What, exactly, is the rationale?

Now that the President has weaseled out of his commitment to begin “drawing down” troops next summer and consigned the country to having its young people killed and maimed until at least 2014, isn’t it time that we be given some hint at what we are trying to achieve?

This question becomes especially appropriate in light of the analysis of the leaked diplomatic cables found in today’s New York Times.  That article paints a picture–based on the secret reporting of our very own diplomatic staff–shows in bright colors that our client government is corrupt to its very core. So what are we doing?

We are not tracking down Al-Qaeda. That mission was given up long ago. We are not supporting some bastion of human liberty under assault from nefarious forces. We are not even doing anything that will make us more secure. If anything, we are doing the opposite. Our ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, a military man who was once Commander of the Combined Forces Command for Afghanistan, warned  (in a November 6, 2009 cable leaked earlier to the Times) against the very military build-up that McCrystal was begging for, arguing that the investment of tens of billions of dollars would only make the Afghan government more dependent on us: “Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable. An increased U.S. and foreign role in security and governance will increase Afghan dependence, at least in the short-term.”

We have been losing lives and treasure for nine years while the Afghan politicians and strong men who have insinuated themselves into power have been robbing us blind (or as the cables show, with our leaders’ eyes wide open). They have not been able to build an army or police force or any national institutions in the nine years we have been pouring blood and money down this rat hole. The political structure they have constructed for themselves depends in its entirety on the money that we shower on them without any strings. And they collect it from each other in ever more intricate systems of graft, bribery, pay-offs and embezzlement. A cable cited by the Times quotes an Afghan official who explains where money is siphoned from our aid: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

We all know they are corrupt. International organizations that monitor corruption know they are corrupt. (The 2010 report of Transparency International gives only Somalia a lower score than Afghanistan, which is tied with Myanmar. Our other client, Iraq, is barely above the two. All of these make Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan look like paragons of virtue.) And now we know our government knows they are corrupt. In detail.

The leaked communiqués detail instances where the corrupt judicial system, directed by Hamid Karzai, released without trial or any process prisoners our troops had collected and deemed dangerous to them. Drug dealers were set free because of connections with Karzai. The corruption is so pervasive that it prevents effective government. One cable explains that having found at last an effective provincial governor, American officials were told by him that he couldn’t keep the job because he could not come up with the $200,000-$300,000 bribe necessary to be confirmed. Everything in Afghanistan appears distorted, unreal, debauched. We were told that progress was being made when the mayor of Kabul was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. A leaked cable, however, explained that it was a rigged prosecution unleashed on him because he had tried to stop a corrupt land deal.

And perhaps worst of all Karzai himself thumbs his nose at us because he knows that there is no national figure that can replace him and that we will never leave so long as it looks like leaving will cause a collapse. These leaked cables acknowledge that. So it is in fact Karzai’s best interest not to create a functioning national government–so long as he can return to power through fraudulent election practices or any other means.

But really, that is not what is worst of all. What is worst is that once again our leaders have deluded themselves into thinking they were achieving something, when in fact they had no plan, no basis on which to act, and in fact, all the evidence pointed the other way. And yet lives and money were directed to be spent on these delusions. To the extent this President is more intelligent than the last one, it is not a benefit to us; in fact, it makes him that much more culpable. The resources poured into this corrupt cauldron, for the enrichment of the Karzai family and no other reason, could have been devoted to real existential issues: alleviating poverty, preventing environmental calamity or even attempting to look for and stop terrorists. But our President, who promised change, gave us a heaping serving of the same and worse.

How is this situation different from the situation when we deluded ourselves over Vietnam? In one respect: there is no national figure that is even beginning to question this quagmire. There is no one with the legitimacy to challenge this President from the left. The right will of course want to challenge him. But their solution will be to waste even more lives and money.

Had it not been for Wikileaks we would not have seen so clearly how profoundly cynical and incompetent our government is. And yet Julian Assange is in hiding, and Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps debauchery is in the very nature of human relations.

Update 12/3: Evidently the leaks of these cables have strained our relations with Afghanistan. So to show that we really are not angry with Mr. Karzai, the President secretly flew to Afghanistan to have a dinner meeting with him. Unfortunately weather conditions prevented a face-to-face meeting, so the President had to res0rt to a video conference. Since the President could not personally meet with Karzai, I suppose the bags of money to  salve Mr. Karzai’s feelings will have to be delivered by messenger.

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