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