Afghanistan and the Collapse of American Governance

For years Donald Trump called for an end to America’s war in Afghanistan. Yet as president he has quickly decided to expand the war. Since Trump’s presidency fails daily on so many levels, it’s easy to overlook an important lesson of Trump’s awful Afghanistan decision.

The Afghanistan war is both tragic and absurd. Starting in 1979, the CIA funded Islamic jihadists (including Afghan fighters called the Mujahideen, and indirectly, Arab fighters that became Al Qaeda) to fight the Soviet-backed Afghanistan government. Since then, with an interlude in the 1990s, the United States has been at war in Afghanistan.

One could chalk it all up to another CIA harebrained scheme, though this one is worse than most, inaugurating an era of war and blowback terrorism that has lasted nearly 40 years. When Obama directed the killing of Osama bin Laden, at least he could have explained to the American people that Al Qaeda was America’s Frankenstein’s monster facilitated by extensive CIA funding in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The new Trump round of escalation will yield no benefits for our country or any other. We will spend tens of billions of dollars more to kill more Afghans, prolong that country’s destabilization, return Americans home maimed or in body bags, foment atrocities on both sides, and do nothing to staunch terrorism. Terrorists can establish cells in countless places throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, even if they were to be pushed from Afghanistan.

The decision-making process, though, was revealing. Trump opposed the war, one of the few areas where his foreign policy positions made sense. Yet he acceded to the generals. He is surrounded by three father-figure generals: White House chief of staff, national security adviser, and secretary of defense. The generals did what generals do: They viewed Afghanistan through a military lens and mustered a can-do promise of a military path to American victory.

The underlying problem, of course, is that countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya do not pose military challenges for the United States, but rather diplomatic and developmental challenges. Even when the United States “wins” such a war, as it did in Afghanistan in 2002, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011, the United States can’t win the peace. This is a seemingly trivial point, but perhaps not so to the CIA and many generals.

As French leader Georges Clemenceau famously said, war is too important to be left to the generals. Yet American politics now leaves war to the generals. Not only did Obama and Trump both defer to the generals who argued for open-ended war in Afghanistan, but in both cases and many more, Congress didn’t even raise a peep. Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, which assigns Congress the authority to declare war, is essentially null and void.

Leaving war to the generals has become Washington’s default mode on the civilian side of government as well. Who now runs environmental policy? The polluters. The Environmental Protection Agency is being staffed with lobbyists of America’s worst polluting industries. Who runs the Energy Department? Lobbyists of big coal, oil, and gas companies

With regard to economics and finance, the keys to the kingdom are now in the hands of Wall Street, and notably the primus inter pares of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs (a different Sachs, I must emphasize). Goldman Sachs has staffed the top economics teams of all administrations since Clinton. Trump’s economic team is headed by National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, a former chief information officer at Goldman Sachs.

Step by step, our political institutions have been captured by the narrow interest groups that government is meant to oversee. Generals decide on wars; Wall Street on finance; oil and gas companies on energy policy; drug companies and health insurers on health care policies. The general interest is subordinated to the special interests. Trump isn’t draining the swamp. He’s turning it into a Trump resort and cashing in.

Aristotle taught that politics is about ethics and the common good. America’s restoration depends, with rising urgency, on the return of politics to the common good.

By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Source: Common Dreams

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  1. “For years Donald Trump called for an end to America’s war in Afghanistan. Yet as president he has quickly decided to expand the war.”

    Maybe he meant that to end a war you need to start one first. LOL
    A US president is nothing more than a spokesman for some secret government, probably foreign entities. A US president promoting peace, not by words, but by action has yet to be born. It will never happen, it has been that way for over two centuries. “The end justifies the means”.
    The only solution is to dis-unite the States so they leave the rest of the world alone.
    The sooner the better.

  2. There was a time when Americans believed in freedom.

    The US is dying from a million cuts. Part of the reason the USA is a nanny police state now is that whenever there is a problem, the kneejerk reaction in the US is to call for a new law.

    Nanny state laws are not the best solution, however. Nanny state laws lead to more laws, higher fines, and tougher sentences. Thirty-five years ago, DWI laws were enacted that led to DWI checkpoints and lower DWI levels. Seatbelt laws led to backseat seatbelt laws, childseat laws, and pet seatbelt laws. Car liability insurance laws led to health insurance laws and gun liability laws. Smoking laws that banned smoking in buildings led to laws against smoking in parks and then bans against smoking in entire cities. Sex offender registration laws led to sex offender restriction laws and violent offender registration laws.

    Nanny state laws don’t make us safer, either. Nanny state laws lead people to be careless since they don’t need to have personal responsibility anymore. People don’t need to be careful crossing the street now because drunk-driving has been outlawed and driving while using a mobile phone is illegal. People don’t investigate companies or carry out due diligence because businesses must have business licenses now.

    The main point of nanny state laws is not safety. The main purposes of more laws are control and revenue generation for the state.

    Another reason laws are enacted is because corporations give donations to lawmakers to stifle competition or increase sales.

    Many laws are contradictory, too. Some laws say watering lawns is required, while other laws say watering lawns is illegal.

    Many nanny state laws that aim to solve a problem can be fixed by using existing laws. If assault is already illegal, why do we need a new law that outlaws hitting umpires?

    Nanny state laws are not even necessary. If everything was legal would you steal, murder, and use crack cocaine? Aren’t there other ways to solve problems besides calling the police? Couldn’t people educate or talk to people who bother them? Couldn’t people be sued for annoying behavior? Couldn’t people just move away? Even if assault was legal, wouldn’t attackers risk being killed or injured, too? Do people have consciences? Having no laws doesn’t mean actions have no consequences.

    If there is no victim, there is no crime.

    We don’t need thousands of laws when we only need 10.

    Should swimming pools be banned because they are dangerous? Hammers? Bottles? Rocks? Energy drinks? Pillows?

    Where does it end?

    If one state can have self-serve gas stations, why can’t every state have them? If sodas were legal 20 years ago, why can’t they be legal now?

    Freedom is not just a one way street. You can only have freedom for yourself if you allow others to have it.

    Control freaks might get angry when a neighbor owns three indoor cats, but what did the neighbor take from them? Why should this be illegal? Is outlawing cats something a free country should do? Doesn’t banning everything sound like the opposite of liberty?

    Instead of getting mad at people who like freedom, why don’t people realize that freedom is a two way street?

    If you allow others to paint their house purple then you can, too.

    If you allow others to own a gun then you can, too.

    If you allow others to swear then you can, too.

    If you allow others to gamble then you can, too.

    Who wants to live in a prison?

    Think. Question everything.

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