by Michael Munk, Guest opinion
Tuesday December 30, 2008, 11:31 AM
David Oliver Relin's "Message to Obama" (Opinion, Dec. 28) surely reflects not only his humanitarian concern for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also delivers some well deserved criticism of U.S. policies in the region. But, like the man upon whom he places his hope for change, he fails to recognize the elephant in the room that is at the heart of what he
calls the "growing crisis."
The elephant is his own nation's military occupation of Afghanistan and its daily violation of Pakistani sovereignty. By tracing U.S. policy after 9/11 solely to "rebuilding" Afghanistan, he conveniently ignores that we invaded a country that did not attack us and imposed upon it an exiled oil company consultant from Chicago as president. He's right that the people of the
region "share a common extremist enemy" but that enemy is the occupiers, not the indigenous groups fighting to expel the foreign fighters. In this case, the "root causes of terrorism" are not just poverty and ignorance but rather the terror warfare and endemic corruption the U.S. invasion has laid upon the poor of those lands.
Relin hopes Obama can solve the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan can turn its military against its own people in the Northwest border areas. In a nation where many consider the fight against the "extremists" as doing the bidding of the "Crusaders" and want no part of it, that sounds like a recipe for civil war.
Relin sees the poppy industry as another target of an escalated U.S. campaign and acknowledges the complicity of the Karzai group in it. That is another consequence of our occupation: one of the actual achievements of the Taliban confirmed by international officials was the elimination of that business.
So he hopes Obama could replace the corrupt Karzai with a "new candidate" -- an act likely to confirm the popular belief abroad that we are an imperialist power.
Finally, despite his best efforts, our writer fails to even raise the real question that confronts President Obama: Why are we in Afghanistan/Pakistan? Bush justified the Afghan invasion and overthrow of the Taliban on the vague claim that it "harbored" Al-Qaeda -- but the Afghans themselves were not involved in 9/11. And now that they are regrouping and gaining popular
support, our occupation exists only to prop up an unpopular and corrupt narco-state. Other political leaders are coming to understand that, and that's why Relin predicts Obama "may not be able to convince our reluctant allies to commit combat forces."
I join with Relin when he says it's time to send "a surge of humanitarian help to the poorest areas" of the region. But make sure it goes to the poor -- not to the former exiles and NGOs that waste so much to distribute it. Instead, call it war reparations, give it directly to local tribal leaders and make clear to their people how much they get, and bring the troops home.
That's how I hope President Obama will produce "the change we can believe in."
Michael Munk, a retired college professor, is the author of "The Portland Red Guide." www.michaelmunk.com