Why U.S. occupation cannot transform Afghanistan or Iraq
Published Nov 15, 2009 5:39 PM
Just how powerful is the U.S. military today?
Why is the largest military machine on the planet unable to defeat the
resistance in Afghanistan, in a war that has lasted longer than World War II or
Afghanistan ranks among the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the
world today. It has one of the shortest life expectancy rates, highest infant
mortality rates and lowest rates of literacy.
The total U.S. military budget has more than doubled from the beginning of this
war in 2001 to the $680 billion budget signed by President Barack Obama Oct.
28. The U.S. military budget today is larger than the military budgets of the
rest of the world combined. The U.S. arsenal has the most advanced high-tech
The funds and troop commitment to Afghanistan have grown with every year of
occupation. Last January another 20,000 troops were sent; now there is intense
pressure on President Obama to add an additional 40,000 troops. But that is
only the tip of the iceberg. More than three times as many forces are currently
in Afghanistan when NATO forces and military contractors are counted.
Eight years ago, after an initial massive air bombardment and a quick, brutal
invasion, every voice in the media was effusive with assurances that
Afghanistan would be quickly transformed and modernized, and the women of
Afghanistan liberated. There were assurances of schools, roads, potable water,
health care, thriving industry and Western-style “democracy.” A new
Marshall Plan was in store.
Was it only due to racist and callous disregard that none of this happened?
In Iraq, how could conditions be worse than during the 13 years of starvation
sanctions the U.S. imposed after the 1991 war? Today more than a third of the
population has died, is disabled, internally displaced and/or refugees. Fear,
violence against women and sectarian divisions have shredded the fabric of
Previously a broad current in Pakistan looked to the West for development funds
and modernization. Now they are embittered and outraged at U.S. arrogance after
whole provinces were forcibly evacuated and bombarded in the hunt for Al
U.S. occupation forces are actually incapable of carrying out a modernization
program. They are capable only of massive destruction, daily insults and
atrocities. That is why the U.S. is unable to win “hearts and
minds” in Afghanistan or Iraq. That is what fuels the resistance.
Today every effort meant to demonstrate the power and strength of U.S.
imperialism instead confirms its growing weakness and its systemic inability to
be a force for human progress on any level.
Collaborators and warlords
Part of U.S. imperialism’s problem is that its occupation forces are
required to rely on the most corrupt, venal and discredited warlords. The only
interest these competing military thugs have is in pocketing funds for
reconstruction and development. Entire government ministries, their payrolls
and their projects have been found to be total fiction. Billions allocated for
schools, water and road construction have gone directly into the
warlords’ pockets. Hundreds of news articles, congressional inquiries and
U.N. reports have exposed just how all-pervasive corruption is.
In Iraq the U.S. occupation depends on the same type of corrupt collaborators.
For example, a BBC investigation reported that $23 billion had been lost,
stolen or “not properly accounted for” in Iraq. A U.S. gag order
prevented discussion of the allegations. (June 10, 2008)
Part of the BBC search for the missing billions focused on Hazem Shalaan, who
lived in London until he was appointed minister of defense in 2004. He and his
associates siphoned an estimated $1.2 billion out of the Iraqi defense
But the deeper and more intractable problem is not the local corrupt
collaborators. It is the very structure of the Pentagon and the U.S.
government. It is a problem that Stanley McChrystal, the commanding general in
Afghanistan, or President Obama cannot change or solve.
It is the problem of an imperialist military built solely to serve the profit
Contractor industrial complex
All U.S. aid, both military and what is labeled “civilian,” is
funneled through thousands and thousands of contractors, subcontractors and
sub-subcontractors. None of these U.S. corporate middlemen are even slightly
interested in the development of Afghanistan or Iraq. Their only immediate aim
is to turn a hefty superprofit as quickly as possible, with as much skim and
double billing as possible. For a fee they will provide everything from hired
guns, such as Blackwater mercenaries, to food service workers, mechanics,
maintenance workers and long-distance truck drivers.
These hired hands also do jobs not connected to servicing the occupation. All
reconstruction and infrastructure projects of water purification, sewage
treatment, electrical generation, health clinics and road clearance are
parceled out piecemeal. Whether these projects ever open or function properly
is of little interest or concern. Billing is all that counts.
In past wars, most of these jobs were carried out by the U.S. military. The
ratio of contractors to active-duty troops is now more than 1-to-1 in both Iraq
and Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War it was 1-to-6.
In 2007 the Associated Press put the number in Iraq alone at 180,000:
“The United States has assembled an imposing industrial army in Iraq
that’s larger than its uniformed fighting force and is responsible for
such a broad swath of responsibilities that the military might not be able to
operate without its private-sector partners.” (Sept. 20, 2007)
The total was 190,000 by August 2008. (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 18,
Some corporations have become synonymous with war profiteering, such as
Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater in Iraq, and Louis Berger Group,
BearingPoint and DynCorp International in Afghanistan.
Every part of the U.S. occupation has been contracted out at the highest rate
of profit, with no coordination, no oversight, almost no public bids. Few of
the desperately needed supplies reach the dislocated population traumatized by
There are now so many pigs at the trough that U.S. forces are no longer able to
carry out the broader policy objectives of the U.S. ruling class. The U.S
military has even lost count, by tens of thousands, of the numbers of
contractors, where they are or what they are doing—except being
Losing count of the mercenaries
The danger of an empire becoming dependent on mercenary forces to fight
unpopular wars has been understood since the days of the Roman Empire 2,000
A bipartisan Congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting was created last
year to examine government contracting for reconstruction, logistics and
security operations and to recommend reforms. However, Michael Thibault,
co-chair of the commission, explained at a Nov. 2 hearing that “there is
no single source for a clear, complete and accurate picture of contractor
numbers, locations, contracts and cost.” (AFP, Nov. 2)
“[Thibault said] the Pentagon in April counted about 160,000 contractors
mainly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, but Central Command recorded more than
242,000 contractors a month earlier.” The stunning difference of 82,000
contractors was based on very different counts in Afghanistan. The difference
alone is far greater than the 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Thibault continued: “How can contractors be properly managed if we
aren’t sure how many there are, where they are and what are they
doing?” The lack of an accurate count “invites waste, fraud and
abuse of taxpayer money and undermines the achievement of U.S. mission
objectives.” The Nov. 2 Federal Times reported that Tibault also asked:
“How can we assure taxpayers that they aren’t paying for
This has become an unsolvable contradiction in imperialist wars for profit,
markets and imperialist domination. Bourgeois academics, think tanks and policy
analysts are becoming increasingly concerned.
Thomas Friedman, syndicated columnist and multimillionaire who is deeply
committed to the long-term interests of U.S. imperialism, describes the dangers
of a “contractor-industrial-complex in Washington that has an economic
interest in foreign expeditions.” (New York Times, Nov. 3)
Friedman hastens to explain that he is not against outsourcing. His concern is
the pattern of outsourcing key tasks, with money and instructions changing
hands multiple times in a foreign country. That only invites abuse and
corruption. Friedman quoted Allison Stanger, author of “One Nation Under
Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign
Policy,” who told him: “Contractors provide security for key
personnel and sites, including our embassies; feed, clothe and house our
troops; train army and police units; and even oversee other contractors.
Without a multinational contractor force to fill the gap, we would need a draft
to execute these twin interventions.”
That is the real reason for the contracted military forces. The Pentagon does
not have enough soldiers, and they don’t have enough collaborators or
“allies” to fight their wars.
According to the Congressional Research Service, contractors in 2009 account
for 48 percent of the Department of Defense workforce in Iraq and 57 percent in
Afghanistan. Thousands of other contractors work for corporate-funded
“charities” and numerous government agencies. The U.S. State
Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development make even more
extensive use of them; 80 percent of the State Department budget is for
contractors and grants.
Contractors are supposedly not combat troops, although almost 1,800 U.S.
contractors have been killed since 9/11. (U.S. News & World Report, Oct.
30) Of course there are no records on the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis
killed working for U.S. corporate contractors, or the many thousands of peoples
from other oppressed nations who are shipped in to handle the most dangerous
Contracting is a way of hiding not only the casualties, but also the actual
size of the U.S. occupation force. Fearful of domestic opposition, the
government intentionally lists the figures for the total number of forces in
Afghanistan and Iraq as far less than the real numbers.
A system run on cost overruns
Cost overruns and war profiteering are hardly limited to Iraq, Afghanistan or
active theaters of war. They are the very fabric of the U.S. war machine and
the underpinning of the U.S. economy.
When President Obama signed the largest military budget in history Oct. 28 he
stated: “The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, has looked into
96 major defense projects from the last year, and found cost overruns that
totaled $296 billion.” This was on a total 2009 military budget of $651
billion. So almost half of the billions of dollars handed over to military
corporations are cost overruns!
This is at a time when millions of workers face long-term systemic unemployment
and massive foreclosures.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have now cost more than $1 trillion. The
feeble health care reform bill that squeaked through the House, and might not
survive Senate revisions next year, is scheduled to cost $1.1 trillion over a
The bloated, increasingly dysfunctional, for-profit U.S. military machine is
unable to solve the problems or rebuild the infrastructure in Afghanistan or
Iraq, and it is unable to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in the U.S. It
is unable to meet the needs of people anywhere.
It is absorbing the greatest share of the planet’s resources and a
majority of the U.S. national budget. This unsustainable combination will
sooner or later give rise to new resistance here and around the world.
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