The Afghanistan Morass, Global Sprawl and Military Excess

June 2nd, 2020 - by Jim Hightower / Hightower Lowdown

Trump’s Plan to Flee Afghanistan

Jim Hightower / Hightower Lowdown

(March 2020) —It’s over. Dealmaker Donald says he’s ended America’s long nightmare in Afghanistan, finally halting 18-plus years of grinding war _ the longest in US history. After more than 2,400 Americans killed (and another 20,000 wounded), more than 100,000 Afghans killed (and countless more maimed), and roughly $2 trillion wasted, Trump is crowing that he’s negotiated an end to that expensive and pointless military adventure.

Only … he hasn’t. His flimsy, four-page document, signed with a group of Taliban officials on February 29, is not an end to hostilities and does not require disarmament or even a cease-fire. It’s just a cynical, face-saving device so Trump can withdraw a few troops, then claim in his re-election campaign that he’s fulfilling his 2016 promise to “end endless wars.”

This so-called Afghan peace accord merely asks Taliban warlords to agree to — get this — a 7-day“reduction in violence.” There’s not even a clear statement on what constitutes a reduction or violence, much less defined steps to real peace.

The deal is so weak that Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, mustered only a jumble of weasel words to describe it: “We are now on the cusp of having an opportunity which may not succeed.” Taliban leaders were far less wishy-washy. Just before signing, they boldly staged a victory parade and hailed the event as “a day of pride” for their win over “invader Americans.”

Some US military leaders privately doubt the deal will survive until our November election. And even as it was being signed, Pentagon chief Mark Esper emphasized that the US “would not hesitate to nullify the agreement” and resume the war if the regional warlords act up.

Oops … some already have. The 7-day hiatus in hostilities promised by Trump’s peace ploy was violated after just three days! On March 3, the Taliban mounted 43 attacks on security checkpoints run by the US-backed Afghan military, killing at least 25 of our allied soldiers. The next day our own drones attacked the Taliban fighters. Embarrassingly, this sudden re-eruption came only a few hours after Trump bragged of a phone call with the Taliban’s chief peace negotiator, who had assured him they “don’t want violence.” Our wheeler-dealer-in-chief called it “a very good talk.”

Far from facilitating withdrawal, Trump’s presidential PR job of an agreement creates conditions for more US involvement. The concession to release 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons summarily reverses military gains that Americans and allies died to make. Moreover, the deal extends US entanglement by specifically committing our troops and taxpayers to keep backing and financing the weak Afghan military indefinitely — while also pledging to continue paying for and propping up this wobbly nation’s corrupt, deeply divided, and hopelessly incompetent government.

So, as usual in a Trump deal, this one is all about him. and far from extricating the us, it provides an escape clause written for his own political advantage.

US Global Sprawl: 177 Nations Wide

Jim Hightower / Hightower Lowdown

(March-April 2020) — “Far-flung” doesn’t begin to describe America’s war reach. Our military personnel, technology, and taxpayers’ money are in so many places that the political and military brass no longer admit how many troops are where, much less why. The New York Times, Washington Post, and others, however, have done recent surveys confirming current deployment numbers for:

  • Afghanistan: 14,000 After adding 4,000 troops since taking office, Trump — now facing re-election — has tricked up a “truce” with the Taliban that, he wants us to believe, will end the fighting and let him bring home all those war-weary troops home.
  • Bahrain: 7,000. This oil-rich, oppressive regime is a close ally of Saudi Arabia.
  • Iraq: 6,000. Waged in a country the US supposedly “rescued” nearly 20 years ago, this endless war has cost the lives of nearly 5,000 US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. Iraq’s government now demands we leave.
  • Kuwait: 13,000. We treat this tiny, opulent oil kingdom as our own military base for protecting oil monopolies.
  • Oman: a mere 600. To do … what? Undisclosed, but pricey.
  • Qatar: 13,000. Why? To, of all things, battle Trump’s key ally in the Mideast: Saudi Arabia.
  • United Arab Emirates: 5,000. And now this Saudi ally _ hello! _ has begun siding with the Saudis’ (and Trump’s) most hated opponent, Iran.
  • US Africa Command: 7,000. Africom manages the Pentagon’s ill-defined “special operations” missions in nations like Chad, Mali, Niger, and Somalia. Why are we there? Don’t ask.

And for decades, we’ve routinely financed “legacy missions” that have been in place for decades, needed or not:

  • South Korea: 28,000: Even though Trump now declares the North’s despot, Kim Jong-un, his trusted buddy, US troops south of the DMZ face off North Korea.
  • Japan: 57,000: About half the US’s Japan-based troops are on the island of Okinawa, where local resentment runs high.
  • Europe: 65,000: The troops spread across Europe, supposedly to contain Soviet communism, which officially perished in 1991.
  • Don’t forget, among 171,000 troops deployed abroad, according to the DoD: Australia (284), Cuba (800), Norway (700), The Philippines (182), and “unknown.”
  • And — oh, yes — the 5,000 US Army soldiers Trump has stationed on our own southern border to battle desperate children crossing from Mexico!

Then there’s our “floating” military, consisting of untold thousands of troops quartered on ships so they can periodically be zipped to war … wherever.

Military Excess

Jim Hightower / Hightower Lowdown

Breaking news: “Trump says Pentagon Budget Too Big.”

Follow-up report: “Pentagon Agrees.”

This unexpected budgetary breakthrough comes because Donald The Dealmaker has failed in his Number One campaign promise: forcing Mexico to pay for a 30-foot-tall, 2,000-mile-long, “big, beautiful wall” to keep out Latinx migrants and asylum seekers.

He was shocked when Mexico said: “No,” then more shocked when Congress, controlled by his own party, also refused to fund his folly.

So … Trump stole the money. 

Channeling his inner Willie Sutton (the notorious thief who, when asked why he robbed banks, replied, “because that’s where the money is”), Trump has been illegally plundering the fat Pentagon budget to finance his vanity wall: $6.1 billion from military appropriations last year, another $3.8 billion in February, and a projected $3.4 billion more this year.

His obsequious defense secretary, Mark Esper, has just shrugged submissively at this unilateral “reprogramming” of more than $13 billion from our fighting forces, and the Pentagon told Congress that the money was “in excess” of what the military needs anyway.

So, there you go. Progressive groups have long noted that the war budget is bloated with billions of taxpayer dollars going to unneeded projects, and we now have Trump and his generals confessing that it’s true.

Rather than funneling those excess billions into a wall, let’s build affordable housing, health clinics, schools, universal broadband networks … and other things that people actually need.

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