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Afghanistan and the U.S. empire

Class context for the current debate

Published Oct 18, 2009 10:46 PM

This report is based on a portion of a speech by Fred Goldstein to a Workers World Party public forum in New York on Oct. 9.

Let’s put the fierce debate taking place over the war in Afghanistan in the proper historical and class context—from a Marxist point of view, a Leninist, anti-imperialist point of view.

If you listen to the public debate, it seems that the present crisis had its origins in 9/11. Now, there is no doubt that the ruling class in the U.S. was traumatized by the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, 2001—as were much of the U.S. population. And it is certainly true that the rulers would like to eliminate the forces responsible.

But this struggle is taking place in a larger context—particularly in the context of the U.S. trying to re-colonize the world in the wake of the collapse of the USSR. For 74 years—from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 until the collapse of the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1991—the U.S. empire and other imperialist empires were being driven back by socialist revolutions and national liberation struggles in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

The war to make Afghanistan a U.S. satellite in Central Asia, just like the war against Iraq and the threats to Iran, is part of an historic effort to re-conquer that part of the world.

Washington and the Pentagon would undoubtedly not have chosen Afghanistan as a primary battlefield in this struggle. But it was thrust upon them by the Sept. 11 attacks. Soon the George W. Bush administration, thinking it had annihilated the Taliban and all other resistance by the massive bombing of Afghanistan, quickly shifted its focus to the more lucrative, oil-rich territory of Iraq. It put Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on notice that they were also on the regime-change list.

The Pentagon started a war they thought would be over quickly. But the resistance proved far more resilient than they had ever dreamed of. The opponents of the Bush administration, including Barack Obama himself, say that Bush should have kept his eye on the ball and gone in to get Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Then the U.S. would not be having all these problems, they said.

Getting bin Laden wouldn’t eliminate resistance

It is important to take exception to this reasoning. It hides the nature of the struggle in Afghanistan. The Pentagon might very well have gotten Osama bin Laden, but that would in no way have eliminated the resistance of the Taliban and other fighters who want to get the occupiers out. This resistance is driven by U.S. occupation and would have developed regardless of whether bin Laden was captured or not.

The simple truth is that the Pentagon does not want to lose any wars. They will not stop until they are defeated. They never have. They left Vietnam in defeat. They left North Korea in defeat. They left Somalia in defeat.

They persisted in Iraq and virtually destroyed the country in order to avoid defeat. And let’s note that the question of the destiny of Iraq is yet to be decided. More than 130,000 U.S. troops are still there and the Pentagon is not rushing them home.

But in addition to not wanting to lose a war, the Pentagon cannot afford to lose this war. It is part and parcel of the effort to reassert U.S. domination of an area from Pakistan to Syria. They want to threaten Pakistan and Iran; they want oil pipelines to flow from Central Asia to the Arabian Gulf; they want to have a strategic position vis-à-vis China and Russia as well as Central Asia. They want to “pacify” the country and set up permanent bases the way they are attempting to do in Iraq.

They have 70,000 troops there and dragged their NATO imperialist subordinates into the theater of war kicking and screaming—and it wasn’t just to stop al-Qaeda. Of course, that is one immediate objective. But it is part of a much larger imperialist objective. That is what all the heat is about between the Obama administration and the McChrystal-Petraeus faction of the military, which represents a significant part of the high command. The issue between the factions is how best to accomplish the goal of domination of this region.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as well as much of the acting high command, are trying to depict this as a critical moment, a turning point in the war. McChrystal has forced the discussion by an act of rank insubordination and defiance. His faction made an open challenge to the Obama administration by leaking to the Washington Post McChrystal’s so-called evaluation of the battlefield situation, demanding that Obama order 40,000 more troops to the field or “risk failure.”

Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, and Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supposedly endorse this evaluation.

By saying that the U.S. forces face failure if they do not get 40,000 more troops, this faction is setting Obama up for accusations of treachery and betrayal. And they know it. What McChrystal did is grounds for immediate dismissal.

McCain attack on Obama

John McCain, a craven mouthpiece of the right wing of the military, made a coordinated attack on Obama. He also showed the arrogance of the military. His outburst on Oct. 6 at a meeting of congressional and senatorial leaders with Obama was glossed over by the capitalist press.

There is supposed to be a protocol of politeness and respect when the president invites members of Congress to consult on matters. The so-called respect for the office dominates these sessions and the Congress members invariably couch their queries and remarks to the president in a manner that befits cautious, if not obsequious, subordinates.

But at this meeting McCain blurted out a lecture and a threat to Obama that echoes McChrystal’s leak. He told Obama that time was important and he had better make a decision soon, “not in a leisurely fashion,” according to McCain aide Brooke Buchanan. Translation: you had better hurry up and give the Petraeus-McChrystal faction the 40,000 troops before we lose the war.

Now, this was not as outrageous as the “You lie!” comment shouted out by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina during Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress. But it was of the same variety and it represents the aggressiveness of sections of the military—which is racist and chauvinist, notwithstanding the large number of African-American and Latino/a troops.

Right now forces around Obama, presumably represented by Vice President Joseph Biden and Obama’s national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, are pushing back against the Petraeus-McChrystal group. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, is said to lean toward McChrystal.

Obama called McChrystal from the field to meet with him in Copenhagen in an effort to show both presidential authority and some sort of unity after McChrystal made an alarmist speech in London. Furthermore, Obama told McChrystal to stay home, don’t come to Washington to participate in the Afghanistan talks in person, and instead speak over video conferencing.

The Petraeus-McChrystal faction is expressing the adventurous nature of the Pentagon and U.S. imperialism. The Biden-Jones faction, the so-called moderate group, is fearful of an adventure. It may all end up in some sort of compromise. But neither faction has a solution to the problem of U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan.

They both rely on the hopelessly corrupt puppet regime of Hamid Karzai, who worked with the CIA during the U.S.-sponsored war that lasted from 1979 to 1992 and employed so-called “mujahedeen” to overthrow a progressive secular government in Afghanistan. Today the Karzai regime is not sovereign even in the capital of Kabul and has as its only domestic social base a host of ruthless warlords.

In any case, this is a debate between two imperialist factions. The Obama administration is reportedly trying to steer away from a big escalation. But it has made clear that it will not take any of its 68,000 troops out of Afghanistan. This means that, counting Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington will continue to have a minimum of 200,000 troops in the region.

More suffering in Asia and U.S.

This debate is about the degree of escalation and not about the war itself. Whatever its outcome, the war will continue to bring more suffering and hardship to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it will affect the working class in the U.S., who may not be able to pay enough attention right now because the economic crisis, health care and other domestic concerns are paramount in their minds. But just because the war is not on their minds does not mean it will not affect them profoundly.

The war is aggravating the economic crisis of the masses. Hundreds of billions of dollars, which should be used to alleviate the results of the crisis, will be poured into the coffers of the military-industrial complex instead of into jobs programs, income support, health care, housing, education and so on. Neighborhoods will further deteriorate because the money needed to renovate them is spent on the battlefields of Afghanistan in order to further the imperialist interests of the very bankers and bosses who are getting rich in spite of the economic crisis.

The war is bound to arouse resistance in the U.S. among militants who are disgusted by the crimes of U.S. capitalism and imperialism. It is already starting. Youth have been arrested protesting on the eighth anniversary of the war. More will awaken.

Revolutionaries must be in the thick of the struggle against the war and try to bring the anti-war struggle and the working class struggle together to fight capitalism. This is the natural course for Marxists to pursue in the present situation.

Fred Goldstein is author of “Low-Wage Capitalism,” a book that analyzes the effect of globalization on the working class.