THINKING FOR OURSELVES
“Why do they hate us so?”
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, December 13, 2009
Much has been written about President Obama’s decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The media has dissected his process of decision-making, chronicled the influence of Vice President Biden, Secretaries Clinton and Gates. In the end it is becoming clear that the policy outlined in the West Point speech was what the generals wanted.
The promised exit from Afghanistan has already been softened. Just a few days after the speech Secretary Gates said that “We will have 100,000 forces, troops, there and they are not leaving in July 2011. Some handful or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, we’ll begin to withdraw at that time.”
In more colorful and more direct language, national security adviser James L. Jones said simply, “2011 is not a cliff, it’s a ramp.”
No one should be surprised by this deepening military commitment. While the speech before the West Point cadets may have been short on specific policies, it revealed very serious weaknesses in the President’s thinking that will continue to haunt us.
Like his predecessor, President Obama continued the myth that we are engaged in a war against religious extremists. In his recounting of how we came to be in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001 he said:
“As we know, these men belonged to al-Qaida — a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al-Qaida’s base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban — a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.”
President Obama mentioned but did not probe the truth that al-Qaida “struck at our military and economic nerve centers.” He did not mention that their demands were directed not at religious convictions but at U.S. political policies, mainly our relationships to the Arab world and our uncritical support of Israel. He was silent on the reality that the Taliban, like al Qaida, are the product of our cold war strategies and tactics that cynically promoted religious extremism as an attack on communism.
Such silences have a long history in America. They originate in our refusal to look honestly at our own motives and actions. These silences fester, distorting our image of ourselves and blinding us to how the rest of the world sees us. One can only imagine the bitterness with which Afghan men women and children must have heard our president say:
“So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect to isolate those who destroy, to strengthen those who build, to hasten the day when our troops will leave, and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner and never your patron.”
This image of American motivation rings hollow as our drone missiles burst in Afghan villages, as we support a corrupt Afghan government, and as we do not hesitate to kill all those, including wedding party guests, who stand in the way of our own interests.
President Obama evaded the one question that would make a difference: “Why do they hate us so?” But to pursue and probe this question, we must do some painful looking in the mirror.