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The "good war" for empire

October 12, 2007 | Page 2

DESPITE A media-enabled White House propaganda surge about alleged U.S. military "successes" in Iraq, support for the war remains no better than 30 percent or so, according to various opinion polls.

George W. Bush is as unpopular as ever, at 33 percent approval in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. The same poll found Congress' approval rating had plunged below Bush--to 29 percent. Other polls put opposition to the war even higher--and approval ratings for Bush and Congress lower.

Nevertheless, the bipartisan consensus that the U.S. must continue to fight the "war on terror" remains entrenched in U.S. politics.

For Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Iraq was the "wrong war"--the U.S. should have been sending more troops to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

"When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy [that involves] getting out of Iraq and onto the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama said in an August 1 speech that was so hawkish, he later had to backpedal from his threats of bombing Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton routinely blasts Bush for failing to properly prosecute the war in Afghanistan. Her solution? "We should begin by responding to our NATO commander's call for more troops in Afghanistan," she says.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a similar line in March--back when congressional Democrats were still challenging Bush over Iraq. "Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq, so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan," she said.

The reality is that the U.S. war on Afghanistan, launched six years ago this month, had nothing to do with protecting Americans, stopping terrorism or spreading "freedom."

Thousands of Afghans without the remotest connection to Osama bin Laden or the September 11 attacks have been killed, and the U.S. government has torn up civil liberties at home and consigned untold numbers to prison and torture in Guantánamo and secret locations around the world--all as part of a war that is an imperialist venture aimed at expanding U.S. military power.

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THE U.S. had begun to stretch its tentacles into the region long before September 11.

Stephen Blank, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, wrote in 2000 that Washington's aim in Central Asia was "intended to further the goal of breaking Russia's monopoly, demonstrate U.S. power projection capability, help tie the region to the West...enhance local military capabilities for self-defense, prevent a military reliance upon Moscow and cement a local presence to defend U.S. energy interests."

Blank concluded that the U.S. "strategy for the Caucasus and Central Asia as a whole is in fact, although we perhaps will not admit it, a quite provocative one."

In 1997, U.S. Marine Gen. John Sheehan led a military exercise in Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia and once a republic of the former USSR. As U.S. News and World Report noted: "After shaking hands with the defense ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Sheehan told some American journalists: 'The message is that there is no nation on the face of the Earth that we cannot get to.'

"Why did the U.S. military conduct the longest airborne operation in history to get to Kazakhstan? Oil. By 2010, Central Asia is expected to surpass the North Sea and become the world's third-largest producer of oil and natural gas, after the Middle East and Russia."

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration cozied up to--the Taliban. "This amoral or immoral policy is based on the assumption that the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan and permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a conservative supporter of the CIA's support for Islamist fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Ironically, it was these U.S.-trained and funded militants (including Osama bin Laden) who formed the Taliban, backed by the main U.S. ally in the region, Pakistan.

George W. Bush continued Clinton's policy of dealing with the Taliban--but threatened the regime with war if it resisted U.S. pressure. "Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs," a U.S. diplomat reportedly said of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

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THE SEPTEMBER 11 attacks provided the pretext--and popular support--for the "carpet of bombs." Behind the scenes, though, the U.S. simply bribed various warlords to dump the Taliban and accept Washington's puppet ruler, Hamid Karzai.

Six years later, Afghanistan remains dominated by warlords, with the status of women--a key justification for the war--unchanged outside some sections of the capital city of Kabul.

The Taliban is resurgent and controls much of the country beyond the area around the bases for 50,000 NATO troops, half of which are U.S. soldiers. Eighty-seven U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 90 in all of 2006. About 5,100 Afghani people have been killed so far this year, up from 4,000 last year, making 2007 the bloodiest year since the invasion.

In fact, the insurgency in Afghanistan has gained traction precisely because U.S. and NATO forces have failed to carry out what they promised. The economy is fueled by opium exports--a trade that was banned by the Taliban under U.S. pressure, but allowed to flourish after the invasion.

"One of the reasons the Taliban lost the support of Pashtun farmers in 2001--though this was hardly highlighted by the victors--is that they enforced a ban on poppy growing which was highly effective," writes journalist Patrick Cockburn. "If the U.S. adopts a policy of killing the poppy plants by spraying them with chemicals from the air, then they will also be engulfed by the same wave of unpopularity. The opium trade is fueling lawlessness, warlordism and an unstable state."

One need not have sympathy for the Taliban's reactionary politics to see that the U.S. imperialist adventure in Afghanistan has become an echo of the war that the USSR carried out from 1979, until withdrawing a decade later.

It's no small irony that the main base of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is Bagram Air Force Base, a former USSR military installation taken over by the U.S. in 2001. "Envisioned as a temporary home for invading U.S. forces, the former Soviet outpost in the shadow of the towering Hindu Kush mountains is growing by nearly a third," the Associated Press reported recently. "'We've grown in our commitment,' said Bagram's Col. Jonathan Ives. Another brigade is arriving and new barracks are being built, he said, 'So this is going to become a long-term base for us.'"

The "war on terror" is also intended to be long term, no matter which party is in office. It's the justification for the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy.

Why do congressional Democrats vote to keep funding the war on Iraq, and the party's would-be presidents promise to continue the occupation? Because a premature pullout would weaken the U.S. in the "war on terror."

Why do the Democrats back an extraordinarily weak president as he threatens an attack on Iran? Because Iran supports "terrorism" in Iraq and beyond.

Why is the U.S. training repressive militaries in Thailand and the Philippines? Because the "war on terror" has spread to the Pacific as well.

This list could go on. The point is that "fighting the war on terror" has become a euphemism for U.S. imperial aims in the 21st century--as much as "fighting communism" was the selling point for the Cold War against the USSR.

By holding up Afghanistan as a key battle in the "war on terror," the U.S. foreign policy establishment is attempting to prepare us politically for a world of never-ending war--conflicts big enough to entrench the U.S. in every part of the world, but small enough (they hope) to be politically tolerated at home.

That's why the antiwar movement must demand withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan--and reject the fraud of the "war on terror" in its entirety.

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