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Tom Engelhardt: On Escalation

July 18, 2009

Tom Engelhardt

Writing on the phenomenon of escalation, journalist Norman Solomon begins a recent piece [on Guernica] this way: “The president has set a limit on the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. For now. That’s how escalation works. Ceilings become floors. Gradually.” Then he adds: “[N]o amount of spin can change the fact that the U.S. military situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. It would be astonishing if plans for add-on deployments weren’t already far along at the Pentagon.”

Well, be astonished no longer. Right now, unsurprisingly enough, it’s not looking good in that country. Roadside bomb (IED) attacks are spiking (with an “all-time high” of 465 in May alone), and American and NATO deaths have jumped by 40% since 2008, 75% since 2007. And so, despite a major Obama administration expansion of the war and a significant commitment of new troops and money, fast on the heels of Solomon’s piece came the first trial balloon — the first leaks in a Washington Post piece from those unnamed, if ubiquitous, “senior military officials” — for what may be the next round of escalation.

In an ongoing assessment of the devolving situation in Afghanistan, due to be delivered to the White House next month, the new U.S. commander General Stanley A. McChrystal has supposedly already concluded “that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed.” Here’s the catch (and you knew there would be one, didn’t you?): the only way to make that force larger is to pour billions more dollars and thousands of new American soldiers into the country as “advisors” and “trainers.” As if he had read Solomon, National Security Adviser James Jones was already talking about those ceilings. (“It would not surprise me if the ceiling for the Afghan army request was raised…”)

So it goes. Too bad no one’s escalating the diplomacy, as the regularly on-target columnist for the British Guardian, Simon Jenkins, pointed out recently: “Diplomacy, your hour has come. There is no way soldiers will find an exit from Afghanistan. They can deliver defeat or they can deliver bloody stalemate. They cannot deliver victory and every observer knows it. This conflict will end only when the courage being daily demanded of soldiers is also shown by politicians.”

engelhardt_photo.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

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