Common Sense in a Coma

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

“Then there is the issue of how the Afghans will be able to pay for their greatly enlarged police and military, which by some estimates will require $10 billion a year to sustain come 2014 — 10 times the Afghan government’s annual tax revenues.”

Of all the ironic absurdities and preposterous twists in the war on — I mean the war to promote — terror, this quote from the New York Times back in April, which I came upon as I was researching something called the Strategic Partnership Declaration between the United States and Afghanistan, felt the most like a mugging.

This is the price of being liberated from the Taliban — a security system costly beyond reckoning, in perpetuity, in order to protect the country from itself. Something’s more than just wrong here. Common sense is in a coma.

Or as Kathy Kelly put it: “We are startlingly, terrifyingly lost, and we’re getting ever more so.”

We’re lost because we keep strafing and bombing our troubles, along with any people who happen to be in the way, rather than facing them with the least sort of honesty, let alone humanity. We’re lost because our actions churn up problems infinitely worse than the ones we set out to solve. We’re lost because we are so morally compromised we have to keep piling on more of the same — more troops, more missiles, more carnage — in order to avoid facing our consciences.

“…men kill in order to lie to others and themselves on the subject of violence and death,” writes social scientist and philosopher Rene Girard, in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. “They must kill and continue to kill, strange as it may seem, in order not to know that they are killing.”

The Strategic Partnership Declaration, an agreement soon to be signed between the government of the United States and the government of Afghanistan — two entities usually referred to in geopolitical reportage simply as “the United States” and “Afghanistan,” in order to perpetuate the fiction that the governments and people of a nation are the same thing — bears out Girard’s thesis, as far as I can tell.

The current relationship between the two governments is set to end in 2014: You know, troop withdrawal, mission accomplished, see ya later. But of course it can’t be that simple. The nation-wrecking we’ve accomplished in the last decade is so extensive, we have to do something to repair the damage and restore stability.

Enter the Strategic Partnership Declaration, the main point of which is to entrench the U.S. presence in Afghanistan well into the foreseeable future. It would, among other things, establish a number of permanent U.S. military bases in the country — or “long-term” bases, as U.S. officials put it, meaning two or three decades and then we’ll talk about it some more.

The “partnership” part of the deal is that we’d keep the cash flow open to the makeshift Afghan governments we install so that, lacking actual legitimacy or popular acceptance, they could stay propped up militarily. The war, in other words, wouldn’t end. We’d never have to admit defeat and therefore a backwash of public soul-searching wouldn’t flood the media, paralyzing the country, and its military-industrial economy, with conscience.

Of course, the agreement also gives the U.S. government a permanent, “enduring” military presence in Central Asia — a dominant position in what has been called Great Game 3.0 — and, oh yeah, one other thing: It would likely so enrage the Taliban that they wouldn’t come to the negotiating table, keeping the pretext for war— and the Afghan government’s economically catastrophic security needs — alive in perpetuity.

“The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration will perpetuate terrorism and bring it to everyone’s doorsteps,” reads a statement issued by a group called the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

“The ‘partnership,’” the statement continues, “will allow permanent joint U.S.-Afghanistan military bases to launch and project hard power. The ‘extreme’ Taliban would conveniently use these bases as a stand-alone reason for their ‘holy jihad.’ We cannot forget that one of Osama bin Laden’s reasons for attacking the U.S. on Sept. 11 was the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia.”

This small organization is not, of course, the sort that has a voice in important and weighty geopolitical matters, or most mainstream coverage of same — but, my God, such voices must be heard. If they aren’t, our future is about nothing but large, impersonal “interests,” not human needs or the human soul.

“No Power today represents the people,” the statement cries. “Today, ordinary Afghans are denied the basic human dignities, living in a country that Save the Children said was the most dangerous place on earth for mothers, and that UNICEF said was the worst place on earth to be born in, and to be a child.”

How can this matter so little? And what are the implications? In how many spots on the planet does dominant political power represent anything but itself, in tandem with the worst of our instincts, our fear and our rage? It’s time to declare the Strategic Partnership Declaration, the covenant of permanent war, null and void everywhere.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at