By CHRISTINE MARIE
Antiwar groups around the United States have designated the weekend of Oct. 5-7, the 11th anniversary of the launch of the U.S. war on Afghanistan, as a time for public demonstrations and major educational events. The United National Antiwar Coalition hosted an Aug. 29 national phone organizing meeting attended by 49 representatives from peace groups wishing to participate in 19 states. The Veterans for Peace national convention, held in mid-August in Florida, ratified the UNAC call.
UNAC-associated actions for which planning is already underway will take place in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In New York City, the effort is being led by the Islamic Leadership Council, the Muslim Peace Coalition, Black is Back, and Desis Rising Up and Moving, all groups especially interested in highlighting the relationship between the war abroad and increasing repression against communities of color at home. In San Francisco, civil liberties are to be the major theme of a large teach-in at Laney College.
Rising violence in Afghanistan, continued civilian casualties from drone attacks in Pakistan, rising expenditures for weapons of war, and fears of U.S./NATO/Israeli attacks on Iran or Syria are motivating activists from one end of the country to another.
A “Keep Space for Peace Week,” Oct. 6-13, with activities in Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, England, India, and Sweden, is including demands to End the Afghanistan War, Stop the Drones, and Say No to NATO expansion.
Meanwhile, a Code Pink Peace Delegation, organized out of the First International Drone Summit held in April in Washington, D.C., will be making its way to Pakistan to meet with victims of drone attacks and prepare reports on the humanitarian impact of the unending U.S. war in the region. Despite the low level of mobilization that election years bring, and despite the disorientation that Washington’s shift from promoting massive troop deployments to secretive drone warfare and special operations has wrought, the antiwar movement will be visible this fall.
In part, this is because Afghanistan is back in the news, and the unpopular nature of the U.S. occupation has been driven home once again. On Sept. 1, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. government is reacting to the recent escalation of “green-on-blue,” or “insider,” attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan trainees by halting the training of Afghan troops until a new system of background checks can be implemented. On Sept. 2, The New York Times reported that U.S. troops have been ordered to carry weapons at all times, including on supposedly secure U.S. bases.
Political columnist Tom Engelhardt noted that the mainstream media response to this glitch in the official narrative, the scenario in which the United States hands over most fighting duties to Afghan troops by 2014, has been to begin floating the idea that the U.S. just might not really be able to get out anytime soon.
In this they concur with the assessment of former Afghan member of parliament Malalai Joya, who said at the May 13-14 Chicago People’s Summit: “Obama and Karzai claim the war will end in 2014, while on the other hand, they say that U.S. troops will remain in some capacity until 2024. My friends, when 2024 comes closer, they will say they plan to remain in Afghanistan until 2034. The reality is that the U.S. and their NATO allies plan to dominate Afghanistan and the larger region militarily for the next generation…”
As one of the longest running wars in U.S. history, Afghanistan, and the accompanying drone war in Pakistan, are well understood by the movement and will be a focus in the October actions. The level of U.S. involvement in the rest of the region needs to be the subject of continuing and broad education if the movement is to be able to mobilize effective numbers in the street.
Since the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in 2011, antiwar activists have been debating its meaning. Was the redeployment of U.S. troops to regional bases a historic turning point regarding the dominance of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East?
Certainly, the U.S. was thwarted in its plans to maintain huge military bases on Iraqi soil as part of its greater efforts to retain control over access to strategic energy resources vital to its international economic competitors, including China. Yet redeployment has not seriously impeded the suppression of the oil workers, the privatization of Iraqi oil, or its exploitation by British Petroleum, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and other U.S. and European companies. According to Greg Muttitt, author of “What Ever Happened to Iraqi Oil?”, Iraq’s output now places it in the number-two position in OPEC, a position previously held by Iran, whose oil exports have been cut in half by U.S.-ordered sanctions.
The U.S. government’s momentary preference for “light-footprint warfare”—raids by special operations forces, drone assassinations, proxy militias, cyberwarfare, etc.—are the options available to an imperial power that has no real military competitors in most regions of the globe. This shift, however, does not correlate to a slowing of military intervention in terms of geography or dollars. The latest Congressional Research Service annual arms sales report was widely commented on by the antiwar community because it documented the fact that in just one year, 2011, the Obama administration boosted export arms sales by $42 billion. In the recent period, the U.S. government has facilitated a jump in arms sales to the developing world from the $9 billion level of the Bush administration years to $56 billion in 2011.
A stunning proportion of those sales have gone to U.S. allies in the Middle East. John Rees of the Stop the Wars Coalition UK recently wrote, “Between 1950 and 2006 Saudi Arabia purchased $63 billion worth of weapons and equipment through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales programme. In 2010 it announced a similar amount of military purchases—but in just 15 years, not half a century.”
Proxy warfare, however, is not the only game plan. The U.S. has been upgrading or building new bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Jordan. In Kuwait, 15,000 troops are stationed in Camp Arifjan alone.
In addition, the U.S. buildup for war with Iran is indisputable. Prof. Vijay Prashad recently described the U.S. naval deployment in the Persian Gulf, a deployment just boosted by the floating base known as the USS Ponce, as a “traffic jam of American power in the Persian Gulf.” The Ponce joins USS Enterprise and USS Lincoln, both first-class warships that are supported by a considerable battle group, as well as the various marine and amphibious task forces of the U.S. Fifth Fleet based at the Naval Support Activity station in Manama, Bahrain.
The softening up of Iran via sanctions, assassinations, and covert ops continues with the new sanctions designed to lower Iran’s ability to export oil below the current level, which is already only 40% of their previous exports. The British Guardian has reported that the sanctions against the regime were already having a huge impact on the population, leading to the quadrupling of food prices and dramatic shortages of medicine, including for hemophiliac children.
Clearly, the U.S. is not running from the Middle East with its tail between its legs. In short, Washington’s inability to establish a puppet Iraqi regime effective enough to make massive and permanent basing a reality was a setback but has not in any way forced the U.S. to contemplate giving up its military and imperial hegemony in the region.
The reason is that the world capitalist economic crisis is intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry and moving the U.S. capitalist class to undertake a significant expansion in terms of dollars spent and in terms of the geographic swath of the planet on which they hope to exert military hegemony. Mass responses to the economic crisis by events like the Arab Spring and the Greek general strikes have alerted the big powers to the fact that their current method of economic rule, be it through despots or social democracy, is not guaranteed.
Thus, not only the United States but every major power is striving to increase its military arsenal. Those who were formerly dependent on the U.S military to protect their interests now understand that either they develop their own military capacities or they will be shunted aside in the intensifying race for resources and profits. The U.S.-led NATO war against Libya served as a perfect example, when the U.S., England, France, and Italy jockeyed for position regarding whose military forces would predominate in the destruction of that nation and which would secure the largest percentage of the oil booty.
The already severe sanctions and covert operations against Iran and Syria and the increasing threats to implement a “no-fly zone” in Syria (which could only begin to be implemented after the massive bombing of strategic air bases with adjacent civilian areas) have but one objective, to re-integrate these nations into the economic and military framework of the great powers and to stymie competition from trade blocs led by China as they relate to energy resources, pipelines, and markets.
The heroic democratic upsurge of the Syrian people to depose Assad has to overcome not only the normal obstacles faced by a people without a well-organized working-class or revolutionary party but also U.S. intervention with arms via the Saudi and Gulf Coast monarchies, CIA operatives on the ground, and U.S.-backed NGOs advising from neighboring countries—all designed to prevent the taking of power by genuinely democratic and anti-imperialist groupings based on the Local Coordinating Councils. And soon, perhaps, the Syrian masses will have to face a Libya-style NATO intervention.
Simultaneously, Israel and the US are theatrically playing hard cop / soft cop regarding a military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Both countries are also creating the kind of propaganda that will allow them to justify an assault on Hezbollah in Lebanon as a military escalation occurs. Palestinian activists fear a scenario in which a regional conflagration will allow Israel to take over the entire West Bank once and for all.
The expansion of the U.S. military on the African continent, a continent already wracked by the most destructive interventions—proxy imperialist wars over mineral resources, dramatic land grabs that are destroying subsistence agriculture, and other tools of the new scramble for Africa—now includes a “war on terror” game plan whose operatives are sited in continuous swaths from Algeria to Mali to Nigeria to Uganda and Somalia beyond. Glen Ford recently pointed out that the U.S. has pushed for renewed sanctions on Eritrea, one of only four countries on the African continent that have refused to work directly with the U.S. military command, Africom. By 2013, the U.S. plans to have a new 3000-soldier-strong roving unit of rangers, housed in safe spaces in Africom friendly nations, available for dramatic strikes anywhere on the continent.
The so-called military “pivot to Asia” that is accompanying the efforts of the U.S. to challenge Asian centric trading blocs via the Trans Pacific Partnership and other measures is not mere propaganda. The new U.S. base on Jeju island is designed to hold Aegis war ships, 38 of which make up President Obama’s U.S. missile-defense system. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced in June that by 2020 the greater part of American naval forces—including six aircraft carrier battle groups as well as a majority of the navy’s cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat ships, and submarines—would be stationed in the Asian Pacific.
The Americas are not exempted. Washington is greatly expanding the so-called “drug war “ in the Americas, with U.S. troops recently killing fisherman in the part of Honduras that is home to the most radical elements of the ongoing fight for land and sovereignty.
In short, the global crisis guarantees that while the imperialists’ strategy and tactics may change—less counter-insurgency but more counter-terrorism, fewer troops but more drones and special ops, a “Presidential Kill List,” etc.—imperialist wars are not on the wane but on the upswing and will be a permanent feature of the political landscape. The efforts by the United National Antiwar Coalition and many other peace groups to use the Oct. 5, 6, and 7 weekend to educate new activists and regroup the veterans is a modest but important step toward deepening consciousness and sustaining an antiwar infrastructure. To find an organizing effort mounting activity for the 11th anniversary dates, visit http://october7actions.net/wordpress/. See the UNAC site at http://www.unacpeace.org.
Photo by Tony Savino / Socialist Action