Is That the Voice of Sanity We Hear at Last? Perhaps. Perhaps Not

Surprise! President Obama has said no to the hawks who want an endless war in Afghanistan. Presented with four options, all calling for more troops for the futile eight-year campaign, Obama’s choice was none of the above.

karlHe said that what he really wants to know is how soon (and how) the U.S. can wriggle out of the quagmire and let the Afghans sort out their own mess. His decision was influenced by urgent cables from the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry (photo at right), who is strongly against sending more troops to support the blatantly corrupt, incompetent and defiant regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained recently about Karzai’s  “corruption, lack of transparency, poor governance (and) absence of the rule of law.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s pretty much the consensus opinion.

The Afghan president has refused even to promise to clean up his act. His response to U.S. demands for less corruption and more transparency is the time-honored one-finger salute.

So what’s a President to do? Obama faces the choice of sending thousands more Americans to die for a lousy government, or backing out of the U.S. commitment to do “whatever it takes” in Afghanistan, inviting the scorn of the neocons who already question his manhood.

He seems to be leaning toward the second alternative.

And that’s completely understandable. Anybody who has been paying attention knows there are insurmountable obstacles to establishing any kind of decent government in Afghanistan. The absence of a democratic history and tradition, for example, and an endemic culture of corruption, pervasive drug trafficking, tribalism and ethnic divides among the population…

The only sensible course is to abandon the costly and bloody crusade and bring the troops home.

Is it too soon to breathe a sigh of relief? Dare we hope that sanity has seeped into the halls of power?

Perhaps. And then again…

President Eisenhower’s warning against the dangers of America’s military-industrial complex keeps echoing in my mind.  There’s a lot of money at stake here. And jobs. And power.

As long as America is at war, a massive industry thrives. In various congressional districts, people have jobs, the stock market is boosted by “defense industry” contracts, and – probably most relevant of all  – some very influential people make a lot of money.

Beat those swords into plowshares and what do you get? Probably a lot of idle workers, disgruntled investors and ousted politicians. Of course, the net result would be a plus for the American economy, which would be freed of an intolerable financial burden. But there would be a transition period to reckon with, and some very angry, very powerful people.

To quote founding father Thomas Paine, these are the times that try men’s souls. Dare we hope that this president will pass the test? Stay tuned.