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Behind troop ‘surge’

Pentagon sets course for wider war in Asia

Published Dec 9, 2009 4:16 PM

Washington has already begun to send more troops to occupy Afghanistan following President Barack Obama’s Dec. 1 speech at West Point. In Afghanistan as in Iraq, the U.S. occupation will bring death to more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops. It threatens to open a civil war in Pakistan, while the occupation of Iraq continues.

Like the war on Iraq, this war too has the support of U.S. bankers, corporate executives and generals. It grows out of the drive to secure energy sources and other raw materials and markets, to surround Russia and China with military bases and to avoid exposing the weaknesses of the Pentagon. The U.S. rulers depend on U.S. military power to overcome economic weaknesses that are sharpened during the capitalist downturn.

Ruling-class opinion was reflected in the editorial and op-ed opinions published in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the most influential of the U.S. corporate media. According to a report by Fairness and Accuracy in Media, the Times’ op-eds were 5-to-1 pro-war and the Post’s were 10-to-1 pro war. (fair.org, December)

The Republican Party establishment too has congratulated Obama for opting for a “surge.” The more rabidly chauvinistic media like Fox and the more militarist politicians like Dick Cheney have been aggressively pushing for a wider war. They have chided Obama for every sign of hesitation.

Obama himself drew attention to the problem of paying for the war when he invited his budget chief, Peter Orszag, to attend the war cabinet meeting before the Dec. 1 speech. During this severe capitalist economic crisis the increased costs of the war will come directly from funds that could be used to provide jobs and services for unemployed workers at home. This is one more reason for organizers to unite those opposing the war with those fighting for jobs, workers’ rights and economic justice.

The war’s costs—with another $50 billion for the “surge” next year—will narrow support for the administration by limiting the funds it has available to provide jobs and social services for the workers and oppressed peoples who were Obama’s strongest supporters.

Now the Democrats’ war

The new administration has taken over responsibility for the Afghan war, which the George W. Bush administration launched in October 2001 in the wake of 9/11 before turning the Pentagon’s attention to oil-rich Iraq. The Bush gang’s unilateral policy failed in Iraq and Afghanistan and weakened U.S. imperialism in the rest of the world.

Now the ruling class is looking to a government that combines Democrats with “moderate” Republicans like Defense Secretary Robert Gates to guide the next phase of Washington’s attempt to reconquer the former colonial world. The media have begun to call the Afghanistan occupation “Obama’s war.”

This war’s execution, however, is closely following the plans laid out last summer by General Stanley McChrystal. The Pentagon is in charge.

The president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gates are left with the task of selling this criminal war to the U.S. population and to the world. This task requires publicly spreading lies about the character of the Afghan resistance, twisting the arms of NATO allies to get them to drag more of their own troops into the war zone, and twisting heads in Pakistan to get the regime there to use its army against the population of the regions bordering Afghanistan.

The two secretaries’ first public appearances after Dec. 1 already deflated the one statement in Obama’s speech that differed with the Pentagon’s proposals: that the troop commitment was not open-ended and that U.S. troops would withdraw from Afghanistan starting in July 2011.

Gates quickly put that myth to rest. “We will have 100,000 forces, troops there,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press, “and they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some handful or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, we’ll begin to withdraw at that time.”

In other words, it will be no easier for the White House to order a withdrawal in 2011 than it was to refuse the escalation in 2009, no matter how many Afghans are slaughtered, how many U.S. troops are killed or wounded, how corrupt the Afghan puppet regime remains or how much the war bankrupts the U.S. Treasury.

We shouldn’t forget that U.S. troops still occupy bases in Iraq and Kosovo after a decade and Korea after 56 years, after wars led by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Twisting arms in Brussels and Islamabad

Clinton was in Brussels Dec. 4 explaining Obama’s plans while asking for 10,000 additional troops from other NATO countries. It is this aspect of U.S. war policy where the new Democratic and the last Republican administration differ most: the new administration tries to include Washington’s imperialist allies in the military adventures in return for a share of the plunder.

Clinton said she was heartened by NATO’s promises of 7,000 troops. NATO held back from publishing a list of which countries promised what number of troops. A full list might have exposed weaknesses.

Washington’s junior imperialist partner in London has promised more troops; Italy promised an additional 1,000; and France and Germany say they’ll wait until a Jan. 28 meeting in London on Afghanistan before committing more. Canada and the Netherlands have been planning to withdraw the substantial contingents they have in Afghanistan.

Georgia—the former Soviet Republic that is currently a weak U.S. client state with an unpopular regime in power—has promised 900 of those 7,000 additional troops. How many of the 7,000 troops are coming from those former socialist countries, whose regimes are dependent on Washington and afraid of their own populations?

In almost every European NATO country as well as in the U.S., the already strong opposition to the Afghan adventure will expand as casualties increase in Central Asia. The Afghan occupation is now much more a U.S. occupation than it was under Bush, rather than a coalition effort.

Civil war in Pakistan?

The situation is even more dramatic regarding Pakistan. The Dec. 8 New York Times reports, “The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on [U.S.] forces in Afghanistan.”

That’s easy for Washington to order, harder for Islamabad to obey. Washington is confronting the fragile Pakistani civilian government with a dilemma. Either it opens up a civil war against a section of its population or the U.S. will carry out drone bombing attacks, killing many civilians in what are called the Tribal Areas and in Baluchistan.

The major Pakistani offensive just carried out in the border provinces has already led to daily bombings in major Pakistani cities, some directed at police and military installations, by the anti-U.S. and anti-government forces. Others hit the general population, and it is hard to determine who is responsible.

The U.S. demands on Pakistan are complicated by the Pakistani Army’s earlier support for the Taliban, helping bring them to power in Afghanistan in 1996 with the goal of establishing a stable regime. Some in Pakistan’s army and secret police would prefer a Taliban regime in Afghanistan to many other scenarios. Thus U.S. escalation in Afghanistan—and the pressure on Pakistan—could lead to civil war in a nuclear-armed country of 170 million people.

Taliban make an offer

U.S. propaganda on Afghanistan—including Obama’s Dec. 1 speech—lumps together the Taliban, al-Qaida, the Pakistani insurgent forces and all Afghan resisters. The truth is more complicated.

The Afghan resistance is made up of the Taliban, of local fighting groups with tribal loyalties and of secular Afghans whose politics date from the revolutionary government of 1978-1991. Apparently al-Qaida also participates, though its numbers are under 100 according to Washington’s own estimates.

Al-Qaida has no Afghan members and consists mainly of Saudis and Egyptians. It has taken responsibility for the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. It and its leader Osama bin Laden—who was demonized as the main enemy of the U.S. after 9/11 but is hardly heard of now—were originally supported by the U.S. In those days al-Qaida supplied volunteer fighters against the Soviet troops that had been aiding the progressive Afghan government in the 1980s. Al-Qaida turned against the U.S. after U.S. troops occupied bases in Saudi Arabia.

The Taliban, which developed from a youthful group of religious fundamentalists, ran the Afghan government beginning in 1996 with a reactionary program that was very oppressive of women—similar to most of the groups backing today’s puppet Afghan regime. The Taliban were ousted by the U.S. invasion in October 2001. Although at that time extremely unsophisticated, over eight years of occupation the Taliban have developed into the leading group in the Afghan resistance, which controls 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The Taliban’s first reaction to Obama’s speech was to say, “The increased number of U.S. soldiers will not have any impact (on war), but it will instead provide the mujahideen with a greater chance to increase their attacks on them and on the other hand it will shake the already fragile U.S. economy.” (South Asia News, Dec. 2)

The Taliban also promised not to “meddle in the West” if the U.S. and NATO got out of Afghanistan. (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5)

By all appearances, it is not the Taliban whose policies bring chaos and slaughter to South and Central Asia, but U.S. imperialism.