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‘Rethink Afghanistan,’ a tool for anti-war activists

Published Oct 12, 2009 10:41 PM

“Rethink Afghanistan,” a documentary directed by Robert Greenwald, is available as a DVD or online in six parts at rethinkafghanistan.com. It opened Oct. 1 in a limited number of U.S. theaters.

Afghan toddlers made internal refugees by U.S. bombing raids standing barefoot in cold mud, eventually to die from malnutrition and exposure; Afghan women in political protest calling their fate worse now in war than under Taliban rule; Afghan women keening over their lost children, brothers and spouses; relatives, neighbors, homes and domestic animals blown apart. These pictures bring the reality of war for the Afghan people home to U.S. audiences.

This compelling documentary’s strongest feature is that it allows the Afghans to speak for themselves to an audience in the United States. Afghanistan is a poor, mostly rural country. Today its intelligent and capable spokespeople engaged in political struggle reflect Afghanistan’s thousand-year tradition of refusing to bow to foreign rulers.

The movie also uses testimony from the heads of think tanks, former U.S. officials, including ex-CIA operatives, spokespeople for nongovernmental organizations, and a few honest reporters to expose the complete disconnect among the U.S. government’s pretexts for occupying Afghanistan—stopping “terrorism,” helping women’s rights, helping Afghanistan develop—and the results of that occupation.

It makes these arguments just as the Obama administration’s debate over Afghanistan policies is reaching a crossroads.

The Brave New Foundation and director Robert Greenwald (“Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price,” “Outfoxed” and “Iraq for Sale”) have made this documentary easily available to anyone opposing the occupation or escalation of the war in Afghanistan. While “Rethink Afghanistan” is unlikely to break into the country’s movie complexes, its producers open every Internet door to encourage use of the movie at low or no cost. Through YouTube, blogs, organized screenings of the DVDs, followed by discussions, activists are free to take advantage of the movie.

Brave New Foundation urges spreading the facts and analysis shown in “Rethink Afghanistan” to a broad sector of the population, who they encourage to petition the Obama administration and Congress with enough force to halt further escalation of—and perhaps to end—the assault on Afghanistan.

The director makes listening to a succession of “talking heads” more palatable by mixing them with images of Afghanistan and by cutting back and forth to the different analysts and experts, so the movie has more the appearance of a snappy question and answer session or even a debate than a lecture.

With a few exceptions like Pakistani Marxist Tarik Ali, those interviewed started—or appeared to start—from the premise that the U.S. went into Afghanistan with honest intentions—to eliminate al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from government with the objective of “stopping terrorism,” even of “extending democracy” or “improving women’s rights.”

Most then show how the U.S. occupation has operated against achieving any of these goals, that the Taliban has nothing to do with al-Qaeda, and that the invasion, occupation and expansion of the war is a tragic and fabulously costly mistake that is leading to disaster for the Afghans, for the Obama administration and for the people of the United States.

Since only a small portion of the U.S. population is consciously anti-imperialist, this approach probably makes the documentary more accessible to most viewers. On the other hand, anti-imperialists cannot count on the movie to expose the following central truth: U.S. intervention in Afghanistan is based on expanding U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical interests. Anti-imperialist activists must themselves expose the role of U.S.-based giant capitalist banks and multinational corporations on a world scale, along with the narrower interests of the military-industrial complex that thrives on war.

Those with high-speed Internet access at home or at the library can see this documentary for free in six parts. Individuals or organizations can buy the DVD at a moderate price, and may use it to organize meetings and discussions. Greenwald and the Brave New Foundation should be congratulated for making the film accessible.

Those who understand the class basis of the war and the war drive of imperialism will have to add their own analysis. They can expose the reality that this disaster is not simply a tragic “mistake” but the consequence of the capitalist drive for profits worldwide.