U.S.-led Afghanistan war loses credibility with liberal journalists

by Gerry Foley

It was the bad luck of the war makers that at the same time as they raised the possibility of an unending military intervention in Afghanistan, their claims of negotiating with the insurgents exploded in their faces. The alleged Taliban representative they were talking to turned out to be a swindler.

The news prompted a column by Maureen Dowd, who is usually the satirical corner of The New York Times editorial page. In the Nov. 23 issue she wrote: “And we wonder why we haven’t found Osama bin Laden. Though we’re pouring billions into intelligence in Afghanistan, we can’t even tell the difference between a no-name faker and a senior member of the Taliban. The tragedy of Afghanistan has descended into farce.”

Dowd continued: “…it turns out that Afghan and NATO leaders have been negotiating for months with an imposter pretending to be a top Taliban commander—even as Gen. David Petraeus was assuring reporters that there were promising overtures to President Hamid Karzai from the Taliban about ending the war. Those familiar with the greatest Afghan con yet say that the British had spent a year developing the fake Taliban leader as a source and, despite a heated debate and C.I.A. skepticism, General Petraeus was buying into it. The West was putting planes and assets at the poseur’s disposal, and paying him a sum in the low six figures.”

The fake Taliban leader was undoubtedly one of the most innocent of the crooks and double dealers the U.S. chiefs have been working with in Afghanistan, as Dowd pointed out: “Indeed, sometimes it feels as if the entire region is taking us for a ride. Everybody is lining up for Western cash, treating America, the British and NATO like suckers. President Karzai and his brother toy with us for their immense personal profit, even as they corrupt their own elections.”

Dowd would have been more objective, not to say, less nationally arrogant, if she had pointed out that the biggest robbers are the U.S. corporations that are collecting a bonanza from the U.S. war effort and are hand in glove with the local robbers. She might also have had more sympathy for Karzai’s dilemma, since in order to maintain even a minimal credibility, he has to try to demonstrate, however impotently, that he is defending his people from abuses at the hands of the occupation forces.

Juan Cole described Karzai’s problem in an article posted on the on-line journal Alternet Nov. 18: “During the past two months, the U.S. military has fought a major campaign in the environs of the southern Pashtun city of Kandahar, launching night raids and attempting to push insurgents out of the orchards and farms to the east of the metropolis. Many local farmers were displaced, losing their crops in the midst of the violence, and forced to become day laborers in the slums of Kandahar. Presumably these Pashtun clans who found themselves in the crossfire between the Taliban and the U.S. put pressure on Karzai to call a halt to the operation.”

Jeremy Scahill offered a more complete picture in a Nation article posted on Alternet Nov. 23: ”The [night] raids undoubtedly have produced scores of successful kill or capture operations, but serious questions abound over the NATO definitions of Taliban commanders, sub-commanders and foot soldiers. Most significantly, the raids consistently result in the killing of innocent civilians, a fact that is problematic for NATO and the Karzai government.”

A number of liberal journalists pointed to the huge material cost of the U.S. war effort, which costs around $7 billion a month. In the Nov. 24 Huffington Post, Derrick Crowe wrote: ”Given the failure of the escalation strategy to produce even marginally strategically significant success, it makes no sense whatsoever for President Obama to extend this failing war through 2014. Doing so will cost the American taxpayer, on the low end, close to half-a-trillion dollars. We need that half-trillion dollars at home to put people back to work, not wasted on a war that’s not making us safer. If Congress and the president keep spending our dollars this way, no one should believe for a second that they’re serious about getting our economy back on track.”

What the liberal commentators did not consider is that the interests of the big U.S. corporations are not the same as those of the U.S. people, or even of the U.S. economy in general. Many of them are making huge profits from the U.S. wars and they do not want to invest that money in the United States. They can make bigger profits and not have to deal with American workers by investing in a war machine staffed by low-wage, unprotected third world workers and by feeding off the U.S. public for huge overseas works, such as bases and the new giant U.S. “embassy” in Kabul, planned to cost three fourths of a billion dollars (and that is before “cost overruns”).

Some commentators have argued that these huge projects mean that the U.S. intends to maintain permanent fortresses in Iraq and Afghanistan. But is also possible that the corporations, and their military-industrial partners, do not really care if these projects have to be abandoned. They will get their money regardless. A large percentage of the so-called reconstruction projects in Iraq, costing many millions of dollars, were never finished. Ironically, some of the critics of grossly wasteful industrialization and industry in the Stalinist countries argued that waste was really the goal of the ruling bureaucracies. It may be that, in its decadence, American capitalism actually approaches that.

The tone of journalists writing for publications that helped to spread illusions in Obama and his administration has become notably cynical in their comments on the war and the “flexible” date for foreign withdrawal. Thus, Tom Engelhardt wrote in an article posted on the Nov. 24 Alternet: “Going, going, gone! You can almost hear the announcer’s voice throbbing with excitement, only we’re not talking about home runs here, but about the disappearing date on which, for the United States and its military, the Afghan War will officially end.

“Practically speaking, the answer to when it will be over is: just this side of never. If you take the word of our Afghan War commander, the secretary of defense, and top officials of the Obama administration and NATO, we’re not leaving any time soon.”

Engelhardt also made a point with far-reaching implications: “Nor, officials rushed to say, was anyone talking about 2014 as a date for all American troops to head for the exits, just ‘combat troops’— and maybe not even all of them. Possibly tens of thousands of trainers and other so-called non-combat forces would stay on to help with the ‘transition process.’ This follows the Iraq pattern where 50,000 American troops remain after the departure of U.S. ‘combat’ forces to great media fanfare.”

Engelhardt had good reason for his cynicism about the claims of U.S. officials But has he, or any of the liberal columnists becoming disillusioned with Obama, thought about the implications of permanent U.S. military occupation of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan? This is something that anyone interested in a decent and secure life for Americans has to think about.

The prospect of a new colonialism swallowing up the material and human resources of the country for the benefit of giant corporations and mercenary outfits and subjecting entire nations to systematic terror is a grim one. It is also a confirmation of how closely a declining U.S. capitalism is intertwined with a warfare state dominated by predatory groups.

The fight for a better future, or maybe any kind of future, requires an immediate struggle against the warfare state and its new colonialism. And that fight has to be waged independently of the politicians beholden to those who profit from war. No trust can be given to politicians who promise withdrawal but are committed to permanent war and military occupation.

> This article was originally published in the December 2010 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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