus the need for the process to repeat itself, continued war will inevitably lead to more anti-American sentiments and radicalism, and thus the need for more war.

The only difference between Sisyphus and us today is that we have a choice. We’re not condemned by the gods to launch endless wars. We’re condemned by shortsighted policymakers: Democrats who are afraid to look weak, and war profiteers who’ve built enormous mansions across the Potomac thanks to this decade of endless war.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) greets US Army troops on the tarmac of Kabul airport on March 11, 2013 before boarding a flight back to Washington. (AFP Photo)

That 2014 Afghanistan withdrawal date is quickly approaching, and it will give the United States an opportunity to determine its fate.

We can accept that we’re trapped in this Sisyphean struggle with no end in sight, and finally walk away from the boulder – from the wars – and begin the long, difficult task of mending fences across the planet in hopes of relegating this ‘War on Terror’ to the dustbins of history. 

Or, we can continue down the road of military misadventure and endless, profitable war. We can keep tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan under the guise of a training mission, and watch the years and decades of violence continue with no end in sight. As General Allen said this week upon disclosing there was no zero-option, “This comes as a surprise when I say this: That on January 1 2015, there's still going to be fighting in Afghanistan."

But it doesn’t have to be that way. What will our choice be: Peace or the bloody boulder?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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