This spring and summer should (or could) bring a rising tide of protests against Obama’s escalation of the US war in Afghanistan. Sending more US troops won’t make anyone safer, won’t help the Afghan people, and will needlessly risk the lives of US troops and Afghan civilians. The handful of Al-Qaeda militants, who were the original justification for the war, haven’t been in Afghanistan for years. The escalation is a continued waste of money, just welfare for defense contractors and corrupt Afghan officials and gangsters. Bombing villages to prop up a corrupt US-supported regime (which rigged the last election) is just pouring gasoline on a fire — its fueling more fighting and a society-wide resort to violence. Looked at from an Afghan perspective, what would you do if a foreign power invaded your country, tried to impose a particular segment of local thugs on your village, and flew drones over your fields night and day? The Afghan war is the greatest recruiting tool for suicide bombers and religious fanatics who offer an alternative to US hegemony, no matter how repressive and terrifying it may be.
Why is Obama continuing, and now expanding, the failed Bush war policy? There are many reasons, but a key is that Obama’s US government serves the same basic interests as Bush’s — maintaining US dominance. His understanding of “terrorism” and use of this concept to centralize power are essentially the same as under Bush.
The US invaded Afghanistan — one of the poorest and most remote countries in the world — in 2001 after the September 11 attacks as part of Bush’s “war on terrorism”. The war on terrorism was a rhetorical and political trick. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology or cohesive movement, so the “war” was by definition endless and against anyone who might oppose US interests. Its real intent had more to do with justifying increases in US power at home and abroad than with “protecting” anyone.
Because the war on Afghanistan was a component of the war on terrorism power grab, the main point of the war had nothing much to do with Afghanistan, and very much to do with placing the US into a war mentality, and keeping it there. There was never much interest in how one might “win” the war. Certainly no serious person thought that Afghanistan would eventually become a modern liberal democracy with Starbucks and Wholefoods markets in stripmalls outside Kabul.
Given the US role in funding guerrilla war against the Soviets in the 1980s by arming Afghan insurgents (including Osama bin Laden back in the day) it was pretty predictable that an Afghan insurgency would develop to resist a US puppet state. Afghans fought three Anglo-Afghan wars against the British (1839-42, 1878-80, 1919) which demonstrated their hostility to outside rule.
There are a number of parallels between past Afghan insurgencies and the current resistance to the US attempt to impose
liberal reforms (that have some popularity in urban areas) on very conservative rural areas. One of the key policies of the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1970s and 80s was an attempt to improve conditions for women and secularize the country. Rural conservatives took up arms to defend their conservative religious beliefs and maintain traditional repressive gender relations.
So what is Obama’s plan? Despite his claim that he intends to start a troop pullback in 18 months after a “surge” stabilizes the situation, he didn’t commit to withdraw all US troops at any point in the future. There’s no reason to think US action can stabilize the situation, especially since the presence of foreign troops itself stirs up resistance. Fighting there has tribal roots as well as cultural ones. Without significant pressure from within the US to abandon the failed Afghan war, the US is likely to maintain troops there indefinitely.
Protesting the Afghan war goes hand-in-hand with exposing the war on terrorism. The media and mainstream society are obsessed with terrorism because it offends their sense of control and order. Look at the extreme panic in the wake of the underwear bomber. After the cold war ended, it appeared that the US global industrial order had achieved total political, military, economic and ideological hegemony. It wasn’t just that the US was the only military superpower left standing. US assumptions and values about what constitutes a good life were the sole controlling ideology. Under this ideology, the only human goal is earning money and buying consumer products — TVs, cars, high-speed internet service, etc.
While terrorist attacks shatter the mainstream ideas of stability and total control thereby giving the system a wonderful excuse to increase state power, it’s important to keep some perspective on the situation and realize that terrorist attacks are not the greatest threat to world safety.
Consider that the number of people actually killed by terrorists on September 11 and since then around the world — while tragic for the innocent people murdered — is actually quite tiny when you compare it to how many people have died just in the USA from non-political shootings or acts of violence. Or what about compared to the number of people killed in all the military actions supposedly designed to control the terrorist threat?
And what about the dangers to human health and happiness from the regular functioning of the industrial/economic system? No one is in a frenzy because of the tens of thousands of people killed annually by automobiles. Or the hundreds of thousands of people who die from smoking — does anyone fight a war on tobacco companies because their executives are terrorists? What about industrial pollution, which kills and sickens millions of people? No, the chemical industry isn’t “terrorist” because those deaths and injuries are just a necessary cost of doing business. The society lives in fear of terrorists getting access to chemical weapons, but wait a minute — big corporations have access to chemical weapons and they are actually using them and people are dying all the time!
The “regular” functions of the industrial machine are considered acceptable and reasonable costs of doing business even though they cause much greater harm than terrorism. These activities are controlled by those in power and trying to decrease these harms hurts their power and wealth. Terrorism, meanwhile, is not under their control, and it drives the people in power crazy, while giving them a huge and continuing excuse to have more police, bigger armies, better surveillance, and more checkpoints and searches.
The war on terror and the war in Afghanistan are not being fought for regular people either in the developed countries or in Afghanistan — they’re both being waged by elites and for elites to increase their power, but we’re the ones getting killed. Its time we cut through the hype about terrorism — the idea that peasants in rural Afghanistan are the biggest threat to someone in suburban Illinois — and take on our real enemies: the corporations, the military warlords and the media talking heads who fool us into mis-understanding what’s really going on. Let’s demand US troops out of Afghanistan and struggle for a world where people control our own destiny.