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Vietnam returns to haunt US

Elections are alright if they produce the right results. When the Islamic-based Hamas wins in the Gaza Strip, that’s unacceptable and leads to an international boycott. When Hamid Karzai defrauds his way to the presidency of Afghanistan, world leaders from Obama to Brown line up to offer their congratulations.

Yet there is no disguising the fact that the Karzai government is corrupt from top to bottom, siphoning off international aid and demanding bribes for state contracts. In the first, discredited round of the presidential election, Karzai’s party bought so many votes that it became embarrassing.

Officials discovered ballot papers pre-marked with a vote for Karzai and polling stations where he won 100% of the registered vote! Soldiers from occupying Western armies died in trying to ensure that the election could take place. They died in vain, because the second round has been abandoned. Challenger Abdullah Abdullah believed the fraud of the first round was about to be repeated and pulled out, leaving Karzai to be declared the winner!

No wonder Lance Corporal Joe Glenton has refused to return to Afghanistan and faces a court martial in January as a result. He defied orders to speak at a recent anti-war rally and called for the withdrawal of British troops. Glenton says that when he returned to barracks, many soldiers supported his point of view. Some of this may be due to the cost-cutting measures that leave soldiers vulnerable to death by negligence rather than Taliban attacks, as the report last week into the crash of a Nimrod aircraft made clear.

In a letter to Brown earlier this year, Glenton wrote: “It is my primary concern that the courage and tenacity of my fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy. The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there.”

His is not the only dissenting voice within military circles. Matthew Hoh, a former senior officer who served in Iraq, quit a leading position in the State Department in Washington in protest against America’s involvement in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, which has only just become public, Hoh says that he “fails to see the value or the worth in the continued US casualties or the expenditure of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.”

Hoh added that the United States military presence in Afghanistan “greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency” and described Karzai’s confidants and chief advisers as drug lords and war crimes villains, “who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts”.

Hoh points out that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of many a military campaign, including the Soviet Union’s in the 1970s. Most worryingly for the Obama administration – which is contemplating sending tens of thousands more troops to the country – Hoh wrote that the situation in Afghanistan bore remarkable similarities to Vietnam, when America backed “an unpopular and corrupt government … against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.”

Vietnam marked one stage of the decline of the American empire and the Afghan debacle – close on the heels of the disaster in Iraq – marks another. Vietnam broke the back of Democratic Party president Lyndon B Johnson and Afghanistan threatens to do the same for Obama’s administration.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
3 November 2009

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