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Black Man Relieves White Man’s Burden

Aug 28, 2010 2:30:40 PM - thesundayleader.lk

It is indeed paradoxical that a Black Man should be relieving the White Man of the burden brought upon by himself in the theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The words of the poet Rudyard Kipling (who coined the term White Man’s burden) sounds grimly ironic today in the context of  the happenings in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Take up the White Man’s burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives needs…

President Barack Obama

American fathers and those of European nations (mostly white) are no longer inspired by the colonial poet to send their sons to war today. They want them back home. And the first Black president who is not responsible for the Iraqi or Afghan wars has set deadlines for the pull out of troops from the two countries.

Osama bin  Laden

American President George W. Bush infuriated by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon dispatched troops to Afghanistan to give hell to the fundamentalist Muslim regime of the Taliban who were hosting the al Qaeda Leader Osama bin Laden. It’s nine years since the American troops went into Afghanistan but after an initial retreat the Taliban has come back and is fighting back the American and NATO troops in a guerrilla war that is claiming the lives of US and NATO soldiers in this remote country.
Britain’s The Economist (July 24) in an article titled “The Great Endgame” quotes a European diplomat at an international conference held in Kabul  saying, ‘I can’t think of a single reason ‘to die for Afghanistan’. Even more telling is what Hilary Clinton, the American Secretary of State had told the Conference, ‘Citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible — and if so whether we all have the commitment to achieve it.’
The article notes that sadly for Afghanistan, the predominant view among the diplomats and  long term observers attending the Kabul conference was that the counter insurgency strategy will probably fail and certainly do so if foreign powers have now decided not to take time needed to  build an Afghan state able to resist the insurgency and ‘the nefarious activities of meddling neighbours.’

Optimistic Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has however struck an optimistic note. He had referred to the country’s mineral wealth which according to recent  surveys had estimated  to be worth trillions and make nation building  affordable  and hoped that his country would  become an ‘Asian roundabout’ for a trade route on the new silk road with a dynamic service sector.
President Obama’s deadline for the pull out of Afghanistan is July next year and  this  met the criticism of  Gen. James Conway, Head of the US Marine Corps. Gen Conway has bluntly stated that giving such deadlines for a pull out would amount to ‘giving the enemy sustenance.’ He had said  that he had heard enemy communications to the effect:  ‘Hey, you know we only have to  hold out for so long’.
He had added, ‘I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that a turnover will be possible for us.’
Commentators have pointed out that Gen. Conway who is due to retire soon would not suffer the same fate as the former US Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Mc Crystal who was sacked for his comments on the conduct of the Afghan war  as reported by a journalist.
President Barack Obama’s announcement of deadlines for the pull out of troops may be more to do with politics rather than military strategy and Gen. Conway’s blunt statement may be  expressing the way the military is thinking about it.


Last week President Obama stuck to his pledge of pulling out US combat troops in Iraq even before  the deadline of August 31 despite the continuing  violence. This was criticised by former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz  who is being held prisoner by the Iraqi government.
50,000 American troops will remain on Iraqi soil for the purpose of training Iraqi troops but  it is quite likely that they will be summoned to assist the Iraqi army and police if the situation demands their assistance.  The Americans claim there is a marked reduction in sectarian violence after the ‘surge’ of American troops according to Gen. David Petraeu’s strategy.  The Sunni Muslims who were favoured by President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni himself,  lost their positions of power and influence  following the American invasion. The Sunni, a minority clashed with the Shiite majority as well as the US troops and sought the backing of the Jihadists who were representing the al Qaeda. The violence escalated but Gen. Petraeus’s  strategy of helping the Sunnis and giving money to their tribal chiefs worked resulting in the Sunni guns being silenced to a great extent.  The problem in Iraq  as the US troops pull out is that there is no effective Iraqi government and the army and police have yet to prove themselves as being effective. In these circumstances pulling out all US troops by the end of 2011 as per agreement with Iraq is being questioned because it would leave the entire region wide open to Iran which has the support of the Shiias in Iraq. It does seem likely that unless some dramatic agreement is reached with Iran all US troops will not be pulled out. However pressure will mount on President Obama for withdrawal of troops if conflicts increase and body bags keep returning home.